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Benefits and Risks of Herbal Nutrition Supplements

Nutrition Supplements That Promote Health May Interfere with Other Medication

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Senior woman taking pills from week pill box, close-up of hands
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More than 100 million Americans take vitamins or dietary supplements daily—including dozens of herbal nutritiion supplements—and with good reason. Research has shown that many herbal nutrition supplements can:
  • Provide essential nutrients
  • Boost the human immune system
  • Enhance memory and sleep quality

Yet despite the popularity of herbal nutrition supplements to promote better health, not everyone who uses them is well informed about all of their properties or how they may interact—or interfere—with a variety of prescription drugs and other medication. As a result:

  • Many people fail to share information about their use of herbal nutrition supplements with their health providers
  • Health providers don’t think to ask if patients are taking herbal nutrition supplements

Both are oversights that could have dangerous consequences.

If you’ve had surgery, you were probably told that you should stop taking aspirin several days before the operation to avoid excessive bleeding, even if you normally take aspirin daily to help protect your heart. (NOTE: There is new information that stopping aspirin therapy suddenly can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. See Do You Take Aspirin to Prevent Heart Attack or Stroke?)

But what about herbal nutrition supplements that may increase bleeding, decrease the effectiveness of anti-clotting medications, or elevate heart rate or high blood pressure under certain conditions?

Benefits and Side Effects
People who are contemplating surgery, or even taking medications regularly, should become familiar with the power and properties of any herbal nutrition supplements they are taking. Here are a few things to watch for with some of the herbal nutrition supplements commonly used by people over 50:

Echinacea

  • Benefits – Strengthens the immune system, helps prevent colds and flu, and aids in overall healing.
  • Side Effects – May cause liver inflammation if used in conjunction with certain other medications such as anabolic steroids and methotrexate, which are often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Gingko

  • Benefits – Increases blood circulation and oxygenation, and improves memory and mental alertness.
  • Side Effects – May increase bleeding, especially in people who already take certain anti-clotting medications.

Goldenseal

  • Benefits – Reduces inflammation and can be used as a mild laxative.
  • Side Effects – May increase swelling or high blood pressure.

Feverfew

  • Benefits
– Used to help prevent migraine headaches, and to treat arthritis, rheumatic disease and allergies.

  • Side Effects – May increase bleeding, especially in people who already take certain anti-clotting medications.
  • St. John’s Wort

    • Benefits – Used for mild-to-moderate depression, anxiety, or sleep disorders.
    • Side Effects – May prolong the effects of certain anesthetics.

    Garlic

    • Benefits – Helps to lower cholesterol, triglyceride levels and blood pressure.
    • Side Effects – May increase bleeding, especially in people who already take certain anti-clotting medications.

    Ginseng

    • Benefits – Increases physical stamina and mental concentration.
    • Side Effects – May increase heart rate or high blood pressure. May cause bleeding in women after menopause. May decrease the effectiveness of certain anti-clotting medications.

    Herbal dietary supplements can provide important health benefits but it's important to know how they react to medication you may already be taking.

    Before you take Herbal dietary supplements, check with your health care provider to be sure the herbal supplements are safe for you.

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