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Herbal capsules: warning

Capsules containing powdered crushed plants are different from powders for herbal teas and tea bags.

Used wisely, herbal teas, made from loose leaves or tea bags, are sometimes helpful. Now, companies have come up with the idea of packaging the content of the tea bag in a directly ingestible form which is practical, "modern" and "medicinal", and can be taken on the go, at any time of day. Hence the appearance of herbal capsules.

The capsules differ hugely from tea bags. The tea bag is used to make an infusion, which means that only water-soluble substances are ingested. But with a capsule, the whole plant is ingested, including non-water soluble substances. This probably does not make much difference in most cases, but there is no certainty.

It is equally important to take into consideration the fact that their ease of use trivialises the use of capsules. And there is a difference between an infusion drunk occasionally at night and the daily consumption of several capsules: this practice is far removed from tradition.

For all these reasons, the French health authorities are insisting on a toxicological analysis of herb capsules before they are put on the market. But this is not enough, when one recalls accidents such as those that occurred in France around 1990 with germander, which turned out to cause liver damage.

©Prescrire October 2006

Source: "Plantes médicinales (suite) épisode 7. Poudres de plantes en gélules : prudence" Rev Prescrire 2006 ; 26 (276) : 696.

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