Herbal supplements are quickly becoming a popular treatment solution for a number of ailments. Herbs can provide a natural alternative to over-the-counter or prescription medications giving you health benefits with a decreased chance of negative side effects. However, herbs are not regulated by any type of governing agency in the United States and, therefore, may not disclose the potential toxicities or negative interactions with medications. Being aware of these possible interactions may make all the difference between negatively impacting or improving your health.
Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor prior to taking any type of herbal supplement, especially if you are already taking medications. Although your doctor may not have a lot of information about the herb you plan to take, he will know whether it is safe to take supplements in conjunction with your medications. If your doctor tells you it is okay to take herbal supplements, research further to make sure the herb you plan to take will not interact negatively with your medications. According to a 2005 study published by the National University of Singapore, some of the medications that are most likely to interact negatively with herbal supplements are anti-coagulants, anti-depressants, anti-HIV agents, anti-cancer drugs, oral contraceptives, cardiovascular medications and immunosuppressants.
Consult with a Certified Herbalist
As a licensed acupuncturist with almost 4 years of Chinese herbal training I know that herbalists have extensive education about herbs, including knowledge about which herbs might interact with certain medications. You can ask your doctor, chiropractor, or state health department for a referral for a reputable herbalist in your area. If you have a hard time locating an herbalist you may consider talking to a naturopath or visiting your local herbal supplement store. Naturopaths have extensive education in herbs and medications and herbal supplement stores may require their employees to complete in-depth herbal training courses.
Examples of Interactions
According to MedicineNet, chamomile – a calming herb that you can drink as a tea – may cause health problems if you are currently taking blood thinning medications. However, drinking chamomile tea may help reduce nervousness and anxiety caused by some stimulant medications. Echinacea – an herb that can help boost your immune system – may cause liver toxicity and you should avoid it if you are taking medications that tax your liver. However, taking echinacea in combination with some antibiotics may produce a positive effect, helping you to recover from a bacterial infection much quicker than you might otherwise. Avoid taking ginkgo biloba – an herb that may help boost memory – if you are taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or blood thinning medications, since it may further thin your blood. However, you might consider taking ginkgo biloba with some antidepressants that may cause foggy thinking to help boost your brain function.