Is it advisable to be mixing herbs and drugs together?
Over the last few decades, the rates of prescription medication use have increased considerably, as have the rates of use of over-the-counter (OTC) medications and dietary supplements. According to a study from Stats Canada almost 40% of adults say they take vitamin and mineral supplements. The use is more prevalent among women and those with healthier lifestyles and of socio-economically advantaged backgrounds. Most people would say they take dietary supplements in order to stay healthy, lose weight, do better in sports or improve their performance in the bedroom!
However, nutrition and medical advisors say they may be putting themselves at risk.
Health Canada defines natural health products as:
- vitamins and minerals
- herbal remedies
- homeopathic medicines
- traditional medicines such as traditional Chinese medicines
- and other products like amino acids and essential fatty acids.
It’s not always the products themselves that are the problem but their interaction with other herbs, vitamins and prescription drugs.
Most of these interactions are benign but some can cause serious problems, even death. In the United States, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), unintentional drug poisonings caused 20,000 deaths in 2004. Older adults, who tend to take more medicines, are at greatest risk of medication-related adverse reactions. In Canada, accidental poisonings account for more than half the hospitalizations for seniors (55%).
Medication interactions, or drug-supplement interactions, can render your medicine less effective. They can put you at risk for side effects and toxicity and/or worsen a medical condition you may already have. A 2008 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that more than 2 million Americans between the ages of 57 and 85 are at risk of major drug-drug interactions.
READ MORE:All About Vitamins and Minerals
Many OTC drugs were once prescriptions and are not as benign as some consumers are led to believe. And while drug information is always available on prescription labels, many people fail to read it.
It’s a common misconception that herbs, because they’re “natural”, can’t possibly be harmful. But natural isn’t always safe. St. John’s Wort, for instance, is a medicinal plant used to treat depression. It has serious interactions with several drugs; if taken with birth control pills it may block the pill’s contraceptive action. Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps to regulate the sleep-awake cycle. Because it makes you drowsy, it’s useful for jet lag and other sleep issues. But it can be harmful if taken with other sedating medicines. It may also increase blood sugar levels and interfere with diabetes medications.
There are dietary supplements that can help you stay healthy and others that might reduce your risk of disease. Before making a decision to take them, however, talk with your healthcare provider. An informed consumer is more likely to be a healthy consumer.
What to do
Be aware that the term “natural” doesn’t always mean safe.
Before taking any dietary supplement, check with your pharmacist or health care provider. This is especially important if you plan on taking a supplement before, during or after surgery.
Even if you think you’re well-informed, take an interest in drug labels and check in regularly with your pharmacist to keep up-to-date with possible interactions.
Check out Drug-Vitamin Supplement Interactions and Herbal-Drug Interactions and familiarize yourself with the possible interactions between herbs, vitamins and prescription drugs.
Always consult with a doctor or other healthcare professional before administering prescription and non prescription medications, vitamins, supplements, and alternative therapies to children.