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A shelf displying various herbal products.

Bring out the pharmacy textbook

by the Academic Health Center

From eNews, December 18, 2003

Are all echinacea or gingko products created equal? No, it appears they are not. According to a University of Minnesota study, when we self-medicate with herbal products, we may unknowingly ingest ingredients and dosages substantially different from those that are recommended. School of Public Health researchers, led by professor Judith Garrard, surveyed 20 retail stores and found 880 products for 10 of the most commonly purchased herbs--echinacea, St. John's wort, ginkgo biloba, garlic, saw palmetto, ginseng, goldenseal, aloe, Siberian ginseng, and valerian. They examined the labels of these products and discovered wide variations in the ingredients as well as in the recommended daily doses for the same herbs. The researchers also found that the ingredients for each herb differed in many respects from textbook benchmarks for ingredients and dosages. Specifically, 37 percent of the 880 products were either not consistent with scientific research or had insufficient information on the labels for the researchers to decide. "The results of this field study illustrate some of the difficulties the public faces in choosing among myriad products of commonly used herbs," says Garrard. "Because of the lack of clinical trials and outcome studies, health care providers face an even more daunting task in advising patients about the responsible use of herbal preparations and other dietary supplements." The study is published in the October 27, 2003, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.