Herbs are safer than drugs

Despite what you hear from the news media, herbs are safer than drugs.  You are more likely to die from a prescription (RX) or over the counter (OTC) drug than from an herb. According to the National Poison Data System Statistics from 2009 — collected by the American Association of Poison Control Centers — RX and OTC drugs were the leading cause of poisoning deaths, while no deaths were reported for botanicals (1). There were approximately 1.2 million calls to poison centers that were related to RX and OTC drugs, compared to around 7000 calls related to herbs (1). For comparison, there were just under 35,000 calls related to food poisoning or reactions to food (1).

Now, the percentage of people that take RX or OTC drugs (a majority of the population)(2), that use botanicals (at least 1/3 of the population)(3) and that eat food (100% of the population) needs to be considered when looking at these statistics.  Such consideration shows that the difference between the number of RX/OTC drug-related calls to poison centers and deaths compared to herb-related calls (and no deaths) can not be explained by the number of people taking drugs versus herbs. Moreover, if you imagine that 100% (rather than a third) of the population were taking herbs, that would result in, maybe, 21000 calls to poison centers (multiplying 7000 times 3). This would still be less than the number of food-related calls. The number of different foods people eat may perhaps be greater than the number of different herbs they take, and this will influence the statistics (greater variety equals greater risk of reacting to something).  Regardless, I think it’s safe to conclude that herbs are orders of magnitude closer to food in safety than to drugs in danger.

1) Bronstein, AC, et al (2010) Clinical Toxicology 48: 979-1178.
2) Sloan Survey (2005) Sloan Epidemiology Center, Boston University
3) University of Maryland Medical Center, www.unm.ecu/altmed/articles/herbal-medicine-000351.htm

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