Natural medicines – Take care with drugs

September 9, 2008

Natural does not mean it can’t harm you – some of the most deadly poisons are ‘natural’ such as nutmeg. The odd bit grated on your rice pudding won’t harm you, but if you were to ingest 2-3 whole ones in a day it could kill you. If you enjoy apples, please don’t eat the pips as they can cause mild cyanide poisoning and if you are fond of caraway seeds – as I am on my rye bread – then be aware that again large quantities can cause headaches and giddiness. Let’s look at just three common supplements and see what their effect on drugs can be:

ST. JOHN’S WORT – in trials it has performed better than a placebo and as well as the commonly prescribed antidepressant, imipramine. This herbal remedy had fewer side effects and the researchers concluded it showed promise for the long-term treatment of moderate depression. However, it does interact with some drugs, causing them to metabolise through the body too quickly. Two groups who need to be cautious about taking this natural remedy for depression are women on the on the contraceptive pill or anyone on the blood-thinning drug warfarin, who are at risk of a stroke. There may also be implications for people on medication for asthma, epilepsy, depression, migraine and heart problems. You may think there would be little point in taking a natural medicine for depression if you are on a drug like Prozac, but people do – however taking it with antidepressants like Prozac means a risk of developing serious side effects–including delirium. The FDA issued a warning in February 2000 that the herb could interfere with drugs used to treat HIV-infected patients and there have also been some reports from America that St John’s wort can cause nerve damage or cataracts when combined with bright sunlight. Herbalists have always known that when St John’s wort is used externally, you have to keep out of the sun because hypericin, the active ingredient in St John’s wort, does react with sunlight.

GINKGO BILOBA – many ‘seniors’ take this supplement to help with memory and mental sharpness as it helps improve blood supply to the brain, and many people have reported good results from using it. However, if you are also taking a daily ‘preventive’ aspirin it can potentially be harmful in two areas: gingko and aspirin in combination can lead to hemorrhagic stroke that involves bleeding within the brain, damaging nearby brain tissue, and people who are taking blood thinners need to be cautious as both the drug and gingko have anti-clotting properties so the ‘double whammy’ effect could be very dangerous. FOLIC ACID – often recommended in pregnancy and you will find it in virtually every multivitamin combination as it is essential for many functions in the body. However, it can interfere with the effectiveness of some anticancer drugs so not recommended for anyone on chemotherapy. Conversely, some drugs like anticonvulants actually deplete the body of folic acid and in pregnant women can lead to birth defects, which is why it is often recommended as a supplement at that time. Anyone who has been taking Phenobarbital over a long period should be aware that it results in dramatic reductions in folic acid blood levels, and again you might be recommended to take supplemental folic acid.

My advice? Whatever medication you are on, if you are also taking natural supplements it pays to do your research. First ask your doctor or pharmacist about any possible interactions and also go on the web and through a reputable site – such as – and see what else you can find out. It’s your health – and your responsibility.


Article by  


What do you think of this health article by ? Join the discussion...