• June 3, 2020

STONE: Exercise caution when using herbal remedies - Odessa American: Levi Stone

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STONE: Exercise caution when using herbal remedies

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Posted: Sunday, May 17, 2020 4:30 am

As more and more people look to boost their immunity and seek alternatives to prescription medicines, herbal supplements continue to be a growing trend for consumers to manage their health.

From vitamin shops and grocery stores to online vendors and at home distributors, both the availability and options are nearly endless. But, while quick claims of wellbeing and relief of symptoms can be enticing, it’s important to note that all herbal remedies can come with certain risks.

Just as importantly, they may even have a significant effect on the current prescription medications you are taking. Before starting ANY herbal products, seeking guidance from your physician is essential to avoid any detrimental consequences as a result of what you may have thought were otherwise good intentions.

Since herbal remedies aren’t technically classified as “medications,” many patients may not feel inclined to include them when answering questions about medications they take at home.

However, they too need to be included when providing a list of current medications you are taking. Healthcare professionals including physicians, pharmacists, and nurses, can provide valuable insight on known interactions between herbal supplements and medications. Take for instance the popular herbal therapy, St. John’s Wort which claims to help with symptoms of depression.

St. John’s Wort, taken in combination or concurrently with certain prescriptions drugs that thin the blood, treat depression, help prevent migraines, and various birth control pills can be dangerous.

Other popular herbals, particularly Echinacea (which may be commonly used this time of year for its claims of being an immune booster) can change how the body metabolizes drugs that pass through the liver.

Acetaminophen (commonly known by its trade name Tylenol) is an over-the-counter medication that is among many medications broken down and processed through the liver.

Drinking alcohol containing beverages, while on either Echinacea, acetaminophen, or both can quickly escalate into something more serious such as acute liver damage or liver failure.

Even something somewhat benign as green tea can interfere with blood thinning agents like the medication warfarin, especially if taken in large daily amounts. The reason is that green tea leaves contain vitamin K, which interferes with the blood thinning properties of medications that are used to prevent conditions such as stroke, heart attacks, and peripheral vascular disease. Inverse to the effects green tea can have with blood thinners, ginger (which is used by people for relief of upset stomach) can cause the opposite effect with increasing the risk of bleeding by prolonging bleeding times.

Everything we put into our body carries the potential for side effects. Whether it may be prescription medications, food, or herbal supplements we have to be aware of what we take, eat, and drink to avoid unintended consequences.

Herbal supplements can be an even trickier proposition because they do not fall under the same regulations as prescription medications have with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Instead, herbal supplements which are classified as types of food, are regulated by the FDA as such and not as medications.

Therefore, manufacturers do not have to seek FDA approval before putting these supplements on the market. The FDA does, however, monitor the safety of these products once they do hit the shelves, but the lag time between consumers taking these products and identifying any dangers associated with them can be delayed.

For example, in 2004 the FDA issued regulation prohibiting the sale of dietary supplements containing the stimulant ephedra, citing it presented an unreasonable risk of illness or injury to the public. Prior to the FDA’s ruling, an excessive number of cases with consumers taking ephedra that resulted in serious injury and even death were reported.

It’s likely the herbal supplement industry will continue to grow. And, while most supplements don’t pose an immediate danger or threat to the consumer, they aren’t without risks and should be taken with strict caution and absolute clearance from your physician.

To keep up with the latest recalls and alerts on herbal supplements, visit the web at: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/default.htm

For most people, there’s no need to spend your hard-earned cash on supplements that may or may not work, or even worse, potentially cause you harm. Instead, the best way for most people to get all the vitamins and supplements needed is by eating a healthy, balanced, nutritionally packed diet. The best “medicine” is literally through the foods we eat not the pills we pop.

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