107 St John’s Wort products pulled from Amazon UK

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

"Natural doesn't always mean safe and some unlicensed herbal medicines can cause serious side effects," says Jennifer Kyne from the MHRA
"Natural doesn't always mean safe and some unlicensed herbal medicines can cause serious side effects," says Jennifer Kyne from the MHRA

Related tags: Herbal medicines, European union

107 unlicensed St John’s Wort products were removed from the UK Amazon website this week following a joint investigation by the MHRA and HFMA.

The products in question were pulled for making unauthorised health claims or being inappropriately labelled for the UK market, said Health Food Manufacturers' Association (HFMA) spokesperson Marlon Bouman. 

Products included Nutriodol which claimed it provided “high quality depression relief” ​and Obire which claimed to “increase feelings of wellbeing, reduces anxiety and stress.​” Source Naturals and Perika were also among the 107 removed for making unauthorised medicinal claims.

According to Bouman, no HFMA members were implicated and he would not comment on whether other herbal sectors may encounter similar labelling issues.

Nutridiol has said that it has fully cooperated with the UK MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) and has removed the St John’s Wort product from its own website as well as Amazon. Other UK retailers, such as Ebay, are under review.

Graham Keen, executive director of the HFMA, said that unlicensed products were damaging not only to consumers’ health but also to legitimate manufacturers.

“It is a very real and detrimental commercial issue for our members who invest heavily in producing high-quality products that meet all regulatory requirements."

The wild west of the web

While these products have been removed from the UK Amazon site they continue to be sold on other sites, and with many shipping internationally UK consumers can still buy them if they wish.

The MHRA therefore faces a difficult task in policing products that are unlicensed in the UK.

Senior press officer Jennifer Kyne said that the MHRA has “serious concerns​” about the range and availability of herbal medicines being offered via the internet, and that consumers should be aware of herbal products sold online which often contain banned or toxic substances.

“We continue to warn people that herbal medicines not certified with a THR (Traditional Herbal Registration) logo and purchased from websites, particularly websites based overseas, cannot be guaranteed to meet standards of safe herbal medicines

“We monitor and work with Internet Service Providers (ISPS) to close offending UK websites and take further action with Police, Interpol, Border Force, payment providers (banks and credit cards) and distributors (such as Parcel Force) to tackle this problem.”

EU-UK regulation

In the UK, herbals medicinal products are regulated by the MHRA and must either hold a full product licence or a traditional herbal registration (THR).

The THR logo scheme was implemented in 2005 with the aim of protecting UK consumers from low grade herbal medicine, following the European Union Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (THMPD) which came into force in 2011 but had been in the pipeline since 2004.

According to an MHRA factsheet, St John’s Wort preparations have been known to interact with other medicines by affecting drug metabolism or levels of neurotransmitters, causing serious side effects.

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