Herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm, study finds

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Scientists from University Hospital Geneva found that some herbal supplements may harm heart health.

They reported the case of a 56-year-old woman with heart rhythm problems following the use of hemp oil and berberine herbal supplements.

Herbal supplements are gaining popularity and are often viewed as harmless because of their “natural” character.

But the preparations of herbal supplements contain mixtures of substances that can have strong effects on health.

Hemp oil, also known as hemp seed oil, is made from hemp, a cannabis plant like the drug marijuana but containing little to no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Hemp contains cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical present in the cannabis plant. Unlike THC, CBD has no psychoactive effect.

Recently, products containing CBD have gained popularity. CBD has been shown to help reduce anxiety, inflammation, epilepsy, and other health problems.

Berberine is a chemical found in some plants like European barberry, goldenseal, goldthread, Oregon grape, Phellodendron, and tree turmeric.

Many people use berberine for diabetes, high cholesterol or other fats in the blood, and high blood pressure. It is also used for burns, canker sores, liver disease, and more. But the effects are not backed by scientific research.

In this study, researchers described the case of a 56-year-old woman with heart rhythm problems after the use of hemp oil and berberine herbal supplements.

Heart rhythm problems occur when the electrical signals that coordinate the heart’s beats don’t work properly.

The woman was admitted to the emergency department for fainting. This was the first episode of fainting, but she had experienced three prolonged episodes of dizziness over the past month.

There was no familial history of sudden cardiac death. The team found for 4 months, she had been taking hemp oil, containing the cannabinoid derivatives cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG), one chemical found in the cannabis plant.

She used it 3–4 times daily because of a stressful work-life balance. The physical examination was normal, apart from low blood pressure.

Her blood chemistry showed normal kidney function, a magnesium level at the lower limit of normal, and a normal potassium level. Further tests showed that the women had heart rhythm disorder.

The team also found that for about 6 weeks, in addition to the hemp oil, she had started taking extra herbal supplements containing 250 mg of berberine.

She also admitted that she had been taking up to 6 times the recommended dose of hemp oil supplements.

During her hospital stay, all supplements were stopped and her heart rhythm gradually became normal. She was discharged 6 days after hospitalization.

At three months follow-up, the patient reported no dizziness or syncope, with a normal heart rhythm.

The team suggests that berberine may lead to an irregular heartbeat. CBD in itself also may cause heart rhythm problems and may boost low blood pressure and a slow heart rate.

The researchers conclude that taking hemp oil and berberine supplements together may cause the heart muscle to take a longer time to contract and relax than usual.

This may increase the risk of developing abnormal heart rhythms and may cause sudden cardiac arrest.

The research is published in Heart Rhythm Case Reports and was conducted by Elise Bakelants et al.

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