Herbal Supplements May Not Be As Safe As They Look | The well-being


Herbal supplements, sometimes referred to as “botanicals,” have been used medicinally for many centuries and continue to gain popularity among consumers today. These supplements are marketed for the prevention and management of many medical conditions and conditions. Currently, it is estimated that 75 percent of the world’s population has used or is using some type of herbal supplement.

In the United States, it is estimated that one in five adults has used at least one natural product in the past year. Examples of some of the more common herbal supplements sold in this country include echinacea, flaxseed, ginseng, ginkgo, saw palmetto, St. John’s wort, black cohosh, black cohosh, evening primrose, milk thistle and garlic.

As the popularity of these supplements continues to increase, some people are choosing to use them in place of traditional medications. There are several factors to consider before using these natural supplements. Although these are considered natural supplements, they can still cause several types of drug / supplement interactions and serious side effects, as well as exacerbate some medical conditions.

Are Herbal Supplements Safe?

The Food and Drug Administration regulates herbs and other dietary supplements differently from traditional drugs. The safety and efficacy standards that traditional drugs must meet before they are approved for sale do not apply to these types of supplements. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act exempted manufacturers of herbal supplements from these regulations.

Before using an herbal supplement

If you are considering using an herbal supplement, be aware that many herbal supplements can interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications and can cause very serious interactions and side effects. For example, the herbal supplement of St. John’s Wort is known to interact with many drugs such as antidepressants, blood thinners, allergy medications, drugs that suppress the immune system, birth control pills, and cardiovascular drugs like digoxin. The herbal supplements feverfew, ginger, and ginkgo can interact with some breast cancer drugs and a host of other drugs. See more examples below. (The prescription drug is listed first, with examples of interacting herbal supplements listed next to it.)

  • Anticoagulants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antiplatelet agents: garlic, ginkgo, St. John’s wort, ginseng, saw palmetto cabbage, ginger, cranberry
  • Hypoglycemic agents: garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, cranberry
  • Anticonvulsants: ginkgo, St. John’s wort, valerian
  • Digoxin: St. John’s wort, ginseng, ginger
  • Antiviral drugs for HIV infection: garlic, St. John’s wort, ginseng, cranberry
  • Oral contraceptives: St. John’s Wort, kava
  • Chemotherapy: St. John’s Wort, ginseng, kava, cranberry
  • Below is a list of herbal supplements along with their possible side effects:

  • Echinacea: fatigue, dizziness, headache, and gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Garlic: nausea, burning sensation in mouth, throat and stomach, bad breath and body odor
  • Ginkgo biloba: nausea, dyspepsia, headaches and heart palpitations
  • Saw palmetto: headaches and diarrhea
  • Ginseng: anorexia, rash, changes in blood pressure, and headache
  • St. John’s Wort: photosensitivity, dry mouth, dizziness and confusion
  • Bilberry: No adverse effects reported in the literature
  • If you have any allergies, especially allergies to plants, weeds, or pollen, you should consult your primary health care provider before taking any herbal supplements. Patients taking blood thinners should also always consult their primary health care provider before using any of these supplements. Since older people may have a greater incidence of having multiple health problems and are more likely to take multiple medications, it is imperative that they also consult their primary health care provider before using any supplements. herbal to avoid any possible interactions or contraindications.

    Always consult your doctor before taking any herbal supplement if you have any of the following health concerns:

  • Cancer
  • An enlarged prostate
  • Epilepsy
  • Glaucoma
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Thyroid problems
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • History of liver or kidney problems
  • History of stroke
  • Be sure to discuss the issue of using herbal supplements with your primary health care provider to help you make a safe choice. Remember that “natural” doesn’t always mean safe and free from side effects. When it comes to your health, always ask questions when in doubt.

    For more information on herbal supplements, visit the National Institutes of Health’s Center for Alternative and Complementary Medicine website.

    National Institutes of Health Medline Plus website lists many of the most common herbal supplements and information on their uses, dosages, side effects, and drug interactions.

    If you experience an adverse reaction to an herbal supplement, you can report the possible reaction to the Food and Drug Administration at www.FDA.gov/medwatch or contact them at 1-800-FDA-1088.

    Note: This article was originally published on March 19, 2012 on PharmacyTimes.com. It was edited and republished by US News.


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