I’m sure you’ve heard this: Herbal remedies are all natural, so they must be safe.
While these ancient therapies have been known to cure - or at least help - many maladies, they can also cause serious health problems if mixed with certain prescription drugs. In other words, more is not always better.
Taking ginko to help improve your memory? Don’t mix it with anticonvulsants - it will increase your risk of seizures. And if you’re taking medicine to control your diabetes, steer clear of garlic pills or you’ll risk very low blood sugar. Even drinking aloe, touted as a cure for digestive issues, can be dangerous if you’re also on digoxin for heart problems. “Our seniors are taking a lot of prescriptions and they are often taking herbal remedies as well. But if they mix the wrong ones, it can diminish or enhance the effect of their prescriptions,” notes Wendy Blair Stephan, Health Education Coordinator at the Miami Florida Poison Information Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital/University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Some interactions can cause things like dizziness and when person falls they may not realize that what caused their fall was a drug interaction. We also see issues with combining garlic pills and blood thinners, where it can thin the blood too much.”
So if you aren’t sure - ask your doctor, pharmacist or contact the Poison Help Line. The helpline number (800-222-1222) is staffed 24/7 by doctors, pharmacists and nurses who are experts in poison management. “We’re here to give out information as well as help in an emergency. Seniors are the least likely to be aware of us and to know they can call for help with a medicine mistake or a question about medication safety,” she notes. “They can call and ask questions without feeling like they are challenging their physician. It’s free, confidential and we don’t put people on hold.”
For more information on drug interactions, visit Memorial Sloan Kettering's Integrative Medicine wesbite, The University of Florida's Drug Interaction Center, or get information from the University Of Miami's Poison Control Center.
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