Views & Reviews No Holds Barred

How the UK drug regulator became the herbalists’ marketeer

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g3194 (Published 09 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3194

This article has a correction. Please see:

  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow
  1. margaret{at}margaretmccartney.com

Devil’s claw, arnica flower, palmetto fruit, and feverfew are among herbs recently endorsed as meeting standards of “safety, quality, and efficacy” by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).1 Yes: the supposedly serious governmental regulator of drugs and devices in the United Kingdom has approved the use of a bunch of non-evidence based interventions.2

But devil’s claw (harpagoside) has not been shown to be effective or safe for long term use.3 Evidence is insufficient to back the use of arnica,4 and if it does work it is likely to have more side effects than topical ibuprofen.5 Palmetto does not improve the urinary symptoms for which the agency allows it to …

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