Does “Natural” Always Mean “Safe”?  

Does “Natural” Always Mean “Safe”?  

  • Photo of herbal pills

Many people are interested in the health benefits of food supplements. Some people like these things because they are usually less expensive than medications. Others like them because they can be purchased without a prescription. One of the biggest reasons for their popularity is that many people believe that all-natural plant substances are safe.  

While many herbs and food supplements have beneficial properties, it is not true that all of them are safe. For example, many drugs and poisons are derived from plants. These include:  

  • Curare- This is a poison that affects the nerves. Amazon tribes used to extract it from several jungle plants. It was used to form a paste for dart guns. Curare paste causes muscle paralysis. 
  •  Ricin- Ricin is a poison found in castor beans. It can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and death.  
  • Atropine and Scopolomine- These are both extracts of deadly nightshade. These chemicals can cause paralysis of the involuntary muscles, including the heart.  

Other plant substances may interact with prescribed medications:  

  • St John’s Wort can reduce the effectiveness of certain cancer drugs.  
  • Goldenseal has been shown to decrease the effectiveness of metformin, a drug used to control diabetes.  

Lastly, many Rush County residents who go mushroom hunting are aware that they need to be very careful about what they pick and eat. “Destroying angels”, for example, are the most poisonous mushrooms in North America. They cause vomiting and convulsions as well as liver and kidney failure and, eventually, death. Unfortunately, these white mushrooms look a lot like edible button mushrooms.  

All plants and herbs contain chemicals. Some of these chemicals are beneficial and some are harmful. The effect of a chemical is not necessarily changed by the fact that it happens to be found in a plant. When taking herbal supplements, always be sure to let your healthcare provider know. The supplements you take are as important as the prescription medications you are on. While many food supplements can be beneficial, “natural” does not always mean “safe”.