Many Lagosians prefer taking herbal concoctions to orthodox medications.
But the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) warns that they may be harmful and even lethal if consumed after 14 days of preparation.
This warning was sounded on Monday in a statement issued to mark the World Herbal Medicine Day by NAFDAC Director-General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye.
She said that this was for safety reasons.
Adeyeye advised Nigerians to use herbal medicines with caution to prevent avoidable deaths and complications.
The World Herbal Medicine Day is commemorated annually on 31st August.
Citing safety reasons, Adeyeye warned that no liquid herbal formulation should be ingested after 14 days of preparation and such medicines should always be kept refrigerated.
“After 14 days, if it is liquid, it may start to develop bacteria that can make people sick. The general public should use herbal medicines with care because you don’t know the quantity that you are supposed to take. The fact that it is natural doesn’t mean it is not toxic,’’ she said.
She said that toxicity was not about the volume consumed, explaining that toxins in micro quantity could kill.
Adeyeye sounded a note of caution, “Just because you prepared the concoction in your house doesn’t mean you can drink it like water. It may be dangerous.”
The NAFDAC chief noted that the problem associated with herbal medicines was that many people did not understand that it should be scientifically driven.
“If you prepare herbal medicine in liquid form you don’t know how stable the medicine will be in the water. If it is not stable and it is degrading to another thing, it may hurt,” she said.
The DG continued: “Those who engage in hawking herbal preparations on the streets under the scorching sun, the heat generated by the sun may have a way of causing decomposition of the active ingredients in the medicines being sold. This may pose significant health risks to those buying and consuming these preparations. That’s why herbal medicines in Nigeria have to be handled with care. Some people take herbal medicines like vaccines. Herbal medicines are derived from plants mostly, sometimes from animals in few cases while vaccines are from human or animal cells that have been programmed to elicit immunologic effects in the body.’’
Adeyeye also advised against combining both herbal and conventional medicines in treating ailments.
“If someone is using herbal medicine and a conventional medicine simultaneously, there may be a problem. Let’s say that a particular medication is supposed to lower blood pressure or lower sugar level for diabetes and a person takes conventional medicine and the sugar level is lowered and he then takes herbal remedy and that person may go into shock. This means that the level of sugar in the blood is too low because the two are now working synergistically. Sometimes herbal medicines may actually reduce the effectiveness of conventional medicine. That’s why studies need to be done because there is drug-herbal medicine interaction that may cause a lot of harm. Whoever is taking herbal medicine should talk to his or her pharmacist and medical doctor for professional advice,’’ Adeyeye said.
She then called for collaboration between herbal medicine practitioners and medical researchers to achieve rapid development of the herbal medicine industry in the country.
The D-G reminisced that NAFDAC had in March 2019 set up a herbal medicine product committee before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out to advance research in herbal medicines with the goal of making sure that the herbalist and the researcher were collaborating.
“So, whatever the herbalist knows from ancestral history that does not have the research to back it up, collaboration with researchers will enable that herbal medicine to be advanced to be listed by NAFDAC if deemed safe. Right now, there is no single herbal medicine that has gone through a full clinical trial the way a clinical trial is supposed to be done. There could be herbal medicines that have been used to treat a symptom of COVID-19 or whatever, but it has not been published. In which case, it is not an official clinical trial,’’ she said.