A middle-aged woman learned the hard way that herbal supplements can cause harm.
The 56-year-old suffered a dangerous heart rhythm disorder after taking high doses of hemp oil containing CBD (cannabidiol), and CBG (cannabigerol) and berberine supplements. She told doctors she was using the supplements to help her manage a stressful work schedule.
According to a new case study, she was admitted to a hospital emergency department after becoming dizzy and fainting without warning. There, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart arrhythmia.
An ECG showed a rapid heartbeat originating in the ventricles and a markedly prolonged QT interval, meaning the heart's electrical system takes longer than normal to recharge between beats, according to the study. The report appears in the May 16 issue of Heart Rhythm Case Reports.
"More and more people are taking herbal supplements for their potential benefits. Yet their 'natural' character can be misleading, since these preparations can have serious adverse side effects on their own or if combined with other supplements or medications," said Dr. Elise Bakelants, of the cardiology department at University Hospital of Geneva in Switzerland.
"Their use should not be taken lightly, and dosing recommendations should always be respected," Bakelants said in a journal news release.
Other than low blood pressure, the patient's blood work and physical examination were normal. Her doctors identified the cause of her heart emergency as the herbal supplements she was taking.
Four months earlier, the woman had started taking six times the recommended dose of hemp oil and had recently added berberine to the mix.
All supplements were stopped during her hospital stay and her QT normalized after five days. Three months later, she had no new episodes of dizziness or fainting and her ECG was in the normal range.
Along with adhering to dosing guidelines, patients and physicians need to be aware of possible side effects and interactions with other medications. This is particularly true for those with underlying heart disease or those already taking QT-prolonging medication, Bakelants said.
The popularity of herbal supplements has surged in recent years, especially those containing CBD, which does not require a prescription. CBD is taken by some to relieve pain, fight inflammation and provide other benefits, the researchers noted.
Berberine is found in the roots, rhizomes and stem bark of many medicinal plants. It is used in traditional Chinese and ayurvedic medicine to treat infections, diarrhea, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health explains why natural isn't always better.
SOURCE: Heart Rhythm Case Reports, news release, May 16, 2022