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Phytotherapy as an alternative to sleeping pills: “Be careful what’s in it!”, Warns a doctor of pharmacy

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Phytotherapy products to fight sleep disorders are popular in France, but what do we really know about the quality of their composition and their effects? Answer with Sonia Khier, doctor of pharmacy and lecturer.

For several years, they have settled on the shelves of pharmacies. Phytotherapy products are everywhere and are attracting more and more French people, particularly to improve their quality of sleep. But what do we know about their effectiveness? Sonia Khier, doctor of pharmacy, explains how to choose them well.

Are phytotherapy products reliable and effective?

Phytotherapy products have therapeutic virtues so we can say that they are reliable. However, the effects vary from person to person. They are not hypnotics so they will not directly induce sleep like some prescription drugs. These products are relaxants. They will soothe and relax the person who will then more easily fall asleep.

Can a phytotherapy product replace a sleeping pill?

We cannot give general advice to the population. For some people, herbal medicine will be sufficient if they are sleep disorders caused by temporary stress, for example. On the other hand, if a person has not slept for a month, has to go to work and take care of his children, he clearly needs rest and to generate real phases of sleep. In this case, it will be better, for a while, for this person to opt for a drug and then make the transition to something milder.

Can we trust the composition of these products?

The composition is safe only if you buy the product in a pharmacy. Indeed, the pharmaceutical network involves controls on the quantities and composition of the products sold, which is also why they have a monopoly on this type of product. They have legal constraints that attest to compliance with the regulations of your purchase. The laboratories from which the pharmacies obtain supplies provide proof of the quantity and composition of the product. To be certain of taking an over-the-counter medication that has the correct composition, it is really necessary to go to a regulated and controlled network, which is that of the pharmaceutical industry.

What about internet shopping?

I strongly advise against using herbal medicine via websites because they are not the same rules. Anyone can create a page and sell a product, we don’t know what’s inside! In case of counterfeiting at best, it will be sugar or flour but I fear the harmful effects on health if we do not know the composition. Even if the price can be attractive, it is better to go your way because very often the quality is also paid for.

Are there any risks associated with taking phytotherapy products if you are already undergoing treatment?

To avoid drug interactions, it is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the treatments you are taking. It’s true that it’s common to arrive in a pharmacy, to take a product on a shelf, to buy it and not to speak to anyone. When you are already taking a treatment, it is advisable to talk about it. You should still know that the drugs available over the counter in pharmacies are optimized and controlled so that there is the least possibility of medication accidents, but it can exist. Some phytotherapies can lead to interactions, for example with the contraceptive pill. In any case, if you are followed, you must discuss it with a caregiver to minimize the risks.

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