Senior Medication Management | June 10, 2015
It is common for patients to automatically tell their doctors about the prescription medication they take, but patients often forget, or underestimate the role herbal and homeopathic drugs, such as zinc supplements, have in interacting with their prescription medications. These interactions can be serious, so it is of the upmost importance that your doctor knows all of the medication, including herbal supplements, you take.
Just because herbal remedies are made of natural, plant-derived ingredients does not mean they are safe. When taken in combination with certain prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, they can pose health risks, sometimes life-threatening.
The elderly and persons with heart disease are especially vulnerable. On its Web site, the Mayo Clinic urges people to tell every physician involved in their care what herbal medications they take, as well as prescription and OTC drugs. And it is recommended that you talk with your physician before starting an herbal product.
An estimated 15 million Americans, and counting, use herbal medications or supplements. Used for centuries, herbal medications have become more risky today because many people take multiple medications, multiplying the chance of an adverse interaction. Herbal products do not undergo the testing and scrutiny of drugs, which must be proven safe and effective before being released on the market. In addition, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) says on its Web site, FamilyDoctor.org, that herbal products may not be pure. Some contain other ingredients, such as plant pollen, as well as drugs that are not listed on the label, such as steroids or estrogens. Others, warns the AAFP, may contain toxic substances, such as arsenic, mercury, lead and pesticides.
Herbals can interact with drugs, reducing effectiveness or increasing potency to harmful degrees and can be particularly risky for heart patients.
The Mayo Clinic provides examples:
The AAFP says that seniors are at increased risk of problems associated with herbal products and recommends that consumers check with their doctor before taking herbal products, particularly if they have any of the following conditions:
Individuals who will be having surgery also need to tell their doctor if they use herbal products, as they can cause bleeding and problems with anesthesia. The AAFP says that surgery patients should stop using herbal products at least two weeks before their procedure, depending on their doctor’s orders.
You can find additional information on herbal medications and supplements on AAFP’s website and a list of prescription medications that often interact with herbal supplements on drugs.com. In addition, the National Institutes of Health and National Library of Medicine provide an online directory of information regarding herbal medications.