MHRA steps up herbal dangers message

The Medical and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued a new warning about the dangers of buying unregulated herbal medicines.

Just days after the sell-through period for unlicensed herbal medicines ended (1 May) under the terms of the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive, the Agency warned about the risks of buying “toxic” herbal products over the internet.

The MHRA said that in one recent case, the Ayurvedic herbal medicine Shwasa Sanjeevani – used to treat the symptoms of asthma – was found to contain dexamethasone, a prescription-only medicine, without it being declared on the label. The Agency also warned consumers “not to take a number of traditional Chinese medicines” which have been found to contain high levels of mercury or undeclared prescription only medicines. It additionally highlighted risks associated with certain categories of herbal slimming products.

Andrea Farmer, herbal policy manager at the MHRA said: “These are products are potentially dangerous and while none of these products are authorised for sale in the UK, they can be bought on the internet. If you buy medicines from the Internet you run the risk being supplied with medicines that are not safe or suitable to use.

“Natural does not mean safe. To help you chose an herbal medicine that is suitable for you look for a product that has a Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) or a product license on the packaging. These products have met the acceptable quality and safety standards.”

• Many health food retailers say they remain unclear about the status of many herbal products. They say they have received little information from regulatory bodies and are continuing to hear conflicting messages from suppliers. One retail chain has written to its suppliers, requesting them to “remedy” situations where they have supplied herbal products that would now constitute “unlicensed stock”.