Four Dangers of Mixing Drugs and Supplements

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Drugs and SupplementsAny items you might take — herbs, dietary supplements, other natural products, or functional foods such as energy drinks and nutritional bars — can interact with each other and with medications. Doctors Health Press devotes its pages to natural remedies, but this is a reminder that you still must be aware of the risks of interactions. Or, at the very least, your doctor should always know what you are taking.

Such interactions may have harmful or beneficial effects and can extend in ways you might not think of right away. For instance, supplements can also interact with diagnostic test results and laboratory analyses. A recent report listed the top side effects from herb-supplement-drug interactions. Each of the following may involve hundreds of herbs, and certain people may be more at risk based on individual medical history.

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1. What’s in Your Blood Many supplements have implications for bleeding and coagulation. In lists of drugs to watch out for, anticoagulants like warfarin are always at the top. Where supplements truly exert an effect are in blood sugar levels. Chromium, cinnamon, glucomannan, vanadium, whey protein, fenugreek, and gymnema are often used to reduce blood sugar. In fact, they might boost the effects of hypoglycemic drugs in diabetic patients. Coca and cocoa, though, have been shown to increase blood sugar. Other popular supplements that have been shown to both raise and lower blood sugar are licorice and ginseng.

2. Cytochrome P450

You probably haven’t heard of this, but a host of herbs induce or inhibit the cytochrome P450 system (a group of enzymes). When they do this, they affect liver enzymes and, therefore, affect the way your body can clear away other drugs or supplements. You could have high levels of one drug and, if it’s paired with a certain herb, it could cause interactions or adverse effects. That’s due to the cytochrome P450 system.

3. Hormonal Effects

Herbs and supplements may have androgenic effects, antiandrogenic effects, estrogenic effects, antiestrogenic effects, and many other hormonal effects. Specific, well-known examples include dong quai, black cohosh, chasteberry, DHEA, kudzu, peony, red clover, soy, and saw palmetto. Thus, any of these could influence a hormonal drug’s effects. Yet some could replace those drugs, like saw palmetto, which is believed to be as powerful as the leading drug for an enlarged prostate.

4. Blood Pressure

There are many therapies that, while they may help treat blood pressure, could cause hypertension (high) or hypotension (low blood pressure). We have all heard about the hypertensive risk with ephedra, but in fact bloodroot, green tea, hawthorn, mistletoe, maca, and mate may also raise the risk of hypertension. Many other products can lower blood pressure.

Effects on blood pressure are quite complicated, which alone is a reason why any interactions should be monitored. If you take green tea and cola nut or coltsfoot — which can raise blood pressure — and other items with a known hypertensive effect will increase this risk. Yet, this could be a good thing if someone has hypotension or if blood pressure needs to be increased or stabilized for whatever reason. If a person takes ephedra, ginseng, grapeseed, and scotch broom, then you are taking four different herbs that could increase blood pressure. So, naturally, the risk goes up.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg, according to the report. We present it here as a reminder that you have to stay safe with your health.