Seniors, Beware of Herbal Supplements!

The benefits of herbal supplements are well publicised – from gingko nuts improving your memory to flaxseed helping to lower your cholesterol.  Most of the herbal supplements are available over the counter in pharmacies and supermarkets.  However, it is important to note that while there may be some regulations ensuring good manufacturing practices – most herbal supplements do not need FDA or regulatory approval to sell their products to the public.  Seniors should be cautious about using herbal supplements because some of them can have potent “medicine-like” effects on your blood pressure, cholesterol or blood sugar.  In severe cases, it may even result in damage to your liver or kidney.  

Who should be extra careful about herbal supplements?

  • If you are over 65 and have health issues, you should not take any herbal supplements without first consulting your doctor or pharmacist.  For older adults, there is also the possibility that your body may metabolize medication differently.
  • If you are taking prescription drugs for chronic diseases especially for heart condition, some herbal supplements can have serious side effects due to interactions with your prescription drugs.  You should be extra careful about herbal supplements that may effect changes in your blood pressure or cholesterol levels.   If you are taking medication for diabetes, it is also known that some supplements can cause your blood sugar to drop or increase.
  • If you are having surgery or recently recovering from surgery, herbal supplements can cause dangerous complications with how anesthesia works during surgery or even cause problems with your blood’s ability to clot.   Make sure you tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking if your are having surgery.   The doctor may even postpone the surgery if he feels that your body needs time to ween off the effects of the herbal supplements.

While most pharmacies have databases of drug interactions and can look out for any adverse effects based on the combination of drugs you may be taking, they may not be able to always cross reference interactions with herbal supplements.  As a rule of  thumb, you should be well read on the supplements you are taking beyond just the promotional literature.  Click here to learn more about how to check for drug and supplement interaction online.  Remember that you should always buy your supplements from a reputable manufacturer that have the USP or ConsumerLab label. and you should not take more than the recommended dose.  Of course, stop if you feel unwell when taking any supplements.

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