AHPA reiterates doctors need to question patients on herbs

By Clarisse Douaud

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Alternative medicine, Herbalism

The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) has urged doctors
and healthcare practitioners to ask patients about their use of
herbs in an effort to foster communication on the issue.

AHPA president Michael McGuffin spoke at the CAMExpo - the International Complementary and Natural Healthcare Conference and Expo - in New York City. McGuffin presented as part of the panel, "Herbal Remedies and Botanical Medicine in the Cross Fire", and called on physicians to take responsibility in order to find out whether or not their patients are taking herbals.

Many surveys have revealed patients are reluctant to tell if they are taking herbals and doctors fail to ask. As a result, herbals frequently take the blame for any interaction with medications, while industry members say lack of communication lies at the root of the problem.

This is not the first such call on behalf of the herbal industry for greater communication between physicians and patients. Proponents say patients need to be assured physicians will take them seriously on the issue.

A recent study at Yale School of Medicine suggested black cohosh, a plant commonly used by breast cancer patients to alleviate the menopause-like side effects of therapy, may alter the effects anticancer drugs. While other studies have linked herb drug interaction between St Johns Wort and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or the contraceptive pill.

McGuffin referred to several journal articles that have measured patient disclosure of herb use and found that most people do not tell their doctors of such use.

"These statistics are often reported in a way that sounds like 'another problem with herbs,' when in fact it is a problem with doctor-patient communication,"​ McGuffin said.

"You, as practitioners, are in a position to fix that problem,"​ he added. "You can start fixing it tomorrow, simply by asking your patients to tell you about any herbal products they use, and by treating their decisions to do so with respect."​In a recent survey of 1,559 people age 50 and older, 63 percent were found to have used one or more complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, while only 31 percent of these had discussed it with their doctors.

The survey, conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and the nonprofit AARP, defined CAM as including products and practices such as herbal supplements, meditation, chiropractic care and acupuncture.

Twenty-two percent of those surveyed said friends and family were their primary source of information on CAM, followed by physicians - at 12 percent.

Related topics: Botanicals

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