WHO Issues Guidelines for Herbal Medicines Tue Feb 10,10:40 AM ET Add Health - Reuters to My Yahoo! GENEVA (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (news - web sites) on Tuesday issued guidelines for ensuring the safety and efficacy of the multi-billion dollar herbal medicines market amid reports that some products are tainted with toxic substances. The guidelines, intended for national regulatory bodies, lay out the best techniques for growing and harvesting medicinal plants used for various ailments or weight loss, as well as the clear labeling of the contents of any product. Herbal medicines represent an estimated $60 billion a year global market, some 20 percent of the overall drug market, according to the U.N. agency. Yet only China, Japan and the European Union (news - web sites) have regulations for medicinal plants. "It is not a binding guideline for any country, but it is a model or sort of checklist which they can use to make their own national regulations," Hans Hogerzeil, acting director of WHO's essential drugs and medicines department, told a news briefing. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) last December issued a consumer alert on the safety of dietary supplements containing ephedra, also called Ma huang, a natural substance. The adrenaline-like stimulant, used for weight loss or to boost sports performance, can have dangerous effects on the heart. In Africa, up to 80 percent of the population depends on traditional medicine for primary health care. In China, herbal preparations account for up to 50 percent of total consumption. In Europe, North America and other industrialized areas, more than 50 percent report using complementary or alternative medicine at least once, according to WHO. "There is also an enormous industry now where huge amounts of leaves and traditional medicines are being shipped from various exporting countries -- China, India, Pakistan -- to many other countries. Somebody has to regulate that, at least their safety," Hogerzeil said.