The League of Friends of The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RLHIM) welcomes the new European rules governing the sale of herbal medicines which come into force this month.

The directive means that herbal products sold to the public must have Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) licence from the UK medicines regulator. This will improve the quality of products and prevent adulteration of herbal products with other herbs, orthodox medications – steroids have been found in some Chinese herbal eczema creams and heavy metals, such as arsenic, in some Indian products.

Herbal products will now be accompanied by an information leaflet with the traditional indications for use, recommended dose, possible side effects and interactions with orthodox drugs (e.g. patients taking Warfarin or Digoxin, for example, should not take St John’s Wort). This will enable consumers to use herbs more effectively and safely.

RLHIM’s Herbal Clinic, has been attended by over four hundred patients. As with all specialities at the RLHIM, it is staffed by fully qualified medical professionals. It is led by consultant Dr Saul Berkovitz, supported by a team of doctors and specialist pharmacists, all additionally qualified in herbal medicine. All the herbal products prescribed have been approved by UCLH’s Use of Medicines Committee ensuring that they are of the highest quality.

Dr Berkovitz said: “Herbal medicines are prescribed for a wide range of conditions, acute and long-term, alone or alongside other treatments, orthodox and complementary. Seeing a medically qualified NHS practitioner ensures that patients are given appropriate treatment for their medical condition, whilst potential interactions with orthodox drugs can be avoided.”

“There is already good evidence for St John’s Wort in depression, and for other herbs in other conditions. The hospital’s research department has conducted a large clinical trial of the herbal medicine Ginkgo biloba in dementia, and is planning a study of herbal treatment for arthritis. Those who think that herbal medicine is just history should remember that the first line anti-malarial drug Artemisinin comes from the Chinese herb Artemisia annua, and even Tamiflu was originally made from a culinary spice, star anise.”

14th April, 2011

Note: The League of Friends is a patient run charity supporting patients and staff of the RLHIM. The RLHIM, as part of the University College London NHS Foundation Trust, is the largest NHS centre for integrated medicine in Europe. Through its educational programme for GPs and other medical health professionals in a number of medical approaches, including Western herbal medicine, the hospital aims to combine clinical excellence with teaching and research.