Herbal Medicines Do Count!
When you arrive at your doctor’s office for an appointment and the doctor or nurse is reviewing the medications you are currently taking, make sure you mention ALL the medicines you take including herbal supplements. These medications have the potential to interact with other medications or treatments. This is information your health care team needs to provide safe and comprehensive care!
According to recent data, approximately three-quarters of the world’s population are or have been using herbal supplements. Most individuals use these herbal supplements to enhance their health and to actively treat medical or health symptoms. Several recently published studies described a trend among allergy and asthma sufferers to use herbal supplements to treat their allergic or asthmatic conditions. This is cause for concern as some supplements, such as cayenne and St. Johns Wort, may interact with certain medications (e.g. theophylline) used in the treatment of asthma.
While prescription drugs in the United States undergo rigorous testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety prior to marketing approval, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act has exempted manufacturers of herbal supplements from the requirement to prove safety or effectiveness before entering the U.S. marketplace. The FDA can remove from the market any herbal or dietary supplement that it deems unsafe or that makes false claims, however, relatively little is known about the health effects of herbal remedies.
The following tips from Clifford W. Bassett, MD, FAAAAI, may provide some assistance in the use of medicinal herbal remedies:
These medical conditions may increase the risks of side effects of herbal supplements: High blood pressure, blood clotting problems, thyroid disease, enlarged prostate, glaucoma, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, heart disease, and epilepsy.
Individuals with allergies to various pollens, including weeds and grasses, should be quite cautious in using certain herbal supplements. Use caution in taking herbs when you have seasonal, year-round or food allergies. For example, individuals who are sensitive to ragweed/weed pollens may “cross-react” to compounds such as Echinacea due to their similar plant families. If you are sensitive to sunflower seeds and/or various types of melons, you may also react to Echinacea. Researchers have reportedly identified several dozen cases in which Echinacea has been associated with asthma attacks and/or allergic reactions. One may use this supplement to fight a cold and wind up with worsening allergy-type symptoms.
Observe for any unintended reactions after taking herbal supplements, such as nasal, sinus or respiratory symptoms.
Herbs may be “contaminated with various mold spores that can seriously affect allergy patients,” according to Marianne Frieri, MD, PhD, FAAAAI, Director of Allergy and Immunology at Nassau County Medical Center, in East Meadow, NY.
Never give dietary supplements or herbal remedies to children, without consultation with a pediatrician.
Patients about to undergo surgery must inform their doctor regarding the use of herbs. Supplements may react with anesthetic agents or other drugs given during surgery, and could cause bleeding or affect post-surgical wound healing.
Do not take supplements during pregnancy or while breast-feeding, as they could have effects on your baby. Various supplements may stimulate unwanted uterine contraction.
Let your medical provider know which supplement you are using as some may have an interaction with prescription and over the counter medications.
The term “natural” does not necessarily mean that it is safe for usage. Remember these herbs may contain weakened or diluted chemicals found in nature or medications.
Incorrect labeling, as well as omitting the product’s additives, may lead to unexpected reactions with the use of these supplements.
The use of feverfew, garlic, ginger and ginkgo may interact with aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to cause bleeding.
Be aware of unsubstantiated and false claims of individual herbal supplements. More research and investigation are clearly needed in the evaluation of the effectiveness of herbal remedies, especially in individuals with allergic sensitivities. You may report a possible adverse effect of an herbal supplement to the FDA at www.FDA.gov/medwatch or call them at 1-800-FDA-1088.
Herbal and natural remedies have played a positive role throughout history in the development of some of our current medications and treatments. A century ago, it was discovered that injecting pollen extracts could successfully treat hay fever—a treatment familiar and effective today known as allergy shots. The key to the successful use of herbal supplements is knowledge. Be aware of the potential side effects of the supplements and ALWAYS keep your health care providers informed of ALL of your medications and herbal supplements!