Taking herbal medicine: tips and safety information

Below are some helpful tips for people with cancer who are thinking about taking herbal medicine, and some safety information for taking herbs if you are going through treatment.

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Tips for using herbal products safely

  • Buy or use herbal products from a qualified practitioner or reputable supplier.
  • Ask for products that are clearly labelled in English with your name, batch number, date, quantity, dosage, directions, safety information (if applicable) and your practitioner’s contact details.
  • Avoid using over-the-counter products from a health food shop, pharmacy or the internet. Be aware that products from other countries that are sold over the internet are not covered by the same quality and safety regulations as those sold in Australia. Some Ayurvedic and Chinese products may contain lead, mercury and arsenic in high enough quantities to be considered toxic.
  • Make sure you know how to prepare and take your herbs. Like conventional medicine, taking the correct dose at the right time is important for the herbal remedies to work safely.
  • Talk to your doctor and complementary health practitioner, or call NPS MedicineWise’s Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 from anywhere in Australia, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST. This service is staffed by registered nurses who provide confidential, independent information about prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines.
  • Ask the practitioner for ways to mask the taste of the herbs if you find them bitter.
  • Report any suspected adverse reactions to any kind of medicine to your practitioner, or call the NPS MedicineWise Adverse Medicine Events Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST. If the reaction is serious, call 000 or go to your nearest emergency department.

Taking care with herbs during treatment

Although herbs are natural, they are not always safe. Taking the wrong dose or wrong combination or using the wrong part of the plant may cause side effects or be poisonous (toxic). Also, herbs used with chemotherapy, radiation therapy and hormone therapy can cause harmful interactions. All herbs should be prescribed by a qualified practitioner.

St John’s wort 

This popular herb for mild to moderate depression has been shown to stop some chemotherapy drugs and other medicines from working properly. It may also increase skin reactions to radiation therapy. If you are feeling depressed, ask your doctor about other treatments.

Black cohosh 

Herbalists often prescribe this herb to menopausal women who are experiencing hot flushes. While clinical trials show that black cohosh is relatively safe, it should not be used by people with liver damage. There is not enough scientific evidence to support the use of black cohosh in people with cancer.

Ginkgo biloba and garlic

Studies have shown that these may have a bloodthinning effect, which can cause bleeding. This could be harmful in people with low platelet levels (e.g. from chemotherapy) or who are having surgery.

Green tea 

This has been shown to stop the cancer drug bortezomib (brand name Velcade) from working properly.

Keep your complementary therapists and other health professionals informed about any herbal remedies you use before, during or after cancer treatment. This information will help them give you the best possible care.


Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on complementary therapies.


Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

Need more help? Visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4059

Kobo

To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
Need more information? Visit: http://www.kobo.com/help/koboaura/response/?id=3784&type=3

Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

Need more help? Visit: https://au.readerstore.sony.com/apps_and_devices/

Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=help_search_1-1?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200767340&qid=1395967989&sr=1-1
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit www.amazon.com/manageyourkindle, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
Need more help? Visit https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=200375630

Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.


This information was last reviewed in May 2018
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