Unique international conference to focus on effectiveness, safety of medicinal herbs

By David Williamson
UNC-CH News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- Are medicinal herbs -- now extremely popular in the United States and abroad but only poorly regulated -- safe? Do they really work? How much should a person take in hope of producing the desired effect? Those are the chief questions top researchers will try to answer March 2-3 as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill hosts the first international scientific conference on "The Efficacy and Safety of Medicinal Herbs."

Speakers from Canada, England, Germany and the United States will discuss what's been confirmed about eight of the world's most widely used herbs at the university's Friday Center, according to conference co-chair Dr. Lenore Arab. Those herbs are garlic, ginseng, ginko biloba, comfrey, saw palmetto, feverfew, echinacea and St. John's wort.

"It's essential that health professionals know what we know about these products and what's still speculation so that they can give informed advice," said Arab, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the UNC-CH schools of medicine and public health. "Right now, the public has stopped asking, and even if they were, most health professionals do not feel that they are in a position to give advice.

"As a result, the train is running wild down the track. People are self-medicating without any guidance. They might be taking extremely high, possibly dangerous, doses because they think more is better, or they may be getting so little that they're simply wasting their money."

As an example, she cited comfrey, which can cause liver damage and even liver failure. Banned in Canada and Europe, the herb is still widely available in U.S. health food stores.

Some 400 scientists, nutritionists and others are expected to attend the conference, Arab said.

Dr. Varro Tyler, professor and dean emeritus of pharmacy at Purdue University, will give the keynote address, "Herbal Medicine: From the

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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