Wishing You a Safe New Year

Herb-drug interactions made headlines in 2000. Be careful when taking herbs with prescription drugs.

| January/February 2001

 While most herbs are safe when taken as directed, some of the most popular herbs may interact with some prescription or over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Scientists and researchers are still pinning down how some herbs work by themselves, so it’s not surprising that how (and whether) such herbs interact with drugs is an even more complicated puzzle.

Be aware that mainstream news reports of such interactions may be based on publication of studies that don’t reveal some of the most crucial information. For example, they often omit the exact dosage and type of preparation involved in the alleged interaction. A standardized 50:1 ginkgo extract is very different in potency from a tea, an alcohol-based tincture, or a formula that includes some ginkgo along with other herbs. Also, such reports often leave out the frequency of the interaction—in other words, in what percentage of subjects did it happen? This is extremely important for judging your own chances of experiencing such an interaction.

Over the past decades, millions of people have taken ginkgo products. Probably thousands have taken it simultaneously with aspirin, and yet the cases of bleeding problems still make only a small handful. This makes one suspect that any interaction between ginkgo and aspirin is not consistent. So your chances of experiencing it are slim. If you take aspirin regularly, and want to take ginkgo, it’s worth asking your doctor about potential problems, but it’s not an occasion to panic.

This chart focuses on three aspects of herb/drug interactions:

(1) The actual consequence of the interaction: Is it unpleasant, life threatening, or somewhere in between?

(2) The level of evidence: Have one or more people actually become ill? Were the adverse events well- documented? How many were there? Have numerous qualified experts agreed that the event was indeed caused by the herb in question? Has the effect been consistently confirmed in other cases or in double-blind placebo controlled trials?

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