Herbal cheer

One in five adults uses herbal remedies such as St John's wort or arnica - but products in the UK are not assessed for quality or safety.

Health-store junkies stock up regularly on herbal remedies such as milk thistle to beat hangovers, St John's wort for anxiety and feverfew to prevent migraines. Others are more sceptical about their effects, but a new study published in the Lancet last week provides the strongest evidence yet that echinacea, the controversial herbal remedy, works.

A substantial review of 14 studies found that echinacea can reduce the chance of catching a cold by 58% and, should you get one, shorten its length by 1.4 days. Enough, surely, to plant a smug grin on the face of the estimated one in five adults in the UK who uses herbal medicines.That so many place their trust in herbal remedies is hardly surprising - how much more pleasant to ingest a treatment that is part of a centuries-old tradition, derived from the natural world and named after a plant, than to swallow a capsule of synthetic chemical compounds produced by a faceless, monolithic conglomerate. But while herbal remedy consumers swear by arnica for bruises and insist that valerian is as good as any sleeping pill, they might be less content to learn that the herbal remedies market in the UK is at present almost entirely unregulated. There is no independent assessment of any herbal product's quality and safety before it goes on sale and neither are there any regulations covering the information provided with products.

"At the moment a lot of herbal products are of a low standard," says Dr Dick Middleton, former chairman of the British Herbal Medicine Association and technical director of the herbal remedy company MH Pharma (UK). "There are few checks on the manufacturing process and there is often even no batch-to-batch consistency. It makes it difficult to know or to recommend which products to take, because while there are some high-quality remedies, you don't necessarily know which ones they are."
Medical herbalist and lecturer Daniela Turley says: "I know of tests that have been done on products that sometimes show that the remedy didn't even contain an active ingredient. Sometimes the herb in them isn't even the advertised herb. And big companies can be guilty of this."

Source - Guadian

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