Ancient Remedies for Modern Lives

Is Herbal Medicine Always Safer?

By +LisaRocchetti, Director of Admissions and Marketing & Nina Grenningloh, Senior Communications Manager

According to UCLA physician Dr. Francisco Antonio Durazo, MD, the use of herbal medicine has increased five-fold in the past ten years. Consequently, being an informed consumer and practitioner of herbal medicine is more important than ever.

As the Western research model begins to rely more heavily on case studies, the window of opportunity for Eastern medicine to demonstrate its efficacy is growing. And as proof of efficacy increases, the use of traditional remedies, including herbal medicine, will continue to rise.

But is natural always safer? In most instances, yes. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. As with all things that provide great benefit, there are also risks. On August 14, 2013, we invited gastroenterology expert Dr. Durazo to Emperor’s College for an exclusive lecture on herb-induced liver injury (HILI) and how the Oriental medicine community can contribute to NIH-funded research on HILI.

You can check out a video recording of Dr. Durazo’s presentation on Youtube:

Meet Gastroenterology expert Dr. Francisco Durazo

Dr. Francisco Durazo is Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine and Surgery at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Medical Director at Dumont UCLA Liver Transplant Center Pfleger Liver Institute.

He is also one of the kindest men you will ever meet, and by all accounts a very skilled clinician.

Dr. Francisco Durazo

Dr. Francisco Durazo

Durazo has been working in the field of gastroenterology and liver disease for over 30 years. Lately his research has focused on idiosyncratic herb-induced liver injury (HILI), a rare but serious side effect that can result from the improper usage of herbal medicine. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has taken interest in Durazo’s research and is currently helping fund the creation of a database of knowledge that can be used as a diagnostic resource for physicians and patients. LiverTox™ has the ultimate and impressive goal of “enabling scientific analysis and better characterization of the clinical patterns of liver injury.”

How did Durazo become interested in investigating herbal medicine?

“I became interested in herbal medicine after seeing several cases of hepatotoxicity” said Dr. Durazo. “The goal of DILIN and HILIN is to identify medications, herbs and supplements that can potentially affect the liver. By identifying their mechanism of toxicity we can define which persons are at risk and under which conditions the hepatotoxicity occurs.“

Inspiration Gained

More than 60 students, faculty and alumni came out for Dr. Durazo’s presentation about herbal medicine and HILI. Here are some take-home lessons and inspiration from just a few:

Alumnus Yvonne Farrell (MTOM 1996, DAOM 2007):

“I did enjoy the presentation but more than that I was inspired by how many people attended and so many who weren’t students. It makes me feel very hopeful about our profession.

Although I am always extremely cautious about the herbs that I give patients and tend towards using very high quality products processed here in the US or Australia, I was reminded that many patients forget to tell their practitioners/physicians about additional supplements they may be taking.

I was also unaware of the [chemical] constituents of this new generation of fat-burners. I had no idea they might be as dangerous as they are. I don’t recommend fat burners to my patients but I am certain I have a few that take them anyway. I will be doing much more research on liver toxicity caused by supplements or drug-herb interaction. Dr. Durazo’s lecture made me want to be even more thorough in my history- taking.”

4th Year Student, Jennifer Black:

“Dr. Durazo’s lecture was an important reminder that it is up to us as trained professionals in herbal    medicine to be aware of exactly what is in the herbs we prescribe. Dr. Durazo was very open about the     difficulty in being able to definitively identify the causative factor in cases of drug/herb induced liver   injury, as things like preparation, strength & possible contaminants all become important details in these cases.

If we don’t become experts in the herbs we are using and can identify or defend them in regards to their potential hazards, then those herbs will be in danger of being potentially misconstrued as the causative factor – and suffer the consequences. We need to be very aware of not just the strengths but the weaknesses of the herbal options available.”

How About You?

Now it’s your turn to tell us what you think. If you gained any jewels from Dr. Durazo’s presentation we’d love to hear about it. Were you hoping for something more? That’s okay, too. With your feedback we can continue to provide the information you are looking for.

Still Need to Watch the Video? Check it out on YouTube