July is Herbal/Prescription Interaction Awareness Month. A common misconception with herbal supplements is that because they are “all-natural” it is safe to take. This is especially true for people who may be taking prescription medications. The main purpose of the public health and awareness campaign is to inform the public that herbal supplements can cause potentially dangerous drug interactions when taken with certain medications.
Are Herbal Supplements Safe?1
While herbal supplements are not regulated by the FDA as drugs or as foods, they do fall under a category called dietary supplements. It is important to note that the level of regulation and criteria for dietary supplements is not as stringent as it is for food and drug products. The dietary supplement regulations ensure that herbal supplements meet certain quality standards and that the FDA can intervene to remove dangerous products from the market. However, these products can pose unexpected risks because many supplements contain active ingredients that have strong effects in the body. For example, taking a combination of herbal supplements or using supplements together with prescribed medications could lead to harmful, even life-threatening results.
How Herbs Can Interact with Medicines?2
Unfortunately, for many medicines and supplements there’s currently little information on possible interactions, and more research is needed. Some supplements can decrease the effects of medicines, while others can increase the effects, including unwanted side effects, of medicines. Here are a few examples of well-known drug interactions:
- St. John’s Wort: St. John’s wort interacts with a large number of medications, including antidepressants, allergy drugs, birth control, and warfarin. In most cases, St. John’s wort decreases the effectiveness of the medication; in other cases, however, St. John’s wort may increase the effects of a medication.3
- Garlic Extract: Concentrated garlic extracts can thin the blood in a manner similar to aspirin, which may be a problem during or after surgery.
- Green Tea Supplements: Concentrated green tea supplements can interact with pseudoephedrine (a decongestant).
Herbal Supplement Safety Tips
- If you’re currently taking prescription medications and thinking about starting an herbal supplement, always talk to your doctor or pharmacist first about possible drug interactions.
- Follow supplement instructions
- Stick to brands that have been tested by independent sources
- Keep track of any alerts or advisories. The FDA will notify the public of any supplements that have been reported to cause adverse effects or contain undeclared ingredients.
Tria Health can help
If Tria Health is offered through your benefits plan, you have the option of receiving a one-on-one private consultation with one of Tria Health’s pharmacists over the phone. During your consultation, your pharmacist will review all your current medications, including vitamins and supplements. Tria Health will assist you in identifying any possible drug interactions or savings opportunities!