Herbal Medication, Healthy or Not?

By: Marcus Washington
By: Marcus Washington

January 30, 2006

Within the last 10 years, consumers have spent an estimated $27 billion on herbal products and with that number rising, there are a few things doctors what you to know. There is a risk when mixing herbal products with medications

According to University of Virginia toxologists, St. John's Wart is the most common herbal product to cause herb interactions. These are the reactions that occur when mixing herbal products with other drugs, which is why health officials are warning consumers to be aware.

Brandon Davis is a supplement manager at Rebecca's Natural Food and she advises customer everyday on what herbal products are safe for them to use.

"We'll make sure that they're not on prescription drugs or if they are, we'll use our reference books that talk about the interactions," said Davis.

For many of those who use herbal products, some doctors say most of them think natural means harmless, but that's not always the truth.

"There are still chemicals that are in those products, and that can put people at risk for side effects," said Dr. Chris Holstege, UVA, Health Systems.

Many of those side effects could be life changing.

Dr. Holstege says that using some herbal medications with birth control pills could prevent the pill from working the way it should. He also explains that someone taking anti-viral medication for HIV could notice a rise in their viral load. This could cause a weakened immune system, leaving the herbal user's body more acceptable to AIDS.

In 1994, a federal law took away FDA control when it came to herbs, making herbal consumption easier for those who shouldn't take them at all.

Dr. Holstege also says the effects on children who use herbal medication are still unknown.

If herbal medication is something you are thinking about, take the advice of health officials a consult a physician first.

"Before taking any herbal product, you need to talk to your doctor, or go to the perscription drugs [or] over-the-counter drugs and make sure that it is safe to take," Dr. Holstege said.

"Because obviously health is at the forefront of what we're all about," concluded Davis.

Doctors say herbal products should be thought of as herbal medication because of the chemicals that are in them. If you have any concerns or questions about an herbal product that you use or you're thinking of using, call the Poison Control Center at: 1- 800-222-1222.

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