All herbs are drugs, whether they come in the form of supplements, teas, lotions or potions (okay, maybe not potions!)! Herbal supplements in different forms have become increasingly popular. Natural is in, and natural is a good thing (to paraphrase an admired professional)! Herbs can indeed be effective, safe and many times they can help us with less side effects than their synthetic prescription drug counterpart. Many times they can help prevent us from needing the synthetic prescription kind. However, let me say unconditionally that All Herbs are Drugs! So, while we definitely want to consider herbs to prevent and ease symptoms and disease, we also want to be informed before we use them. I'm prompted to talk about this again because I recently read a case study report from the University of Rochester titled Medical Sleuthing Linked Muscle, Kidney Problems to Kava Tea (More on this later).

Yes, all herbs are drugs too hence, all herbal supplements including teas can have side effects too, ranging from mild to severe. Herbs also interact with other herbs, drugs and food. Yes, food too! It's very important that we research a herb or any supplement before we take it, whether we take it orally, topically, in a drink (our tea for example) or in one of the new nutraceutical foods currently on the market. For our purposes, I am including all supplements such as vitamins, minerals, botanicals, herbs, amino acids, and well, I hope you get the idea that I am referring to any non-prescription non-physician prescribed supplement.

Herbs and dietary supplements are not regulated by our government, and they do not undergo testing and screening for safety until something goes wrong. For instance, only after a woman died years ago from taking a supplement containing Ephedrine, which was recommended by her trainer to enhance her workout, did the FDA begin to investigate this supplement and start to issue warnings about it. This woman had a history of cardiovascular disease and she should never have taken a chemical compound that has the same chemical structure and side effects as amphetamines (speed!). Let's remember chemistry 101, all drugs natural, or otherwise are chemicals.

Have we ever read a bodybuilding magazine, or a fitness magazine and not come across an ad for a fat burner? Does it sound a little like magic in a pill? If we look closer we may find various herbs such as Guarana, MaHuang, and some will combine these with caffeine or even the kola nut to enhance the metabolic boost (these all rev up our calorie burning, and our heart rate). Along with this enhanced fat burning, we might also put ourselves at risk for a heart attack, stroke, headache, gastrointestinal problems and other risky conditions especially if we have risk factors (often the case if we're trying to lose weight). Taken often enough, even the most healthy person could start to burn lean tissue instead of fat if on a lowered calorie diet (this includes our heart which is a muscle!!). These days, all of these can be found in various waters, sports drinks, coffee's etc.

In my above mentioned Kava tea example, The URMC team reported the case study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine., of a cyclist who collapsed and was diagnosed in the ER with kidney failure due to his long time use and more than one cup per day of Kava Tea. This is believed to be the first of its kind in the scientific literature. Scroll down for a link tea drinkers! They described it as a cautionary tale, emphasizing the importance of taking a thorough medical history, including the use of any and all herbal remedies and pharmaceuticals.

I myself once recommended a topical natural ointment containing the active ingredient "Capsaicin", which is found naturally in hot peppers to a client. While I repeated to my client several times to test a small area; to use sparingly and with caution (it creates heat and pain initially before blocking pain signals), she applied the cream too liberally without thinking that an over -the -counter topical cream could create more pain. Yes, even an Over -the -counter topical cream can cause burns! Might not most of us do the same thing? Well, there was no harm of course other than an unexpected temporary burning neck!

Want a few other examples of common side effects of popular supplements and herbs?
St. John's Wort: causes sun sensitivity and it can raise blood pressure (when certain foods are eaten) as well as interact with other anti-depressant type drugs.

Kava Kava: can cause serious liver damage and is currently being investigated. Here is a link to the case study published by the University Of Rochester Medical Center

Vitamin B6: this one is usually recommended as a natural diuretic, but when we take it as single supplement in high doses over a period of time, we may cause irreversible nerve damage to ourselves in the process.

Gingko Biloba: while studies have shown that this herb is effective in treating ailments with decreased cerebral blood flow especially in older persons, it can increase blood loss during surgery. Garlic, vitamin E and many other natural supplements must be stopped weeks prior to surgery of any kind including dental surgery. It may also be contraindicated for those of us taking blood thinners, vitamin E and fish oil supplements. All of these slow the clotting factors in our blood. They all increase the blood- thinning effect when taken together.

Androstenedione: A prohormone supplement made popular among young male athletes after a famous baseball player disclosed his usage, can decrease HDL (the good kind) serum cholesterol and actually may raise estrogen levels during long-term usage (not what a young male athlete wants, I think!).

DHEA: Sold as a supplement, it is actually a hormone (formally known as a precursor), which the body uses to make testosterone and estrogen. Many of us over 40 have heard of this supplement, and it is touted as being part of an anti-aging regime (DHEA studies indicate many helpful benefits including immune system enhancement and restoration of our sex drive!). However, if we self treat, especially us women, we may find ourselves with hair loss on our head, and hair growth on our face (not what we want!). This is an example of just one possible side effect.

Herbs are Drugs and again, so are vitamins, minerals, and all supplements. Many prescription drugs are made from plants, and many are made synthetically; it's all a matter of chemistry 101. While I'm all for the "natural" path, let's be careful and not follow the latest craze, or the latest buzz on something. Let's not take something because our friend or pal from the gym recommends it (or our trainer for that matter) without researching it further or asking our doctor. And let's not forget that even over-the-counter topical creams and all drugs, require full label reading. It's for our health, and that's usually why we take supplements to begin with. To quote:

"Many people try to manage their health by taking plant-derived dietary supplements. But despite their ubiquity, these pills and potions are not well understood by the scientific community. Toxicity is an especially murky area. Manufacturers must be on the watch for potential toxicity from multiple sources. Products can be contaminated with something toxic, such as a heavy metal, pesticide, herbicide, or microbe. Or, in a case of mistaken identity, a toxic plant species might be used instead of a nontoxic one. Perhaps worst of all, the plant might be inherently toxic". Retrieved from

Here's to our Health!

Want a great web site to check out supplements? Go to It includes the latest research, one such about antidepressants. Look for Herbs are Drugs, Part Two next week. I am also pleased to announce that beginning June 1, I will be offering a weight management program based upon 30 minute sessions using SKYPE. Just in time for summer, for all my readers around the globe. Stay tuned for more info!

June M. Lay M.S.
Please seek the advise of your Doctor, for any medical concerns or before beginning a supplementation program.

Follow me, Junefit every Sunday on Twitter for a new tool taken my book. AND my screensaver program "Focus on the Tools" is now available for PC users. It features rotating flashing tools from my program with beautifully photographed healthy salads in the background. There's even a calendar that shows the month and date! Reinforce healthy eating habits and stay motivated to change while at your computer. Click here for more info

Junefit is included in Google's top ranked women's health resources's_Health/Resources/

June is Lifestyle Columnist at

copyright 2011, junefit. All rights reserved.

Author's Bio: 

Author of "It's Not a Diet, it's Creative eating!"June M. Lay M.S. provides personal training, and behavioral/cognitive counseling in weight management in NYC. June's unique background includes her educational and practical experience spanning Exercise Science, Nutrition, and Behavioral Science, which gives her clinical and practical credibility . She is certified as a Lifestyle Counselor, Adult Weight Management Specialist, and Health & Fitness Specialist. She has her diploma in Nutrition from the Huntington College of Health Sciences and a B.S. in Behavioral Science from the New York Institute of Technology. She completed her graduate studies at Rosalind Franklin School of Medicine and Health Sciences with an M.S. specializing in Women's Health.

Practicing since 1983 and writing Health & Fitness Tips as Junefit since 1998, she is a Lifestyle Columnist for Health News Digest; a supporting organization of "Exercise is Medicine" an initiative founded by the American College of Sports Medicine and The American Heart Association to advance the cause of Exercise as medicine. Her website is Google ranked for credibility among the "Top Women Health Resources". After years as a Personal Trainer, Nutritionist and a "reformed overeater" herself, June developed her philosophy of “Creative Eating versus Dieting” , which addresses behavior patterns as habits that can be changed. For more information about June and to sample her tips, go to,

June Lay M.S.