LONDON, England, Thursday January 5, 2017 – It’s the time of year when many of us are tempted to “cleanse” ourselves of the excesses of Christmas and New Year overindulgence. So off we go to the health food store to get what it takes to detox.
A new case report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) nevertheless warns that these over-the-counter cleansing cocktails could be deadly.
In the report, published earlier this week, doctors from the Milton Keynes Hospital in England detailed the case of a woman who became critically ill and collapsed with seizures after taking herbal remedies.
The 47-year-old patient was grinding her teeth uncontrollably when she arrived at the hospital last year, and the doctors immediately took a scan of her head and checked her blood and fluid levels to try to figure out what was causing the symptoms.
They initially found out that the woman, who was transferred to intensive care for treatment, had a case of severe, life-threatening hyponatremia (or low sodium levels in her blood).
Further investigation revealed that the woman had been detoxing over the New Year period by drinking a lot of water, green tea and sage tea, and taking a cocktail of herbs and alternative remedies including milk thistle, molkosan, I-theanine, glutamine, vitamin B compound, vervain, and valerian root.
At first, the doctors thought her hyponatremia — which caused the seizures and confusion — was brought on by drinking too much liquid. But then they found a 2013 study implicating valerian root, a supplement often sold as a sleep and anxiety aid, in a similar case involving a 48-year-old man.
“In both these patients, the fluid intake did not seem to be excessive enough to cause such a low sodium level acutely,” the doctors wrote.
So their working hypothesis was that valerian root may bring on hyponatremia, even in patients who don’t drink so much fluid, and called for more investigation of the link.
“Valerian root has now been suspected in two cases associated with severe, life-threatening hyponatraemia and healthcare professionals should be vigilant to this,” they warned.
“Patients should be advised of the potential detriment done to their health of undertaking a New Year ‘detox’ especially if it involves consuming excessive amounts of fluid or alternative remedies.
“Despite marketing suggesting otherwise, all-natural products are not without side-effects,” they warned.
On the other side of the Atlantic, supplement makers in the United States don’t need to prove their products are safe or even effective before putting them on store shelves, according to a Vox report.
And while supplements are supposed to be accurately labelled, a Vox review of government databases, court documents, and scientific studies uncovered more than 850 products that contained illegal and/or hidden ingredients — including banned drugs, pharmaceuticals like antidepressants, and other synthetic chemicals that have never been tested on humans.
Vox found examples of weight loss supplements spiked with cancer-causing drugs that had been pulled from the US market, brain enhancers laced with chemicals that have never been approved for sale in the US, and more than 100 products contained DMAA, a drug that’s been banned in the US, UK, and several other countries because it is linked to strokes, heart failure, and sudden death.