Queen’s professor reveals ‘hidden dangers’ of herbal supplements

Many supplements include potentially dangerous ingredients
Many supplements include potentially dangerous ingredients

Many herbal supplements contain hidden pharmaceutical ingredients that could be causing serious health risks, according to a professor from Queen’s University Belfast.

Emeritus Professor Duncan Burns, a forensically experienced analytical chemist from QUB’s Institute for Global Food Security, has been working with a team of specialists from Kingston University London and international scientific company LGC to examine the detection of illegal ingredients in the supplements.

The research found that over-the-counter supplements – commonly advertised to treat obesity and erectile dysfunction problems – are labelled as fully herbal but often include potentially dangerous pharmaceutical ingredients, which are not listed on the label.

Professor Burns said: “We have found that these supplements are often not what customers think they are – they are being deceived into thinking they are getting health benefits from a natural product when actually they are taking a hidden drug.

“These products are unlicensed medicines and many people are consuming large quantities without knowing the interactions with other supplements or medicines they may be taking. This is very dangerous and there can be severe side effects.

“This is a real issue as people suffering from conditions like diabetes, hyperlipidemia and hypertension are frequently prescribed nitrate containing medicines. If they are also taking a herbal supplement to treat erectile dysfunction, they could become very ill.”