Herbal medicines are known to be effective in the treatment of various chronic diseases. Ayurveda is the branch of Medicine based on the herbal treatment and originated in India. Plants, their parts, metabolites and preparations have demonstrated enormous therapeutic properties.
However, with the rise of modern medicine, the importance of herbal medicines has been overlooked. Yet, the general population never lost faith in the efficacy of the herbal medicines. They rely on them for a wide range of diseases ranging from common cold to the most serious chronic conditions and consider them safer than the synthetic drugs.
Though herbal medicines are obtained from natural sources, natural doesn’t always mean safe. Self medication, use of wrong species of medicinal plants, inappropriate dosage, and cross reaction with other drugs may result in adverse drug reactions.
Moreover, plants and their parts can be contaminated with foreign particles or infected with bacteria, fungi, and other infectious organisms. Ingestion of these medicinal plants can lead to fatal health complications. Thus, it becomes necessary to test their efficacy, quality and safety in order to minimize adverse drug reactions.
Pharmacovigilance or drug safety includes the collection, analysis, monitoring and prevention of the adverse effects of the drugs. It is a Science that deals with testing the safety of the herbal drugs.
About one third of the conventional medicines in the market are derived from the plant products whereas herbal medicines are exclusively made from plants.
However, there is inadequate information on the adverse reactions resulting from the consumption of the herbal products.
Do you know why?
Here are the reasons:
- The practice of using plant products as remedies dates back to the ancient times. Therefore, most of the information related to their preparation, safety and adverse reactions is not in the electronic form and hence inaccessible.
- Pharmacovigilance is generally followed for the conventional medicines. The current methods are inapplicable for the herbal medicines. Even the terminology used for monitoring and reporting of the adverse reactions is not suitable for the herbal medicines.
- People of the country have a firm belief in all the herbal products and consider them 100% safe. As a result, there is no research or reports regarding their safety and adverse reactions.
- Herbal preparations are often a combination of more than one ingredient. This makes it difficult to identify one causative agent for the adverse reaction. Also, the patients who herbal medicines simultaneously undergo alternative therapies. So, determination of the exact causative agent seems impossible.
- Ayurvedic physicians are not well versed with the need and concept of pharmacovigilance.
Therefore, if we want to ensure the safety of the herbal medicines, it is necessary to first introduce the herbal medicine practitioners and students to the concept of pharmacovigilance. The concept must be included as a part of their curriculum so that they can acquaint themselves with causality analysis and reporting of adverse events to the regulators.
All information pertaining to the safe use of herbal medicines should be made easily accessible. Further, the patients should be educated about the adverse reactions and the need to use herbal medicines rationally.