Taking traditional Chinese herbal medicine and prescribed drugs can harm or kill you, according to a recent study.

Traditional Chinese medicine. Photo: Wikicommons.

The study, published in the Singapore Medical Journal earlier this year, notes increasing reports of patients with herb-drug interactions, in particular the hazardous effects of 44 commonly used Chinese herbs if combined with warfarin, a western drug commonly used as an anticoagulant to prevent blood from clotting.

Herbs such as danshen, gingko, dong quai, safflower, licorice, Asian ginseng and ginger had the strongest evidence of potential reactions with warfarin.

The study calls for better cooperation between Western medical doctors and Chinese physicians to ensure the safety of patients on warfarin.

To minimise such dangers and bridge the existing communication gap between Western medics and practitioners of Chinese medicine, a group of students at the University of British Columbia medical school have developed a patient safety tool, reported The Vancouver Sun.

The University of British Columbia. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The students conducted a survey of 300 Chinese immigrants to Vancouver and found that while a number of respondents had used Chinese herbs in addition to Western medicine, many did not disclose this to their doctors. Moreover, the labels of many over-the-counter herbal products don’t contain important safety messages for users on herb-drug interactions.

The tool is essentially a list of 22 popular Chinese traditional herbs, their effects on the human body and any potential herb-drug interactions, in the form of a pocket-sized card that patients can carry and show to their physicians.

One of the students in the group, Janny Xuechen Ke, told The Vancouver Sun, “This is a patient safety issue. People think herbs are natural and benign but they can have potentially dangerous effects in the body. Our hope is that people will carry this list we’ve created, along with a list of the prescription drugs they are using. It’s important information to share with doctors but patients need to take responsibility for this too.”

Medhavi Arora is in her final year at the University of Hong Kong studying Journalism and International Relations. Her print, video and multimedia pieces have been featured in the Times of India and CNN-IBN. She is a former intern at UN Women and has additional experience in sustainability, international affairs and communications.