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Review: evidence is incomplete on the benefits and risks of commonly used herbal medicines

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QUESTION: What are the benefits and risks of commonly used herbal medicines?

Data sources

Systematic reviews were identified by searching Medline, EMBASE/Excerpta Medica, CISCOM, AMED, and the Cochrane Library (from inception to October 2000), and by contacting experts.

Study selection

Systematic reviews were selected if they included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) done in humans on ginkgo, St John's wort, ginseng, echinacea, saw palmetto, or kava.

Data extraction

Data were extracted on the common and manufacturer names and uses of each herbal medicinal product, type and quality of the systematic reviews, sample sizes, and results.

Main results

2 reviews (of adequate and good quality) of ginkgo showed positive effects on memory impairment, although these results are questionable because of the possibility of publication bias. 2 reviews (of adequate to good quality) of ginkgo showed beneficial effects in dementia. 1 adequate quality review of ginkgo …

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  • Source of funding: no external funding.

  • For correspondence: Dr E Ernst, University of Exeter, Exeter, Devon, UK. e.ernst{at}

  • A modified version of this abstract appears in Evidence-Based Medicine.