While there’s scant evidence that herbal medications are safe or effective to treat heart conditions, they remain popular among people with heart disease, a new review suggests.
“Physicians should improve their knowledge of herbal medications in order to adequately weigh the clinical implications related to their use,” said senior review author Dr. Graziano Onder.
Onder, of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome, Italy, is an assistant professor in the department of geriatrics, neurosciences and orthopedics.
“Physicians should explain that natural does not always mean safe,” he said in a news release from the American College of Cardiology.
In the United States, herbal medications can be sold without being tested in clinical trials. As a result, there’s little evidence of their safety or effectiveness, the review authors explained.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration can only determine that an herbal medication is unsafe after it has already hurt someone. However, this hasn’t stopped many people with heart disease from taking herbal treatments to improve their heart health, the researchers said.
To explore the issue, the investigators looked at 42 herbal medications that have been identified as a possible treatment for one or more heart conditions, including high blood pressure, heart failure and hardening of the arteries.
Onder’s team found there isn’t enough evidence to determine if herbal remedies are causing potential complications.
Many people don’t tell their doctor they are taking herbal medications, probably because they don’t view these as treatments that could cause serious side effects, the study authors said.
Complicating matters even further, many people taking herbal medications don’t follow through on their treatment plan and fail to take the medication prescribed by their doctor properly, the findings showed.
Doctors should talk to their patients about the potential risks of using herbal medications, the researchers concluded.
“Communicating with the patient is a crucial component of the process,” Onder said. “The pros and cons of specific herbal medications should be explained and their risk-benefit profile properly discussed.”
The review was published Feb. 27 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health provides more information on alternative medicine.