The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in Geneva on Wednesday that is has "sounded the alarm" on unsafe use of alternative medicine (Reuters). The agency issued new guidelines to help health authorities deliver reliable consumer information. In addition to the lack of standards and controls on alternative medicine, research shows that herbal medicines and supplements are often purchased over-the-counter without physician input.

According to the WHO, there are increasing reports of adverse and even fatal reactions to alternative medicines as their use spreads worldwide. For example, the number of adverse reactions from alternative medicine in China more than doubled since the 1990's, with 9,854 cases of adverse reactions reported in 2002 alone.

Food supplements are reported to be especially dangerous, because of the lack of quality control and government regulation. ' Some studies have even found toxic heavy metals and addictive substances in supplements." There is a need for strengthening control of food supplements in all countries,' said Vladimir Lephakin, WHO assistant director-general for health technologies and pharmaceuticals, in a news briefing.