Some Herbal Medicines Carry Potential Health Risks During Cancer Treatment

Herbal remedies such as stinging nettle, garlic, black cumin, and turmeric can cause harm during chemotherapy in some instances.

Herbal medicines that are popular among cancer patients in some parts of the world have been found to carry potential health risks.

"In the Middle East, herbs are commonly used as part of traditional medicine, based on the impressive affinity of the people here to the herbal heritage that continuously prospers from the time of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia," said lead surveyor Eran Ben-Arye.

A study published in the journal Cancer focused primarily on patients in the Middle East. They found that nearly two-thirds (29 out of 44) of the popular herbal medicine used in many Middle Eastern countries had 1 or more health risks.

Researchers chose to look at patients taking herbal medicines their physicians were aware of. The results showed that both patients and doctors were in favor of combining both modern medicine and herbs for cancer treatments.

"In the majority of cases, patients seek to combine the best of the worlds and do not perceive herbal medicine as a real alternative to modern oncology care," Ben-Arye said.

Most patients use herbal medicines to help better cope with side effects of treatment and improve their quality of life.

The highest rates for herbal medicine use was Turkey, Qatar, and the Palestinian Authority. The most used herbs were stinging nettle, garlic, black cumin, and turmeric as well as honey and camel’s milk.

Turmeric could potentially increase the toxic effects of chemotherapies, while gingko biloba and green tea could increase the risk of bleeding. Researchers are hopeful that this study will help assist providers when giving treatment advice on the safety and efficacy of these herbal medicines.

"The majority of patients would hope to share their experience and questions of herbal option with their health care provider 'at home' within the oncology department rather than 'outside' where non-professionals and sometimes charlatans suggest miraculous potions," Ben-Arye said.