Sunday, November 29, 2020

Herbal Medicine Side Effects


Learn the possible side effects on your body from using herbal drugs and medicines.

Adverse Effects:

Any undesirable or unintended result of taking the drug or herb is adverse effect. This broad term includes all noxious effects – mild, serious and fatal.

The term Adverse Drug Reaction (Herbs Drug Interaction) is used for any noxious change which is suspected to be due to a drug or herb and that occurs at doses used normally in man. These Adverse Drug Reactions may require treatment or decrease in dose or indicates a caution in the future use of the drug or herb. Here mild and expected side effects are excluded.

When does adverse effects appear?

Adverse effects may develop promptly or only after prolonged use or even after stoppage of use of herb.

What is the incidence of Herbs Drug Interaction?

Adverse effects are not rare. With modern medical drugs, an incidence of 10 – 25% has been documented in different clinical settings. This is one benefit of using herbs where this incidence is very low comparatively. Adverse effects are more common with multiple drug therapy, in infants and the elderly.

The Types Of Adverse Effects:

Adverse effects are divided into two types.

  1. Predictable or Type 1 Reactions: These are based on pharmacological (drug or herb related) properties of the herb or drug, viz. augmented but qualitatively normal response to the drug. These includes side effects, toxic effects and consequences of drug withdrawal. These are more common and dose related.
  2. Unpredictable or Type 2 Reactions: These are based on the peculiarities of the patient and not on drug’s known actions. These include Allergies, Idiosyncrasy. These are less common and generally more serious and often require withdrawal of drug.

Different Types Of Adverse Effects:

  1. Side effects
  2. Secondary effects
  3. Toxic effects, Poisoning
  4. Intolerance
  5. Idiosyncrasy
  6. Drug allergy or Drug hypersensitivity and Supersensitivity
  7. Photosensitivity
  8. Drug dependence, Drug abuse, Drug addiction, Drug habituation
  9. Drug withdrawal reactions
  10. Teratogenicity
  11. Carcinogenicity and Mutagenicity
  12. Drug induced diseases or Iatrogenic diseases

Side Effects:

These are the unwanted and often unavoidable effects of a drug at normal therapeutic dose. These are predictable from the effects profile of a drug. Reduction in dose generally helps in reducing these effects.

Secondary Effects:

These are the indirect consequences of a primary action of a drug or herb. Like Senna leaves are purgative. Using them will help the bowel but there would be some cramps like colicky pain in the abdomen.

Toxic Effects:

These are the result of excessive action of the drug or herb due to prolonged use or over dosage. These are predictable and dose related.

Herbs are fortunate and valuable as all the three forms of herbs drug interaction are very less in using the Herbal Medicine. For more on harmful effects, keep visiting the Herbs drug interaction page.


It is the appearance of characteristic toxic effects of a herb in an individual at normal therapeutic doses. It is due to the low threshold of the individual to the action of the herb.


It is genetically determined abnormal reactivity to a chemical. Certain adverse effects of some drugs or herbs are restricted to individual with a particular genotype (genetic buildup). In addition certain uncharacteristic or bizarre effects due to peculiarities of an individual (for the particular genotype) are also idiosyncratic reactions e.g. barbiturates causing excitement and confusion in some persons.

Drug Allergy:

Drug allergy is an immunologically mediated reaction producing stereotype symptoms that are not related to the properties of herbs or drugs. These are independent of dosage. Drug hypersensitivity is the same term. Mostly the drug allergies are not present while using the herbs, and the same can be found on herbs drug interaction page.

These are of four types –

  1.  Anaphylactic reactions or immediate hypersensitivity: Urticaria, itching, angioedema, asthma,  rhinitis and potentially fatal anaphylactic shock might result. Immediate medical intervention is necessary.
  2. Cytolytic reactions: The cells undergo damage and the manifestation could be – thrombocytopenia, agranulocytosis, aplastic anemia, hemolysis, organ damage (liver, kidney, muscles) and SLE systemic lupus erythematosus.
  3. Retarded or Arthus reactions: They give rise to destructive inflammatory response like rashes, seum sickness (fever, arthralgia, lymphadenopathy), polyarteritis nodosa, Stevens-Johnson syndrome (erythema multiforme, arthritis, nephritis, myocarditis, mental symptoms).
  4. Delayed hypersensitivity: An inflammatory response is generated e.g. contact dermatits, rashes, fever, photosensitization.

Skin tests (intradermal & patch) or intranasal tests may forewarn for Anaphylactic reactions only. Still they are not entirely reliable – false positive and false negative results are not rare.

The best condition with herbs that all these kinds of allergies are very rare. So we can benefit from herbs without  fear.


 Photosensitivity is the cutaneous or skin reaction resulting from drug induced sensitization of skin to UV (Ultraviolet) radiation from Sun light.

  1. In Phototoxic photosensitivity the drug or its metabolite accumulates in skin, absorbs light and undergoes a photochemical reaction. On exposure to light (Shorter wavelengths 290 – 320 nm, UV-B)  the photo biological reaction results in local tissue damage (Sunburn like) – erythema, edema, blistering followed by hyper pigmentation and desquamation. These are more common than Photoallergic reactions.
  2. In Photoallergic photosensitivity the drug or its metabolite induces a cell mediated allergy ( delayed hypersensitivity). On exposure to light of longer wave lengths (320 -340 nm, UV-A) a papular or eczematous contact dermatitis like condition is produced.

Drug Dependence:

Drugs or herbs which are capable of altering mood and feelings are liable to repetitive use to derive euphoria, withdrawal from reality, social adjustment etc. The scientific aspects of such self medication for non-therapeutic purposes are covered in Drug dependence while Drug abuse covers the social and other aspects.

  1. Psychological dependence: When the individual believes that optimal state of wellbeing is achieved only through the effects of the drug. It can range from desire to craving to compulsive drug use.
  2. Physical dependence: The altered physiological state produced by repeated use of a drug that require the continued use of drug to maintain physiological equilibrium. Discontinuation of the drug results in characteristic withdrawal or abstinence syndrome. The essence of this process is adaptation of nervous system to function normally in the presence of the drug. It is also called Neuroadaptation.

Some of the herbs can have drug dependence, to know about them visit the herbs drug interaction main page.

Drug Abuse:

It is the use of a drug in a manner and quantity that deviates from the approved medical and social patterns in a given culture at that time.

Drug Addiction:

This is the compulsive drug use with overwhelming involvement with the use of the drug. Procuring the drug and using it takes the priority over other activities.

Drug Habituation:

This is the less intense involvement with the drug, so that its withdrawal produces mild discomfort. Consumption of tea, coffee, tobacco and  social drinking are considered habituating. The physical dependence is absent in this situation. You can see them more on herbs drug interaction page.

Drug Withdrawal Reactions:

When sudden interruption of therapy with some drug (other than that are usually recognized as producing dependence) also results in adverse consequences – mostly in the form of worsening of clinical condition for which the drug was being used. This is usually found in steroids, anti-hypertensive drugs, beta blockers and antiepileptic drugs. Gradual withdrawal by tapering off the dosage is the answer. These are quite insignificant with herbs, find them on herbs drug interaction page.


Teratogenicity is the capacity of a drug to cause fetal abnormality when given to pregnant mother.


This refers to the capacity of a drug to cause cancer. Chemical carcinogenesis is well recognized phenomenon that generally takes several years (10 -40) years.


The capacity of a drug to cause genetic changes is Mutagenicity.

Iatrogenic Disorders Or Drug Induced Diseases:

These are physician induced. These are the functional disturbances or disease that persist even after the offending drug has been withdrawn and largely eliminated e.g. Peptic ulcer by salicylates and corticosteroids, Hepatitis by Isoniazid.

As a native Indian and an Ayurvedic holistic healer, Arjun writes in the lane of herbal healing and home remedies. Certification: BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine & Surgery With Modern Medicine).

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