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Herbal Remedy Safety for the Elderly

In the constant search for good health, most of us try complementary medicine at some point in our life. All too often we consider it after falling ill and not deriving the therapeutic benefits from modern drugs. Globally herbal medicine is the most commonly utilized complementary system of medicine. But are herbal remedies safe especially for seniors? Do herbal remedies have no side effects? These are two broad questions and it is important for every person, particularly the elderly, to be well informed when using herbal remedies.

Are herbal remedies safe?

There is no doubt that herbal remedies can be safely used provided that it is used appropriately. Herbs contain some pharmacologically active substances which have the same effect as modern drugs. The quantity of these substances may vary from one harvest to another and it therefore poses some problems with dosage where the quantity of the active substance in a modern drug is precise. In fact, the vast majority of modern drugs have been derived or inspired by nature.

For example, valium that is widely used as a sleeping tablet was developed around the natural substances in the valerian root. The active ingredient in aspirin is pharmacologically similar to substances in the white willow bark. The difference lies in the fact that these pharmacologically active substances in modern drugs are synthesized in a laboratory while in herbs it occurs naturally as part of the composition of the plant.

On that basis, herbal remedies can be effective in treating certain symptoms and medical conditions. It may be seen as relatively safe possibly due to the lower doses of pharmacologically active ingredients within it coupled with other, sometimes unknown, substances that may prevent the side effects seen in modern drugs. However, incorrect use of herbal remedies can be dangerous and even fatal.

The risk is greater in patients who have certain diseases or are using specific medication. Herbal remedies may have a drug interaction with these prescription medicines and these adverse effects can be dangerous. Overuse of certain herbs will essentially have the same effect as using the wrong dose of a drug or even overdosing, depending on the herbal remedy that is used.

Side Effects of Herbal Remedies

Herbal remedies have the potential to have side effects just like modern drugs. Certain plants can have toxic substances, others may yield side effects only in hypersensitive people and at times the overuse of certain herbal remedies will cause side effects. Although herbal remedies are sold over the counter, are considered to be “all natural” and are sometimes seen to be no different from culinary herbs, the fact of the matter is that herbs can have side effects and cause serious adverse reactions.

The elderly need to be cautious when using herbal remedies. The aged body, underlying chronic diseases and the range of medication that many seniors have to take on a daily basis may make using herbal remedies a risky practice. Ideally seniors should first consult with their doctor before commencing with any medication. Alternative health practitioners who are appropriately qualified may be able to assist with the use of herbal remedies rather than opting for over-the-counter options. Overall, herbal remedies can be safe to use even for the elderly if it is done appropriately – under medical supervision and used as prescribed.


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