UK regulator warning over online herbal remedies

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has found that several herbal medicines available over the internet are contaminated with prescription-only drugs or toxic heavy metals. As such, the agency is warning prospective users to avoid these products.

The alerts include an asthma remedy found to contain dexamethasone, which is a prescription-only glucocorticoid used to treat auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. While it is a member of the same class as steroids such as betamethasone and fluticasone, which are used to treat asthma, dexamethasone is not approved for asthma treatment, and can have potentially dangerous side effects.

The MHRA, in conjunction with authorities in Hong Kong, has also found weight loss remedies contaminated with withdrawn obesity drug sibutramine and erectile dysfunction treatment sildenafil (Viagra), and hair loss products containing excessive levels of mercury.

The warnings come weeks after the end of the ‘sell-through’ period, which allowed retailers to clear stocks of herbal remedies that have not been granted safety licenses permitting them to be sold in the UK under tightened regulations on herbal medicines. Although these products are not authorised for sale in the UK, they are readily available online.

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