Many people turn to herbal remedies to treat medical problems with the belief that natural treatments are safer. Although herbal treatments appear to have benefits in some situations, it’s dangerous to assume that because nature made it, it must be safe. There are numerous examples in nature of plants and herbs that have toxic effects on the body and even beneficial herbs can be harmful if used incorrectly. This is particularly true when combining herbs with other herbs and with over-the-counter and prescription medications. Although an herb may be safe and effective when used alone, it could have serious and even deadly side effects when used in conjunction with other treatments. This is obviously of concern if you use herbal products for medicinal or non-medicinal purposes. What are the best ways to prevent herb interactions with other treatments?
One of the major problems with using herbal treatments is that there are few studies documenting herb interactions with other medications. When a conventional medication is used, it’s easy to look up the medication in the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) and see what interactions might be expected. Alternatively, you could ask your local pharmacist who’s usually knowledgeable about this issue. With herbs, you don’t have a ready reference source for determining herb interactions with other treatments.
How do herb interactions occur? Herbs can interact with other treatments in a variety of ways, most commonly by altering medication blood levels. It can do this by affecting the absorption of the herb or medication or by altering the liver enzymes that break down drugs. Herb interactions with medications can be particularly dangerous for those taking blood thinners, heart drugs, or diabetes medications.
What can be done to prevent herb interactions with medications? Always let your doctor know if you’re taking any type of herb or nutritional supplement. Many people fail to give their doctor this information. If your doctor isn’t knowledgeable about herbal medicine, consult a herbologist or naturopathic doctor before using herbal remedies, particularly if you take prescription medications.
There are several internet sites that provide reliable information on herb and medication interactions. One site, drugdigest.com, has a comprehensive database of commonly used herbs along with their uses, dangers, and potential interactions. It’s a good idea to visit this site and educate yourself before taking any kind of herbal treatment.
If you have significant medical conditions that require ongoing treatment such as diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease, it’s best to avoid herbal treatments unless you’re under the care of a knowledgeable physician or herbologist. Herbal interaction with other medications is more common than most people think and these natural forms of treatment need to be treated with the same respect as conventional medications.