There has been a shift, or shall we say a push, to start using more natural remedies for common ailments. It’s a cause well worth considering and being mindful of. Both natural relief and synthetic medications have their place in the healing world. However, the biggest problem we face is that people assume that all natural means it’s safe in any situation—but it’s not. Natural just means naturally grown and not a synthetic, man-made medication. There are still interactions that the physicians, pharmacists, and patients must be aware of.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate herbal supplements, therefore supplements are not under the same scrutiny as over-the-counter or prescription medications. This can create a riskier scenario if the patient is not sharing supplement information with their doctor or pharmacist. Often it can become a big surprise later when medicines don’t work, or work too well, and people aren’t talking about the natural remedy a patient used.
Take, for instance, cranberries. Cranberry juice and dehydrated cranberries can help deal with urinary tract infections. What not many patients know is that cranberry does thin your blood out. And if you are on an anticoagulant, such as Warfarin, you can cause your blood to be a little too thin, and potentially lead to unusual bruising or bleeding. If a patient has been using the cranberry treatment for UTIs for a long time, it’s easy to not think about it interacting with their anticoagulant.
Echinacea is a popular supplement to use right before cold and flu season. It’s an excellent plant that builds up the immune system, making it easier to fight off impending illness. While the drug interactions with Echinacea appear to be minimal, it’s still important to note that it can break down the metabolism and change how a drug is absorbed into the liver.
Evening Primrose Oil is often used by women to combat the effects of PMS. However, if a woman is on anti-seizure medicines, she should not be using evening primrose oil. It can block the effects of the medication and induce a seizure.
Valerian has been used for years to help with depression issues. However, it has over 50 drug interactions! Most notably, it should not be used in conjunction with pain meds, anxiety meds, antidepressants, or medications to help with sleep.
Ginseng is a very popular treatment for a wide variety of ailments. Yet it should not be used with any anticoagulants, blood pressure treatments, or diabetic medications.
Even grapefruit has dangerous interactions with certain medications, despite not necessarily being used for anything but food or drink. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice should be avoided by people taking certain benzodiazepines, statins, amphetamines, antiarrhythmics, and a variety of other medications.
It would be a big help to our society to see acupuncturists and doctors communicating with one another about a patient’s use of both natural and manmade medications. As of now, that doesn’t happen very often. It’s vital to know what someone is taking, no matter what it is. Every vitamin, every supplement, and every over the counter medicine needs to be known about to avoid problems in the future. Encourage your pharmacy patients to disclose all natural treatments they are taking to all members of their health care team.