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Safety: Coordinating Natural Treatments With All Your Medicines

We pay special attention to potential adverse interactions among drugs, herbs, and nutrients.

Natural treatments, by and large, tend to be very safe; but they are not foolproof.  Nutrition and herbal treatments can definitely cause side-effects, a few of which can be serious.  For example, a recent report from Germany suggests that the popular anti-anxiety herb Kava Kava might be a cause of hepatitis.  There's not yet enough information to know this for certain, but it's important information to know, before taking Kava.  We must also be humble in our relative lack of knowledge.  Research on nutrition and herbs and their interaction with drugs is still very limited. 

Two rules worth keeping in mind:

  1. Any biologically active supplement has some potential for interacting with your medicines, or otherwise causing side-effects. 
  2. If a symptom begins or worsens within weeks after starting a new nutrient, herb or drug, consider that product to be potentially suspect.  Of course, discuss this with your physician.

An example:  St. John’s Wort normally acts to speed up the pace of certain liver detoxification enzymes.  In some circumstances, that might be desirable, but speeding up these pathways can also increase the metabolic rate of certain drugs that also use these pathways (e.g. birth control pills and cancer chemotherapy agents).  Speeding up their metabolism, in effect, lowers their dose, which could make them less effective. 

Natural products might also do harm in special circumstances even though in other circumstances they may be useful.  For example, before surgery, you want to avoid most products that would predispose to easy-bleeding.  However, many valuable foods, nutrients and herbs act to “thin” the blood (e.g. garlic, onion, ginseng, St. John’s Wort, fish oil, primrose oil, vitamin E).

Being aware of potential interactions and special circumstances requires special knowledge and attention–all the more so because research on these issues is often dramatically incomplete.  And new information appears all the time. You can’t assume that anyone (including ourselves) is 100% up-to-date.  However, nutritionally- oriented physicians are more likely to know the latest than are health food store clerks, or several years old nutrition books.

As part of your "safety net" please be sure to keep all of your physicians informed of all the medicines and supplements you are taking.  Our office will always be pleased  to respond to calls from your other doctors.