4 Types Of Herbal Remedies You Should Never Try

Make sure you know what you're getting into before you pop that pill.

August 8, 2016
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Natural remedies can be a beautiful thing. There are med-free solutions for everything from high cholesterol to chronic pain to mild depression to yeast infections. And many times, they're totally safe. But then there are those other times—in some instances, natural remedies can be downright dangerous. Especially herbal remedies. In a recent report, scientists at Baylor College of Medicine called herbal remedies a "global health hazard," due to their potential to contain carcinogens or other toxic compounds.

Related: 25 Delectable Detox Smoothies

It sounds alarming. But Brent A. Bauer, MD, director of the Mayo Clinic Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program, says there's no need to panic. It's not that there's no risk involved with taking herbal supplements, but Bauer says it's about as risky as taking medicine your doctor prescribes because both could have unforeseen side effects.

But you can't ignore the fact that herbal supplements don't follow the same strict guidelines and regulations as drugs that go through the FDA for approval. According to Paul Offit, MD, author of Do You Believe In Magic: The Sense and Nonsense Of Alternative Medicine, that means you can never really know what you're buying. The safest supplements will have USP certification (the US Pharmacopeial Convention guarantees that what is on a supplement's label is what is actually in the bottle), and you should never take anything without consulting a doctor first.

Still, there are some products that should always make you wary. Here are four types to avoid.

This article was originally published by our partners at Prevention.

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Ayurvedic Supplements

Ayurveda is an Indian healing tradition that dates back thousands of years. While you may think a treatment that has been working for that long has to be safe, Bauer says you need to be careful. Many of the supplements used in Ayurvedic medicine contain heavy metals like lead or mercury, which are poisonous at too high of concentrations. Unless administered by a trained Ayurveda practitioner, Bauer says these supplements can be fatal.

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Compound Supplements

It's something Bauer has seen over and over again: His patients will come in with a list of supplements they take, each one a combination of five or six herbs. "They don't realize it, but they could be taking five supplements that all contain vitamin A," he says. "Pretty soon, you're getting vitamin A toxicity." Many of these combination supplements will say something like "targets brain health," and are just a combination of every herb that's shown promise for improving brain health in research. Taking several of these kinds of combinations can lead to overdose, Bauer says. Instead, he suggests talking to your doctor about your concerns so you both can selectively choose which supplements will be most beneficial.

Related: 13 Power Foods That Lower Blood Pressure Naturally

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Any Herbal Medicines Without Permission From A Doctor

Even the most innocent-sounding ones can interact badly with drugs your doctor prescribes. Taking a garlic supplement for high blood pressure? Offit's advice: Stop. Even garlic, a plant we routinely use in cooking, can be dangerous at such high concentrations—especially mixed with other heart medications like anticoagulants. Other commonly used supplements, like St. John's Wort, Ginkgo, and even aloe, can cause interactions, as well. Bauer stresses that any time you want to try an herb, it's essential to get approval from a doctor who knows your medical history.

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Anything Coming From Outside The US

That USP certification we mentioned is only for supplements made in the US. According to Bauer, drugs coming from other countries are largely unregulated, which makes it almost impossible to tell whether what you think you're getting is what's actually in the bottle. He says to be especially wary of Chinese herbs, which are often grown in heavy metal-rich soil and can be toxic.