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Medicinal plants: frequent use in France

Plant-based products, often mistakenly considered as harmless alternative remedies, are sometimes the cause of severe adverse effects and can interfere with a number of drugs. Health professionals must be informed of the use of these products before prescribing or giving other medicinal treatments.

Patients rarely inform doctors spontaneously that they are taking plant-based products. However, a number of these risk interacting with drugs and causing sometimes severe adverse effects.

Prescrire presents a survey on the use of plants carried out by several French teams. More than 1,000 patients were questioned on the use of plant-based medicinal products, in particular valerian, ginkgo, ginseng, St John’s wort, echinacea and ephedra, during a consultation with the anaesthetist prior to surgery.

One patient in 5 stated that they were taking a plant-based product, with consumption more frequent in women than in men. These results are all the more important as some of these plants can cause adverse effects or interact with drug treatments.

Patients should routinely inform health professionals if they are taking plant-based medicinal products (and health professionals should ask them the question), to avoid adverse effects and interactions with other medications. For so-called alternative medicines are not always risk-free.

©Prescrire July 2008

Source: "Phytothérapie en France : utilisation fréquente" Rev Prescrire 2008 ; 28 (297) : 508.

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