May 23, 2012

Avoiding Dangerous Rx Drug/Supplement Interactions

Did you know that herbal supplements containing garlic, ginkgo, ginger, and saw palmetto can significantly increase bleeding? How about that chromium, cinnamon, and whey protein supplements can decrease blood sugar or that bloodroot, green tea, hawthorn, and mate can elevate blood pressure?

A recently published article by a pharmacist provides that and other valuable information you can use to counsel customers seeking advice about herbal supplements or who have questions about how those products might interact with prescription drugs.

The article, published in the journal Alternative and Complementary Therapies, warns that herbal supplements can be harmful or even life-threatening if combined with commonly prescribed medications, even if they also can have some beneficial effects.

Author Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD, cofounder of Natural Standard Research Collaboration and Senior Attending Pharmacist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, noted, "If something has a therapeutic action in a human body, this substance can also cause a reaction or an interaction."

In the article, "What Every Clinician Should Know About Herb-Supplement-Drug Interactions," Ulbricht describes in detail some of the most common side effects that can result from interactions between herbal supplements and therapeutic drugs. She also advises clinicians on how to decrease the risk of harmful interactions in their patients.

One way to do that, she notes, is to take advantage of the talents of different members of a clinical team. "Clinicians are cross-trained to some extent, but cannot be 'jacks of all trades, masters of none.' So, that is why people specialize. Physicians are diagnosticians. Pharmacists focus on therapeutics. Dietitians focus on diets. Physical therapists focus on exercises. Multidisciplinary teams should be used for patient care."

Ulbricht points out both the need and the desire for more information in this area. "The American Pharmacists Association did a survey, and the number-one requested CE program was about dietary supplements due to the high utilization rates and the lack of formal education about dietary supplements," she writes.

The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements and other federal agencies strongly urge consumers to tell pharmacists and other health care providers what supplements they take.

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