Jun 06, 2016

    Take herbs with caution: Toxicologist


    PEOPLE often think that herbs, being plant-based, are natural and safe, but a toxicologist has warned that this perception is dangerous.

    This comes after a report last week that the Malaysian Adverse Drug Reaction Monitoring Centre received 730 adverse drug reaction reports involving traditional medicines from 2010-2014, and about 70 per cent, or 511 cases, were suspected to be caused by unregistered products.

    Universiti Malaya toxicologist Professor Mustafa Ali Mohd said that plant materials do contain chemicals, and most have active compounds that can have biological effects.

    "When people say plants do not contain chemicals, that is misleading. This has led to consumption patterns that have adversely affected a lot of people, with some getting long-term problems, generation after generation," he said.

    Prof Mustafa said that taking herbs is not akin to taking food. "Plants with bioactive compounds, which means herbs that have medicinal value, should be taken with caution, and not excessively."

    For example, ginkgo biloba and noni juice may be useful for health, but taken as concentrated health supplements for the long term, may affect blood clotting, which is dangerous for those undergoing surgery.

    Prof Mustafa said that while prescribed drugs have dosages that can be measured, it is difficult to ascertain the amount of active chemicals present in plants prepared in liquid, powder or extract forms.

    Taking such herbs continuously without supervision could cause liver damage, he said, adding that some herbs are also carcinogenic, with effects seen only years later.