Herbal supplements? Take ’em with a grain of salt


The reasoning around herbal supplements often goes like this: “they’re natural, they’re not super potent synthetic drugs, so at least they won’t hurt me.” The problem is that herbal supplements are often unregulated and can sometimes have negative effects. In a new case study, researchers present just that: how, for one person, herbal supplements made it worse.

Scientists report that a patient experienced dizziness and fainting after taking hemp oil containing CBD and CBG and berberine supplements. The 56-year-old passed out without warning and was admitted to the emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a dangerous heart arrhythmia.

The patient had relatively normal blood tests, aside from low blood pressure, but her heart was not functioning properly. She was exhibiting something called Torsades de pointes, a rare form of tachycardia (a rapid heartbeat coming from the ventricles). Essentially, the woman’s heart was taking too long to recharge its electrical system between beats.

The researchers attributed the problem to a “treatment” of herbal supplements she had started four months earlier, a “treatment” that included six times the recommended dose of hemp oil. She had also recently added berberine to the mix. Berberine is a plant extract that is said to help with a number of conditions, but its effects have not been confirmed by high quality clinical research.

All supplements were stopped during the woman’s admission and her problems gradually subsided until everything was back to normal after five days. Three months later, when she returned to the hospital for a follow-up check, she had no other symptoms.

Researchers warn that the popularity of herbal supplements has outpaced the science about them — and regulators have lagged too. Herbal supplements are widely available without a prescription, and while some have been shown to produce desirable effects, taking these supplements on your own, without medical supervision, can be dangerous. Besides the “new wave” of herbal supplements, “traditional medicine” supplements can also be problematic. Berberine, found in the roots and stems of many medicinal plants, is used in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine to treat a number of conditions.

Of course, this is only one case, and in the vast majority of cases, herbal supplements do not show such significant negative effects; but this is a reminder that herbal supplements are not without potential dangers and should not be taken haphazardly.

“More and more people are taking herbal supplements for their potential benefits. Yet their ‘natural’ nature can be misleading, as these preparations can have serious adverse side effects alone or if combined with other supplements or medications,” said Elise Bakelants, MD, Department of Cardiology, University Hospitals of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland. . “Their use should not be taken lightly and dosage recommendations should always be followed.”

The study has been published in Heart Rhythm Study Reports.


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