Echinacea can be very toxic
to the liver.
This herb just can’t win. At least in this myth, we can guess
at the source.
This myth probably stems from a popular book for professionals:
Herbal Medicinals: A Clinician’s Guide
, edited by
Lucinda G Miller and Wallace J Murray (Hawthorn Press, 1998).
It claims that echinacea is “hepatotoxic and should not be
taken for more than eight weeks.” The only citation given
comes from the German Commission E monographs. But when you
look at that document, no such recommendations appear. The
misinformation probably comes from a paper published by the
prestigious medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine
by the same author, Miller, a Pharm D (Doctor of Pharmacy).
She writes, “Since hepatotoxic effects may be associated with
persistent use, it [echinacea] should not be taken with other
known hepatotoxic drugs.” But she gives no explanatory evidence.
The discussion of the chemistry gets technical, and confusion
often arises over a class of chemicals (pyrrolizidine alkaloids),
some of which are toxic. Echinacea contains the nontoxic version,
however, in the irrelevant amount of 0.006 percent. To make
the waters muddier, the abstract and the text of the paper
use conflicting terminology to describe the chemicals.
There’s absolutely no evidence of liver damage from ingesting
echinacea, so there’s no reason to worry about this myth.
Long-term use of ginseng causes
"ginseng abuse syndrome."
Several articles have identified a “ginseng abuse syndrome”
in people who take it for long periods of time. But herbalists
and scientific literature widely criticize this “fact.”
The concept of the syndrome came from a 1979 study published
in the Journal of the American Medical Association
by R K Siegel, who studied 133 ginseng users, monitoring
them at intervals for two years. Ten percent of users experienced
the syndrome (anxiety and insomnia, among other symptoms)
and 16 percent experienced elevated blood pressure.
The study was plagued with major scientific errors. Among
them: Siegel didn’t actually identify what herb the subjects
were taking. They used an assortment of selfselected commercial
ginseng products. Manufacturers refer to several different
plant species as “ginseng,” and commonly make substitutes
for the real thing. Siegel himself admitted that adulterants
caused some of the symptoms of the syndrome.
According to Chinese medical practices, overuse, drastic
overdose, or inappropriate use of authentic ginseng can
lead to headache, insomnia, heart palpitations, and a rise
in blood pressure. But the average person will find ginseng
a safe, risk-free, staminaenhancing tonic when taken in
proper doses. Don’t let the specter of “ginseng abuse syndrome”
Each herb helps treat one
You’ve heard this one. Only men can take saw palmetto, since
it’s for prostate health. Only depressed people should take
St. John’s wort.
Herbs contain many different active chemicals. In times
past, virtually all medicinal herbs had multiple uses. For
example, saw pal-