From talk shows to magazine covers you can’t watch tv or check out at the grocery store without seeing headlines about the next vitamin or supplement that is going to solve all your problems. From proclamations to cure diabetes, offer amazing weight loss results or have you looking younger overnight, these ads can have you spending lots of money on things you may not know too much about. Did you also know that while these vitamins and supplements are often 100% natural, they can also be 100% dangerous? These seemingly innocent pills, tablets, tinctures and drinks can sometimes interact with your prescribed medications and cause you to feel even worse than before! July is Herbal/ Prescription Interaction Awareness Month, so let’s have at it!
What is an “herbal?” Herbals are often referring to vitamins, minerals and herbs that are found to have some beneficial properties. Not all herbals are created equal, and some may even have different interactions with not only each other, but with medications. You can help prevent such interactions by working with your physician to make sure you aren’t at risk. Here are our top three ways to keep yourself safe!
- Be clear with your health care providers about what you are taking. Better yet, bring in any and all supplements and medications to your appointments. Don’t assume that just because you can purchase these items in regular stores, they don’t have some restrictions. Bring them in and let your healthcare team help you.
- Ask for help. Before you take a new supplement, you can ask a couple different people for help. You can ask your physician and/or their support staff and you can even talk to your pharmacist about any known interactions.
- Do your research. Some supplements may not have dangerous interactions but can have greater benefits if taken at certain times, with or without food. For example, some medications need to be taken with food, some on an empty stomach, some are for nighttime, etc. Some supplements may also cancel each other out if taken at the same time.
What not to do? Don’t assume all supplements are right for all people. Don’t stop taking prescribed medications or replace them with herbs/vitamins. Don’t blindly take anything without doing your own research or asking professionals.
What could be so bad from taking some herbs? Well… according to The National Health Alliance, (https://healthalliance.org/herbal-prescription-interaction-awareness-month/) there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Examples from their webpage include:
- Herbal supplements with cranberry extract as a primary ingredient can interact with blood thinning medications, so you shouldn’t take both at the same time.
- Ginkgo, most commonly taken to improve memory, has been shown to interact with aspirin, diuretics, anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and blood thinners.
- Echinacea, largely used to fight the cold and flu, can interact with some chemotherapy agents, caffeine, liver medications, and meds that decrease your immune system.
- Saw palmetto, a popular active ingredient in supplements, can be dangerous during pregnancy and can interact with birth control, hormone therapy, and medication that prevents blood clots.
- Fish oils, taken for heart and bone health, may interact with high blood pressure meds, birth control, and some meds that prevent blood clots.
The world of herbal medicine is huge! Every day there seems to be new information and research coming out. Do your own research too! If you think you want to start trying herbal supplements or taking new vitamins it’s always worth a call to your doctor’s office to see if that’s right for you. In some cases, your physician may actually encourage you to take supplements with or in lieu of medications.
There is a place for herbal supplements and a place for prescriptions. Sometimes that place isn’t together. Before you order that “safe” new pill from the magazine ad or grab that pretty bottle of miracle gummies at the store, check it out to make sure it’s safe for you. You and your health are what’s most important. Sometimes what is helpful and healthy for one person, isn’t healthy or helpful for you at all. Always better to be safe than sorry.
Director of The Wellness Center