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Herbal supplements are not always safe

Herbal supplements may not always be safe, according to a new study published by Elsevier. The research highlights how serious side effects can result from the imprudent use of herbal supplements.

The report describes a case in which a patient was diagnosed with a dangerous cardiac arrhythmia after taking hemp oil containing CBD and CBG along with berberine supplements.

“More and more people are taking herbal supplements for their potential benefits. Yet their ‘natural’ character can be misleading, since these preparations can have serious adverse side effects on their own or if combined with other supplements or medications,” said Dr. Elise Bakelants, an expert in the Department of Cardiology at the University Hospital of Geneva. “Their use should not be taken lightly, and dosing recommendations should always be respected.”

The study examined the case of a 56-year-old woman who experienced dizziness and fainting without warning. After physical exams came back as normal, doctors determined that the condition was caused by the herbal supplements she was taking to cope with stress. 

Four months earlier, the patient had started taking six times the recommended dose of hemp oil, and had recently added berberine to the mix. She was then diagnosed with a life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia.

During her hospital stay, all supplements were stopped resulting in positive changes, which strongly validated a link between the supplements and the arrhythmia.

The popularity of herbal supplements has grown in recent years, especially those containing CBD (cannabidiol). This particular supplement is very accessible and available without any prescription. 

CBD has been promoted for its anti-inflammatory, antipsychotic, and immunomodulatory properties. The products do not contain THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – therefore, it is not subjected to scrutiny by drug regulatory agencies. 

Berberine, found in many medicinal plants, is frequently used in traditional Chinese and ayurvedic medicine for various types of treatment. 

The preparation of herbal supplements is largely unregulated. Exact composition can vary greatly from one distributor to another, and properties of these substances are not well known. There are limited data on their effectiveness and toxicity, making it  difficult to predict potential side effects.

Dr. Bakelants cautioned patients and physicians to follow dosing recommendations and consider possible interactions with other medications, particularly in patients with underlying cardiac disease or those already taking QT-prolonging medication.

The study is published in the journal HeartRhythm Case Reports.

By Katherine Bucko, Staff Writer

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