Traditional herbal remedies - quality and safety matters

Traditional medicines, Adulterated health products, General safety, Traditional medicines

Revised on 8 August 2022

Locally, traditional herbal remedies are a popular and trusted form of complementary healthcare. As with any type of health product, it is important to consider the quality and safety of these remedies.

People who suffer from chronic pains or illnesses are often the targets of unscrupulous dealers who may peddle adulterated "herbal" remedies containing undeclared prescription medicines such as steroids. It is dangerous to take these potent medicines without the advice of a healthcare professional.

As adulterated products are often made under poor manufacturing conditions with no quality control, they may not contain the right dosages of the medicines or even the correct ingredient and can seriously harm your health. Furthermore, the adverse effects of taking substandard or adulterated products may not be immediately evident, and irreversible damage may have been done by the time it is discovered.

Consult your doctor, pharmacist, or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician if you need help in managing a chronic medical condition. Do not entrust your health to unscrupulous dealers and dubious products.

Potent steroids found in traditional herbal remedy

In search of relief from chronic knee pain, a woman in her 60s turned to ‘PHQ 1001 Khasiat Penawar Herba Qaseh Serata Herb’. She purchased the product through a social media platform and consumed it regularly for a few months. While she did experience rapid pain relief, she also found herself gaining weight and developing a puffy face. Doctors diagnosed her to have diabetes and Cushing’s syndrome, which is a condition caused by prolonged ingestion of steroids.

‘PHQ 1001 Khasiat Penawar Herba Qaseh Serata Herb’ was marketed as a traditional herbal remedy for a variety of medical conditions such as pain, impotence, kidney diseases and stroke. However, it was tested by HSA to contain undeclared potent medicinal ingredients, including dexamethasone (a potent steroid), griseofulvin (an antifungal), piroxicam and paracetamol (painkillers). The serious adverse effects experienced by the woman who consumed the product were likely caused by dexamethasone.

Things to keep in mind when you purchase herbal medicines or remedies

  • Be cautious of exaggerated claims and over-promises. Health products that promise “quick cures” and “easy solutions” to medical problems are often not backed by scientific evidence. Unscrupulous dealers may produce and sell health products with undeclared potent medicinal ingredients to achieve a “quick cure” effect. Taking such health products can be extremely harmful to your health.
  • Buy from reputable sources such as a pharmacy, established retail store/chain or their authorised e-commerce websites. As a general rule, be cautious when purchasing health products from unfamiliar places or unknown online sources, even if they are recommended by well-meaning friends or relatives. You cannot be certain what these health products contain, and where and how they were made.
  • Make informed choices about the health products that you will be consuming.
  1. You can refer to the database of traditional medicines that are voluntarily notified with HSA here. HSA introduced the voluntary notification initiative in August 2022 for companies dealing with traditional medicines. It allows these companies to submit voluntary declarations to show that their products comply with the published guidelines. More products that meet the safety and quality requirements will be added to the database over time. The inclusion in this database should not be misconstrued as HSA's endorsement of these products. 
  2. Get advice from your doctor, pharmacist of TCM physician if you are unsure which health product suits you.

You can help us combat adulterated, counterfeit and substandard health products by reporting any suspicious sale or advertising of health products to HSA through e-mail or phone at 6866 3485.