Millions of Americans take over-the-counter herbal and botanical supplements every day, but there is growing evidence that these supplements can interfere with a number of prescription medications for everything from high blood pressure to cancer.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal story, researchers have discovered that some supplements change the way the body metabolizes drugs. In some instances, a supplement may decrease the rate at which prescription drugs are broken down and cleared from the body, leading to a buildup of the drug to possible toxic levels. Some supplements have also been shown to increase the breakdown of drugs in the body, making those drugs less effective.
Some of the interactions researchers have discovered include:
- Echinacea, used to stave off colds and boost immunity, can affect certain chemotherapy drugs, reducing their effectiveness.
- Kava, used to treat anxiety and insomnia, can reduce the effectiveness of a certain breast cancer drug.
- Grape seed extract, used for some cardiac conditions, can potentially increase the side effects of a breast cancer drug.
- John’s Wort, taken for depression, can increase side effects if taken with anti-depressants. It can also interfere with the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS medications and oral contraceptives as well as anti-rejection drugs taken by organ transplant recipients.
- Garlic, ginger, ginkgo and ginseng can increase the risk of bleeding in patients on blood thinners.
Research into the interactions of supplements with prescription drugs is being conducted by a number of organizations because it is estimated that up to 70% of patients do not inform their doctors of the supplements they are taking. Supplements are also largely unregulated, with no requirement to list potential interactions with drugs. The FDA does require prescription drug makers to list potential interactions before a drug is approved.
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