Many people take a variety of herbal supplements for many conditions. The supplements are advertised in the media and in the health food sections of stores. They are deemed safe with virtually no side effects. This is generally true as there are very few adverse affects from taking herbal supplements reported annually. The problem is when herbal supplements are taken with certain medications. Often they are not reported to the physician and many physicians do not even ask about them.
Many of the problems with drug-herb interactions stem from the magnification of the effects of both. When taken separately drugs and herbs elicit an effect on the body's cells and tissues. When taken together these effects can be greatly magnified.
Drugs and herbs work by a similar mechanism. They are molecules that have a specific shape that fits certain receptors in cells. Since many drugs were derived from herbs they have similar molecular shapes. When the drug or herbal molecule attaches to the cell's receptor there is a transfer of information that affects how the cell works. Problems result from too much information affecting cells.
Here are some important drug-herb interactions to watch for.
Ginko Biloba is a popular herb for overall brain function and memory. It also has a thinning effect on the blood. One of the ways the body works to stop bleeding is by the action of platelets. When platelets come in contact with damaged blood vessel walls they stick together. Ginko biloba inhibits the stickiness of platelets. It should not be taken with other drugs that inhibit blood clots such as warfarin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), and other blood thinners. Ginko may also interact with anti-seizure medications including carbamazepine, phenytoin, and phenobarbital. People taking certain diuretic medications (thiazide diuretics) should not take Ginko as it may cause an increase in blood pressure.
Ginseng is taken for overall health and vitality but it can also react with other medications. These include blood thinners such as warfarin and NSAIDs as well as MAO inhibitors taken for depression such as phenelzine. Ginseng could also affect insulin-dependent diabetics.
St. John's Wort is a popular natural antidepressant and it may work like MAO inhibitors such as phenelzine or like the serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Zoloft and Prozac. It should not be taken if you are on these medications. Some people try to stop their medication and switch to a natural alternative such as St. John's Wort. The problem is that it can take several weeks for the body to decrease the amount of drug in the system. If St. John's Wort is taken during this time the combined effect of both could trigger an adverse reaction.
Licorice is taken for digestive problems and as a natural anti-inflammatory. Licorice can interfere with drugs that suppress the immune system such as steroids including prednisone. Licorice can also interfere with blood pressure medications and the heart medication digoxin.
Herbals and drugs both work by transferring molecular information to the cells and tissues. In many cases this promotes healing by helping the cells and tissues to repair themselves and function properly. However, too much information can have negative consequences.
If you take herbals and drugs it is important to check with your doctor or pharmacist. Your pharmacist can cross reference the drug and herb and check for known interactions. Some physicians are beginning to record the use of herbal supplements and use computer programs to check for problems. Don't assume however that these problems are being checked. You must take control of your health and ask.
Dr. Bruce Forciea is an author, educator and chiropractor. His new book "Unlocking the Healing Code" presents a new paradigm for healing. His site: contains more information, free newsletter, free guided imagery download and New Age music downloads.
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