The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has sent out a strong warning to the public over the growing incidence of “dangerous practices” in the unlicensed herbal medicines sector.

The move was spurred by an investigation into reports of adverse reactions associated with the intake of herbal medicines, during which the Agency says it found “serious examples of very poor practice”.

In order to raise public awareness of the potential dangers, the Agency has highlighted some of the most recent cases it has dealt with:

- An illegal unlicensed product being marketed for diabetes, DBCare, gave “extremely dangerous advice” to patients to stop taking their prescribed medication. Consequently, one patient experienced loss of diabetic control, while the other suffered liver problems, high blood glucose and increased blood pressure. The product was promptly removed from the UK market;

- A case of liver toxicity associated with two multi-ingredient Traditional Chinese Medicines, after different labels with a different list of ingredients were stuck on top of the original ones; and

- Evidence of adding potent pharmaceuticals or toxic ingredients to products, which, the Agency says, is a serious problem that is indicative of low grade manufacturing standards and, in some cases, a deliberate intention to deceive the public.

The MHRA was quick to stress that, while many unlicensed herbal medicines are not made to such low standards, consumers are often left having to guess exactly what ingredients are in these products as there is a lack of reliable and regulated information on them.

To help address these risks, it is implementing a new registration scheme for manufactured over-the-counter traditional herbal medicines, under which products are required to meet assured standards of safety, quality and patient information. Thirty-five applications to register herbal products have been made to date, but this number is expected to “increase steadily” over the coming months, the MHRA said.

Furthermore, the Agency is currently developing an “identifier symbol” to help the public readily distinguish products registered under the scheme from other products on the market.