Herbal products are the study of the therapeutic use of herbal plants and pharmacognosy. Herbs have been the key source of medicines across all human civilization since ancient times, and these traditional herbal medicines are still widely practiced even today. The term ‘herbal’ refers to any of a variety of plants, sometimes from different continents, used for the treatment of humans. The term ‘pharmaceutical’ includes the processes used in growing, preserving, preparing, manufacturing, etc., for the manufacture of pharmaceuticals. Herbal products are produced from a wide variety of herbs, including some more commonly known medicinal herbs.
Quality control is one of the most important issues in quality management of herbal medicines. It has been noted that, where necessary, quality control measures such as quality control laboratory testing and the determination of standard quality parameters such as purity, color, texture, reaction to treatment, etc., can be employed in the determination of efficacy. The major categories of herbal products under quality control include preparations for oral consumption, injection, inhalation, vaginal or cervical gels, ointments, and topical applications.
An important aspect of the quality control of herbal products is that they should have botanical dietary content that has been determined by standard processes. Standardization of botanical dietary ingredients and production process standards has become an important area of research activity. There have been few international agreements concerning botanical dietary ingredients, but their application is not common across countries. Thus, there is need for worldwide implementation of botanical dietary quality standards.
One area of concern in herbal products is that of herbicides and pesticides. In the treatment of infections, the degree of effectiveness of disinfectants and insecticides is considered. The effectiveness of these substances is determined scientifically by performing laboratory tests on volunteers. While it is generally believed that herbs are generally free of side effects, there is some controversy regarding the safety of using herbicides or pesticides.
It is also important to note that herbal products do not provide cures. Herbal medicines should be used as complementary therapy along with conventional drugs. Some forms of complementary medicines can have serious adverse effects and should therefore not be taken without consulting the physician.
A case in point involves the popular Chinese herb ginkgo biloba. Ginkgo has been used successfully for improving the cognitive functions in old people. However, its excessive use is known to cause psychiatric disorders. For this reason, when the dried extract of ginkgo was marketed as a dietary supplement, it had severe adverse effects on people who were using it for dementia.
The National Institute of Health in the United States conducted a clinical trial and found out that elderly people who took a regular herbal supplement containing ginkgo biloba had significantly improved cognitive function. However, the study was observational and did not prove anything conclusive. Another instance refers to the effectiveness of green tea. This herb is known to contain catechins that inhibit the formation of amyloid in the brain. It is believed that this compound acts as an anti-amyloid in the body and thereby prevents the accumulation of amyloid in the brain and memory loss.
These herbal medicines may be efficient and may offer promising results. But there is always a possibility of overuse and abuse. Overuse of these drugs can result in serious adverse effects. Some of these herbs can also result in cancer, if the dose is too high. A balanced combination of these compounds will yield optimum results. Therefore, you should consult your physician before consuming any of these compounds.
Some companies claim to manufacture herbal medicines using natural products and the products are free from all side effects. But, one should remember that the claims made by these companies are mere promises without any substantiation. They can never satisfy the serious adverse side effect expectations. There have been instances where patients consuming herbal drugs developed serious adverse effects such as liver failure, vision loss, coma, and an increased risk of death.
According to the Brower 2021 survey report, the use of herbal medicine was found to be prevalent among US consumers, but the extent of use was not explored. The report further stated that over fifty percent of respondents claimed that they prefer to purchase herbs over pharmaceutical drugs. The increasing awareness regarding natural alternative medicine has led to the increase in sales of natural products. However, the lack of quality standards makes many consumers vulnerable to unsafe herbal products. The recent case of vederas 2021 demonstrated the seriousness of this problem, when a company used unapproved ingredients in their herbal product.
Vederas manufactures and distributes herbal medicine containing meadowsweet (boxwood), burdock (oregano), Cayenne (pimafix) and red clover (hea versicolor). These ingredients were previously considered as conventional medicines but have been found out to be beneficial for treating diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart problems. Vederas is a registered trademark holder of various products such as balm, echinacea, fenugreek, iris, manuka honey, kidney, olive leaf extract, myrrh, a d’arco, Rosemary, strelitis, tubers and yarrow. The market for herbal products is huge in both the US and the European Union. In the US, sales of herbal medicine are estimated at approximately $3.3 billion annually. It is predicted that sales for this year will reach the highest level ever recorded.