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THR - Your questions answered

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Herbal tablets


Some plants contain beneficial substances that can help to relieve the symptoms of some common medical conditions. Products made from extracts of these plants (which may include roots, leaves, stems, flowers and/or fruit) are known as herbal medicines. There medicinal effects are based on traditional use only.

A herbal medicine registered under the Traditional Herbal Registration Scheme can make medicinal claims based on evidence of traditional use. This means the safety of the herbal medicine has been documented over at least 30 years of long-standing use for its particular indication. Fifteen of these 30 years medicinal use must be with the European Union. Of course, many of the new traditional herbal medicines have evidence of hundreds of years of use.

Some herbal products, such as garlic, sage, artichoke and turmeric, for example, are used in the kitchen and are classed as foods. So, although they may have a beneficial medicinal effect, they are currently produced under other legal regulations relating to the safety of food supplements.

Sarah Brewer graduated as a doctor from Cambridge University. Having worked in hospitals and general practice, she gained a Master's degree in Nutritional Medicine from the University of Surrey. She is the author of over 60 popular health books and writes widely on all aspects of health including complementary medicine. More from this expert.

  • When and why this new herbal medicines legislation?

    From the 1st May 2011, all traditional herbal medicinal products are required by law to be registered by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) under the new Traditional Herbal Registration Scheme. After this date, further manufacturing of unlicensed herbal medicinal products is prohibited.

    The legislation was needed because many herbal products on the UK market were not subject to independent quality and safety checks. Their quality was unknown, and there was no guarantee that they contained the ingredients claimed, and nothing else. The new Traditional Herbal Registration Scheme provides reassurance to consumers and healthcare professionals that products assessed by the MHRA meet the required standard of safety and quality. The legislation also provides access to reliable patient information. The THR number on product packaging shows that a product has met the MHRA’s agreed level of safety and quality, and the on-pack consumer information is MHRA approved. It is worth noting that any herbal product that isn’t classed as a food and doesn’t show the THR number is either being sold illegally or is ‘end of line’ stock.

  • Are they of the same quality as conventional medicines?

    Yes. Registered traditional herbal medicines have undergone extensive quality assurance testing in the same way as conventional pharmaceutical drugs so you can be confident the herbal medicines are pure and safe to use. The herbal starting material right through to manufacture of the finished tablet or capsule must comply with rigorous manufacturing standards that are strictly enforced by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

  • Why are these products more expensive?

    The dossiers of evidence used to support the registration and safety of each traditional herbal medicines cost a lot of money to produce. In addition, each batch of herb is tested for authentication and purity to ensure the herb meets acceptable, reproducible standards. This significantly increases the cost of manufacture so the final product is more expensive to produce than previous, non-licensed herbal remedies you may have used.

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No statement or article should be understood as providing treatment advice. If you have a health problem consult your GP and check compatibility of new supplements with your GP or Pharmacist if you are taking any prescription medication.

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