Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Toxicity of herbs

It's not uncommon to hear people say herbs or Chinese herbs have no side effects, or even, are not toxic. The Chinese article 中药使用者 安全意识待提高 (Chinese herb users need better awareness of safety) is excellent for technically inclined laymen (the type of people capable of reading an encyclopedia of a specific field of science). Better informed herb users may say mineral types of Chinese medicine could be toxic but herbs are generally OK. The said article dismisses that too. Toxicity may be inherent to the medicine itself, or express it when combined with others, or it has negligible toxicity alone, but happens to be used with another that has the same specific toxicity, so the end result adds up.

One good way to avoid toxicity, or at least minimize it, is to take less. If you can take the medicine by means other than orally, seriously consider it. I once concocted my wrist pain "soup". I looked up all individual herbs I used and knew that 细辛 (Manchurian Wildginger) is toxic. Since it's used on the skin, not taken orally, and with below limit amount, I consider it completely safe.

We're all used to looking up chemical, biological, physiological properties of meterials, chemicals, or medicines on Wikipedia, which, unfortunately, sometimes fails to document toxicity, as in the case of Ginkgo. It *is* documented at Baidu Baike in Chinese. If you only read English, more reading is needed. One of Dr. Weil's articles talks about its high-dose side effects.

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