Herbal/Prescription Awareness

Though Herbal/Prescription Interaction Awareness Month was July, the importance of this subject is worth discussing every month.

The American Academy of Family Physicians note that nearly 25 percent of U.S. adults take some type of prescription medication concurrently with a dietary supplement.

What is wrong with that? Perhaps nothing! However, “It’s important to know that most herbal alternatives are not actively investigated or approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and should be treated with the same seriousness as prescription medications.”

Herbal Supplements

There is likely an herbal supplement that is reported to help any malady that you may suffer from. A quick Google search for “herbal supplements for migraine” (my own Achilles’ heel) brings up a list of the following supplements: magnesium, riboflavin, CoQ10; and herbal preparations: feverfew and butterbur.

The good? Herbal supplements have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Most are likely safe, though research likely needs to be performed to indicate their effectiveness.  

The confusing? Makers of herbal supplements do not need to get a stamp of approval from the Food and Drug Administration in order to sell their products – even though some herbal supplements have medicinal qualities. They are, however, regulated by the FDA because they fall under the category “dietary supplement.” Confusing, right? Companies can claim that their products fills some sort of gap; for example, they can claim that their supplement supports health, but they cannot make a specific claim, such as that their supplement supports health because it causes weight loss in five days.

In addition, a supplement must have certain information on its label. However, they are not required to submit any evidence of this information to the FDA – meaning that the supplement is hopefully living up to its claims.

Should You Take a Supplement?

If you are wondering if a supplement is right for you, here are some safety tips that you should follow –

  • Speak with your healthcare provider before starting any supplement.
  • If you elect to start a supplement, follow the instructions for the supplement carefully. Do not exceed the dosage unless instructed to do so by your healthcare provider.
  • Remember that the FDA does not approve a supplement, although they regulate them. This means that they do not test them prior to the supplement hitting the shelves. Pick supplements that are tested by independent labs; you can identify them as they will be stamped with “ConsumerLab.com” or “U.S. Pharmacopeia Convention (USP)” on the bottle.
  • Check the FDA website for supplements that are under regulatory review; these means the FDA is reviewing because of complaints for adverse effects.

You should exercise caution before taking a supplement if you are…

  • Pregnant or breastfeeding; medications can cross the placenta or transfer through the breast milk. It is best to discuss all medications – over-the-counter, prescription, and supplements – with your healthcare provider.
  • Having surgery; many supplements can affect the success of surgery. For example, some supplements can reduce the effectiveness of anesthesia or increase the likelihood of complications, such as hypertension and bleeding.
  • Younger than 18 or older than 65; older adults may not metabolize supplements safely and few studies have been performed on children under the age of 18.
  • Taking over-the-counter or prescription medications; some herbs can cause serious drug interactions with medications such as aspirin, blood thinners, or blood pressure medications.

The Bottom Line…

Herbal supplements can be extremely safe if used as indicated and recommended by your healthcare provider. However, all supplements should be discussed prior to their use because they can also have detrimental side effects when used with prescription medications, as well as during procedures and when pregnant and breastfeeding.

Resources

Herbal Supplements & Prescription Meds: What Seniors Need to Know. (2019, July 12). Grand Oaks. https://www.grandoaksdc.org/what-seniors-need-to-know-about-herbal-supplements-and-prescription-medications/

Herbal supplements: What to know before you buy. (2017). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/herbal-supplements/art-20046714

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