You may already know that many herbs can thin your blood — that ability is what makes them good at preventing heart disease. However, this same quality also means that they can increase your bleeding time during surgery. Just as your doctor would advise you to stop taking aspirin and other anticoagulants before surgery, I’d like to remind you to stop taking herbs and alternative remedies before going in for a procedure as well. Some herbs known to increase bleeding time include ginkgo biloba, garlic, ginseng, feverfew, saw palmetto, and ginger. Fish oil supplements are also known to increase bleeding, as are vitamins B5 and E.
There are other herbs that may raise your heartbeat, putting you at risk of complications. Caffeine-containing products such as green tea, yerba mate, coffee, and tea should probably be avoided a few days before your surgery. As well, ephedra products, including some decongestants and cold medications, and other thermogenics such as bitter orange should be stopped.
St. John’s wort and grapefruit juice also interact with many medications and may cause major problems with anesthetics or other drugs. Discontinue your use of these two weeks before your surgery.
This may seem like a short list of herbs to avoid. In fact, there are so many herbs that have been linked to increased risks during surgery that it would be impossible to mention them all here.
In general, you should discontinue all herbal therapies at least two weeks before surgery, unless told otherwise by your family physician (and confirmed by your surgeon). Make sure you speak to your doctor before surgery if you have any questions about the herbs you are taking.
In cases of emergency surgery, make sure that you tell your doctors and surgeons what vitamins, herbs, and medications you are on — no matter how irrelevant or silly they may seem to you.
In case you have an accident and are left unconscious or unable to inform your care providers of what you are taking, it’s a good idea to have a list of the herbs and medications you are taking posted somewhere in your house. Make sure that your friends and relatives know where to find this list in case of an emergency.