Wednesday, October 12, 2011


In a world where truth and fiction can always get mixed up, herbs and products derived from them are gaining a significant foothold in the minds of consumers who look for better food and well being products to keep themselves free from health afflictions. While there are no two opinions regarding the efficacy of herbs when consumed regularly to protect from a number of ailments of temporary nature, over reliance on them can be dangerous. One of the problems facing consumers is that rarely one can get reliable scientific information based on modern studies that can substantiate widely varying claims made by the industry and often "traditional use " is cited as proof for their supposed benefits. Most countries including the US have very weak control regimes to check spurious products and untenable claims. There have been reports that even Allopathic medicines including steroids are mixed with traditional herbal products to attenuate their effects. Against such a background asking consumers to believe what is claimed is not justified by any yardstick. There are many products categorized as "health aids" and if they are intended for ingestion they must conform to quality standards and safety protocols expected from any food. It will be a big tragedy if herbal products suffer because of negligence and lack of oversight by the governments regarding their true value.

"The practice of 'medical pluralism' in which both conventional and alternative therapies are widely used in treating ailments has also created a massive demand for such products among the general population. As there are many herbal based products entering the Malaysian market lately, the healthcare professionals and general public need to understand that, compared to the registration of an allopathic or conventional modern medicines, herbal based products do not need to undergo any human clinical trial to show its efficacy. In most cases for the herbal product registration process, the manufacturers of such products just need to provide evidence on the safety (e.g. the products are free from any contamination of heavy metals and other poisonous substances) and quality (e.g. compliance to good manufacturing standards) aspect of the product to the drug regulators for registration purpose. The public also needs to understand that herb based preparations do not mean that they are free from any toxic effects. Some herbs can interact with modern medicines or other food based substances and this can cause more harm than good if taken concomitantly. Besides, the manufacturers also need to comply with the advertising law for such products so that no exaggerated claims about the product efficacy are made, for example, curing chronic diseases and cancers, for instance. The problem in Malaysia is that many herbal product manufacturers overclaim their products efficacy and use testimonials to market their products. I would like to suggest to the Health Ministry to work with experts in local universities to publish a simple guideline on how to use herbal products effectively. In my experience, I have found that many consumers are confused on what herbal preparations they need to take and most of them are influenced by irrational marketing tactics by some unscrupulous manufacturers and direct selling companies. The developed guideline should be made available to all health premises and media so that it can really empower the consumers on safe and effective use of herbal preparations. In this regard, healthcare professionals such as pharmacists and medical doctors also need to play a greater role in advising their patients on quality use of herbal preparations. I believe a 'Quality Use of Herbal Preparations' awareness campaign is a way forward to keep the tradition going and this definitely needs proactive measures from all the interested stakeholders".

The dividing line between food and medicine is very thin indeed and Hippocrates stated this truth long ago when he said "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"! There are thousands of herbal products made by many manufacturers, some of them in the business for generations and others relatively new players and all of them suffer from some credibility gap because of lack of self regulation and inadequate oversight by the government. For example how can a simple consumer rely on a product, the label of which does not reveal anything about the product nature and the advantages and disadvantages of consuming it for short period as well as in the long term? What about the effect of combining common Allopathic medicines along with them or regarding any food restrictions necessary to get the claimed advantages? There is no mention about the active ingredients in these preparations invariably! It is time the world gets together and bring out a scientifically compiled encyclopedia on herbs that gives A to Z about herbs and herbal products for the benefit of the confused consumers and such a guide can help in choosing the right type of herbs for deriving the required benefits from them.


1 comment:

Bath Soap said...

Please provide me some home remedy for acne. I regularly get it on face. Don't understand what to do. Have tried all the remedies tat I know. If you have any permanent cure for it please let me know.