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Herb-Drug Interactions Lack Evidence

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“A misplaced fear about herb-drug interactions is why physicians don’t recommend herbs,” according to Josephine Briggs, MD, director of the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). In fact, she said at a recent meeting of the American Herbal Products Association, “a lot of the fears about herbs are not founded on good, meaningful, accurate data.” Rather, most are hypothetical or inferred from animal and cell studies, rather than hard evidence.

Briggs noted that there should be more concern about overuse, adverse effects, and deaths from certain types of prescription drugs, especially antibiotics, sleep medicines, and opioid pain relievers. Antibiotic resistance leads to an estimated 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths per year. Deaths from prescription opioid pain relievers are on the rise, with more than 16,000 reported annually, as of 2010. And prescription sleep medicines, especially among older people, are another area of concern.

To bridge the herb-drug information gap, the NCCIH is launching a new research project to establish which interactions do or do not exist between the most widely used herbs and drugs.