Doctors explain why you should steer clear of activated charcoal, the Chinese herb aconite, and more.
It’s a common misconception that natural or alternative medicine treatments are safer than prescription drugs and procedures done in traditional clinical settings. But a recent death from turmeric is proof that even natural treatments can be dangerous.
According to a report from a local ABC News affiliate, Jade Erick from Encinitas, California died after an IV infusion of turmeric, which resulted in an adverse reaction to the spice. Her official cause of death was "anoxic encephalopathy," after her heart stopped and her brain was deprived of oxygen.
Erick had suffered from bouts of eczema, which she hoped the turmeric might cure. But an IV's dose of turmeric is far too much, says Malcolm Taw, MD, director of the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine - Westlake Village. "I recommend turmeric orally, as it's a great anti-inflammatory," he says. "However, some substances can be both poison and remedy."
Dr. Taw had never heard of anyone introducing turmeric to the system via IV infusion—and you should never use an IV of any substance without consulting a doctor first, he says. Also be wary of these other "natural" or alternative treatments, all of which can do serious damage to your health.
Doctors use activated charcoal to treat overdoses, because the substance "binds" harmful chemicals, preventing their absorption in the gut, explains Shanna Levine, MD, a clinical instructor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. "In the alternative medicine community, it is used as a means of decreasing cholesterol through ingestion," she says.
But there's a laundry list of potential side effects: Activated charcoal can reduce the effectiveness of other medications, including birth control. If inhaled instead of swallowed, it may cause lung damage. And it can also lead to upset stomach. "I strongly advise people don't ingest activated charcoal, as the harms outweigh the benefits," says Dr. Levine.
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Another California woman died recently after drinking tea containing the Chinese herb aconite, according to the San Francisco Department of Health. When consumed, the purple plant might cause nausea, chest pain, heart palpitations, limb weakness or paralysis.
While raw aconite is poisonous, processed aconite is sometimes used in small amounts in the alternative medicine community to treat pain. But Dr. Taw recommends avoiding it altogether.
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Believe it or not, some alternative medicine stores sell high-concentration hydrogen peroxide as a natural health-booster. According to a recent paper published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, some 300 people were poisoned and five died after consuming the substance.
"For people who follow these regiments, the instructions involve placing a dropper-full of high-concentration peroxide into a large quantity of water or another liquid, so it's fairly diluted," author Benjamin Hatten, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told Health in a prior interview. "People believe that it's hyper-oxygenating, putting extra oxygen into your beverage, and that it somehow improves your health."
There's no scientific truth to back up these cleans, though, so don't be fooled—and definitely don't drink it. "If you accidentally take too much, it could have very serious consequences," says Dr. Hatten.