Herbal warning

For thousands of years, China has been known to be the capital of herbal medicine. Other countries like the Philippines have their own local regional version of treating diseases and health conditions using herbal products. Today, we still hear an abundance of anecdotal testimonials about the efficacy of these natural “medications” from indigenous foods, plants, minerals, some of them from regular food we eat everyday.

Efficacy and safety

Folk remedies are our earthly natural gifts and traditional plant and herbs are still man’s sources.  About 85 percent of the world’s developing nations studied and refined for years in scientific laboratories until governmental agency’s (the Food and Drug Administration or  in case of the U.S.) strict efficacy and safety standards are met. Some of the problems with herbals drugs include lack of stringent product testing and quality control, contamination with adulterants and bacteria, and resultant serious complications, acute (instant) or chronic (long term, years) and in some cases, deaths.

There is no question that many plants, fungi, flowers, roots, leaves, fruits have chemical substances in them that are beneficial to the human body, not only as a source of nutrition but as herbal items with medicinal values. Modern science has harnessed some of them, reconfigured their molecular structures and properties, and transformed them into medicine. Penicillin is one of the multitudes of drugs that have their origin from these natural elements.

Tainted reputation

The quest for alternative medicine — driven by culture, tradition, or economics — has been tainted by the incursion of some pharmaceutical or manufacturing companies which have flooded the market with a hundreds of “herbal medications and juices.”  Each has the preposterous claim or insinuation that their products are useful or good for all diseases, from acne to athlete’s foot, from high blood pressure to diabetes, from impotence to aging, from arthritis to cancer, etc.  They obviously aim to deceive the unsuspecting public into believing their product is a cure for any and all diseases known to man. And since this particular business is today a multi-billion dollars industry, it goes without saying that there are millions upon millions of ignorant consumers that are being victimized daily by these unscrupulous entrepreneurs.

While these companies are spending millions of dollars in marketing and promotion, they are raking in billions of dollars a year, by peddling their products, under the guise of the label “food supplement,” in order to escape the strict scrutiny and investigation by the U.S. FDA or similar governmental agencies in other countries, for safety, efficacy, proper dosage, contraindication, side effects, etc.

Reckless, profit-driven ventures

Most herbal products today have not been scientifically investigated the same way all western drugs on the market have been studied and tested. So, we do not really know which are safe and efficacious, and what side effects they may have. Not all herbal medicines are dangerous but a few have been shown to cause kidney failure, liver failure, cancer, clot blockages in the kidney veins, seizures, etc. Some of them have caused deaths.

Sometime ago, a Chinese herb known as Aristolochia fangchi or A. fangchi was linked to kidney failure and urinary cancer. This herb is used in Chinese medicine to treat asthma. A. fangchi is also an ingredient in a Belgian weight-loss formulation, where the linkage was discovered. This was not the first time where herbal medicines have caused severe, if not fatal, complications. Other herbals to stay away from, to mention a few, are pokeroot, comfrey, and liferoot, which have been reported to cause liver damage. Ginseng can affect hormonal balance and Gingko Biloba, excessive bleeding during surgery, among some people. A warning has been sounded by the United Nations health agency regarding the use/misuse/overuse of herbal medications.

Late discovery of toxicity

Most of the herbals and so-called food supplement sold over the counter have not undergone proper and adequate testing like what are required by the FDA for proprietary medications. It is most unfortunate for the public that these substances do not need FDA approval prior to marketing.  As such, manufacturing and marketing firms are able to make the usual attractive but false claims that the product is effective for various illnesses. The gullible and ill-informed people fall victims to these fraudulent claims in their search for the “fountain of health and longevity.” This unregulated business is a trillion-dollar industry around the globe. It is one thing to take a substance and discover after days or months that it is not effective; it is another to find out months or years later that the substance is toxic, or causes cancer. By then, it is too late.

Alternative medicine could be a wonderful natural option, but with today’s sophisticated medical science, it is most prudent for all of us to use only those herbal products and drugs that have been investigated by the FDA, studied, tested, and proven safe, effective, with minimal side effects and potential complications.

There are many fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, spices, and herbs that we eat daily, which have medicinal values in them. These are the “herbals” that are good, safe and much less expensive too. For example: drinking water, for system cleansing and detoxifying; apple, anti-viral and lowers cholesterol; mustard, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial; salt, anti-bacterial and preservative; corn, induces urination; garlic, circulatory stimulant and lowers blood pressure; wheat, anti-aging; cucumber, anti-inflammatory; onion, lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar; watercress is a tonic that detoxifies; potato, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory; lemonade to minimize kidney stone formation; honey, antiseptic and expectorant; pepper, decongestant and immune-system enhancer; and, green leafy vegetables, anti-oxidant like most of the above, and also anti-cancer, etc.

One caveat: There is no one single drug on earth that is a cure-all for every illness known to man, and taking an untested drug or substance with unknown side-effects and complications is downright dangerous in the long term, and potentially fatal.


Reeves, Miller, Zhang & Diza Law Corporation’s offices are located in Pasadena, Irvine, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Makati City. 

Telephone: (800) 795-8009 

E-mail: immigration@rreeves.com 

Website: www.rreeves.com. 


The analysis and suggestions offered in this column do not create a lawyer-client relationship and are not a substitute for the personalized representation that is essential to every case. 


Dr. Philip S. Chua
Dr. Philip S. Chua

Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States.

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