Common Supplement-Drug Interactions

Natural supplements can be beneficial to one’s health.  More than 50% of people with chronic medical conditions take natural remedies, with a large majority also taking one or more prescription medications.  While most supplement-drug combinations are generally considered safe, there are a few potentially dangerous interactions of which the consumer should be aware.

  1. St. John’s Wort:  This supplement, commonly used for depression (as further described in Five Ways to Beat the Wintertime Blues), often deceases the effectiveness of various medications, including birth control pills, anti-depressants and various therapies that treat cancer and AIDS.  In general, it is strongly recommended to avoid concurrent use of St. John’s wort with over-the-counter and prescription medications.
  2. Goldenseal: Used for a number of purposes ranging from muscle cramps to digestive symptoms, this herb interferes with two major pathways that our bodies use to process drugs.  As a result, the prescribed medication can become either ineffective or dangerous.  It is advised, therefore, that goldenseal not be used in combination with most medications.
  3. Black Cohosh: This herb is commonly used to treat menopausal symptoms including hot flashes and night sweats.  It can reduce the cholesterol lowering effect of statins, as well as make certain allergy and diabetic medications less effective.
  4. Ginko Biloba: Purported to enhance memory and cognitive function, this herb can increase the risk of bleeding when combined with various blood thinners, especially warfarin.
  5. American Ginseng: Commonly used to treat cold symptoms, this herbal supplement can decrease the blood thinning effect of warfarin, resulting in an increased risk of stroke and blood clot formation.  It may also increase the risk of low blood sugar.

Other common herbs that may interact with prescription medications include milk thistle, echinacea, garlic, Asian ginseng, green tea and kava kava.  Medscape has an online Interaction Checker which can be useful for reviewing potential supplement-drug interactions.  With that said, it is critically important to notify your physician of any supplements you take or plan to start.  Together, you can make sure your medication regimen is the safest and most effective possible.

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