Wellness & Fitness

Organic products that can harm you


You should always be cautious when a product claims to have ‘no side effects’. PHOTO | FILE

Does ‘natural’ mean that it is ‘safe’?

Many people believe that products labelled ‘natural’ are safe and good for them. This is not necessarily true. Everything in nature has the potential to cause harm – even water and oxygen! Too much oxygen has been known to damage the eyes and brain of new born babies whilst too much water taken in at one sitting can lead to water intoxication (a potentially fatal condition).

For this reason, you should always be cautious when a product claims to have ‘no side effects’.

Can these products have similar effects to prescription drugs?

Yes, they can. A large number of prescription drugs were originally made from substances derived from plants. This means that a natural health product can have similar chemical properties as a prescription drug.

For example, some plants have natural oestrogen (known as phytoestrogen) and have been incorporated into ‘natural’ fertility pills. Some plants have natural chemicals that help prevent blood clots. This means that some of the natural health products in the market work on your body the same way that a prescription drug would.

Can they interact with my prescription medication?

Yes, they can. For example, garlic is thought to help lower cholesterol and to help relieve the symptoms of infections such as the common cold. Ginkgo has traditionally been thought to help improve mental function as well as to prevent altitude sickness.

If taken in high amounts, both garlic and ginkgo can increase the risk of bleeding when taken with blood-thinning drugs. (This usually happens with people taking high dose supplements or pills/capsules containing these products).

Are they regulated globally?

Apart from nations like Canada which have put in place strategies to regulate this industry, most countries do not regulate natural health products. This means that there are no institutions in place to assess the chemical make-up of the products, how they work in the body, how they are prepared, and the doses used. This unfortunate gap has allowed for contamination or adulteration of these natural products.

How are they adulterated?

Usually this is done by incorporating prescription drugs (or chemical compounds similar in structure to prescription medication) into the natural health products.

•Weight loss natural health products have been found to be adulterated with laxatives and diuretics. (Diuretics are drugs that reduce the amount of water in your body. They are commonly used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. When used inappropriately, laxatives cause you to clear food from your digestive system before your body has fully absorbed the necessary nutrients).

•Natural health products for sexual enhancement have been found to be adulterated with prescription erectile dysfunction medication. This can cause potentially fatal heart attacks in patients with coronary artery disease (hardening of the vessels around the heart. This is very common in patients with high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol levels).

•Natural health skin care products can be adulterated with steroid creams which can lead to eventual damage of your skin with long term use.

•Natural health products for sleep problems can be adulterated with sedatives. These can cause memory and concentration problems and long term dependency (inability to sleep without taking the drug).

How about skin products?

Common natural products used in skin products are aloe vera, lavender, lanolin, tea tree oil, cocoa or shea butter and citrus juices. The most common side effect of natural skin products is allergic reactions – this can range from an itchy rash to painful red blisters.

This can either be due to the natural product or the preservatives used to formulate the product. When you are choosing a natural skin product, you need to make sure that it is best suited for your skin type (just because it is natural doesn’t mean it can be used on every type of skin).

For example, citrus products work well for combination and oily skin whilst cocoa and shea butter work well on dry skin. To test for allergies, always apply a small amount of a new product on your arm before using it on your face/body. Wait at least 24 hours and watch for any unusual reactions. Preferably do it two or three times. (This also applies to natural cleansers and toners).

Buyer beware

•Any manufacturer that claims that their natural health product is ‘100 per cent effective’ or ‘100 per cent safe’ is not being honest or accurate in their presentation of their product. There is no product in the world that is free of risk.

•Any natural health product that claims to give ‘miracle’ or ‘quick fix’ results is likely to be adulterated or contain chemical compounds very similar to prescription drugs.


•The natural health product you are using may not be recommended for the disease or health condition you have.

• Natural health products can interact with certain foods or prescription medication that you may be using.

• You can get allergies from natural health products.

• Natural health products can give you side effects.

• Natural health products can sometimes have the same effects as prescription drugs
• If you have a known health condition, always talk to your doctor before using a natural health product.

• Always be on the lookout for adulterated natural health products when making a purchase.

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