Docs sound alarm on herbal cures


Mumbai: When a corporate executive recently landed in the emergency ward of Mumbai’s Hiranandani Hospital with palpitations, doctors first checked his heart. When tests ruled out any cardiac problem, they found an unlikely culprit: too many cups of green tea. “After talking to him, we realised he had had over a dozen cups of green tea within the span of a few hours,’’ said cardiologist Ganesh Kumar.

    Some brands of green tea contain caffeine, an agent that boosts heart rate. “Green tea is supposed to a natural agent to control blood pressure, weight, etc, but everything has to be consumed in the right measure,’’ Kumar added.

    As the natural revolution gains in popularity, doctors believe it’s time to sound a health warning, especially to patients already on various allopathic medications. Studies have shown seemingly harmless supplements can have dangerous side-effects when consumed in excess.

    The healthy spice, garlic, is a natural way to keep blood pressure in check, but it may not always be the right dose for those taking blood-thinning pills; it could worsen bleeding disorders.


Garlic can keep BP in check but can worsen bleeding disorders
Saw palmetto, extract of berries, control hair fall but can cause hormonal side-effects

Chondroitin, derived from hooves of cattle, helps osteoarthritis patients, but could worsen bleeding during operations

Ephedra (somlata herb) can help asthma & bronchitis patients, but raise BP
Glucosamine has chemicals that mimic insulin but may cause hypoglycaemia (low sugar) during surgery ‘Nuska’ now food for thought?

Mumbai: The jury is now out on the apparently beneficial and harmless herbal supplements. While doctors say they could be triggering off adverse reactions in the body as side-effects when consumed in excess, nutritionists smell a ploy. “There are no side-effects to natural supplements. It is all a ploy of the pharmaceutical industry to check the growing popularity of natural herbs and supplements,’’ said nutritionist Naini Setalvad.

    According to nutritionist Shilpa Joshi, people should always inform their doctors about the supplements they are taking. “We take natural or Ayurvedic stuff thinking these are ghar ka nuska, but if taken with other medications and in high concentrations, it can be potent. If we consult doctors on such issues, the doctor can change the dosages of either his medication or give the right amount of supplements that is needed for the patient concerned.’’

    Most Indian patients have their grandmother’s nuska packed in their medicinal chest, and use haldi as a disinfectant or ginger as an antiseptic. Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Sanjeev Agarwala, who heads the department at Hinduja Hospital, “We are more comfortable with natural supplements than with proprietary (branded) drugs because of our heritage that is steeped in ayurveda. But there is little scientific evidence to support this belief.”

    Fenugreek seeds, for instance, are the easiest way to control the release of sugar into the bloodstream. But, as nutritionist Shilpa Joshi has found among diabetic patients, the tendency is to be liberal in using the methi seeds.

    The latest edition of ‘Alternative and Complementary Therapies’ has pharmacist Catherine Ulbricht from Massachusetts General Hospital spelling out the potential dangers of mixing herbal supplements and therapeutic agents; their interaction can diminish or increase drug levels. “‘Natural’ does not equal ‘safe,’” she said. “If something has a therapeutic action in a human body, this substance can also cause a reaction or an interaction,” she added.