New body meets to investigate herbal safety

Related tags Alternative medicine Pharmacology Eu

The Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products - set up under the new
EU legislation designed to investigate the safety of herbal
medicines - is holding its inaugural meeting in London.

It will henceforth meet every two months in an attempt by the EU to protect consumers against the putative risks of herbal remedies.

The committee was still locked away in discussion today and unavailable for interview, but according to an article on Reuters, it aims to harmonise regulation of the industry across the European Union, as until now, rules have varied from country to country.

"The main problem relates to chronic toxicity, such as carcinogenicity, because it may take 10 years to make a connection between cancer and use of a herbal medicine,"​ Konstantin Keller, chairman of the committee told reporters. He also mentioned his concern over the evidence that some herbal products may interact with certain prescription drugs.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released a new set of guidelines for national health authorities in June on ways to increase the output of information on alternative and complementary medicines for consumers.

The move has been prompted by data the organisation had gathered showing that adverse reactions to alternative medicines have more than doubled in three years, a rise in line with growing use of such medicines in both Western and developing countries.

Dr Zhang Xiaoirui, coordinator of the traditional medicines programme at WHO, told "Consumers have no knowledge on how to check on the quality of a product, how it was produced and whether its claims are reliable. Governments need to educate consumers on what to look out for."

She added that people buying natural remedies tend to assume that natural means safe. But in China, a country where traditional therapies and products are widely used in parallel with conventional medicine, there were 9,854 known reported cases of adverse drug reactions in 2002 alone, up from 4000 between 1990 and 1999.

The WHO guidelines suggested that consumers should be given information on the efficacy and safety of products as well as contradictions, probably through mass media campaigns and accessible outlets like the Internet. The guidelines also called for authorities to set up efficient channels for consumers to report adverse drug reactions.

More than 4,500 herbal medicines and preparations are sold across the EU, although 300-400 make up 90 per cent of sales.

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