How is it with supplements, herbal remedies and drugs?

This month my blog topic has been inspired by recently medialised report of ‘how nutritional supplements and herbal products could interfere with prescription drugs and putting public at risk’. Yes, they can is the correct answer which I will try to explain. The point of taking supplements/herbal preparations versus or alongside prescribed medication, however, lies elsewhere.

Same as prescription drugs, nutritional supplements and herbs cause chemical reactions in the body and vice versa. Any substance, whether synthetic or plant based, promotes desired and sometime undesired pharmacological effects. Pharmacology as a biomedical science subject is part of a general medical degree and clearly concerned about drug actions and their interactions. CAM practitioners, such as herbalists also study pharmacology in addition to pharmacognosy which is the study of phytochemistry — simply plant chemistry and their use as natural drugs if you wish.

Referring to the report, the small scale study identified elderly people being at risk when self medicating with nutritional supplements or herbs. This might be true due to limited knowledge of general public about medicinal properties of herbs and nutritional supplements. Driven by healthy trends and lifestyles, people often want to support themselves with extra nutritional support. Not knowing though is where the problem starts. Supplements and herbs can be taken as preventative measures or to treat subclinical and clinical manifestations such as nutritional deficiencies and various health issues. As herbs act at the biochemical level, there is a clear potential of interaction if mixed inappropriately, as highlighted in the study. To clarify this, every medical herbalist is knowledgeable of plants’ chemistry and is well aware of their medicinal actions when consulting a client: what medication they take and what herbs or supplements would potentially interact with it.

The study assumes that herbs alongside prescribed medication are potentially harmful and people should consult their healthcare practitioners as they conclude. This statement clearly represents one-sided and biased sample but the other is actually true. Unfortunately not every doctor knows all herbs and their traits. Therefore consulting a professional herbalist rather then GP practice is highly advisable when it comes to OTC herbal products even better personalised herbal treatment. Medical herbalists know exactly what risk the individual herbs may posses when taken alongside prescribed medication!

One last note to the paper, as they also mention poly-pharmacy in elderly patients. Perhaps researchers should be more concern about actual drug effects and how they interact in-between. So there is a hint for the next subject which could focus on drug-drug interactions, dosages, side effects and treatment effectiveness of the elderly population on prescribed medication instead of harassing herbal medicinal products and supplements. I think we would see rather fascinating results.

Love and hugs, J.

References:

Agbabiaka T. B. at all. (2018). Prevalence of drug–herb and drug–supplement interactions in older adults: a cross-sectional survey. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6145997/

Bone K. and Mills S. (2013). Principles and practices of Phytotherapy: Modern herbal medicine. 2nd ed. Elsevier Ltd. London.

Rang P.H. at all (2012). Rang and Dales's Pharmacology. 7th ed. Elsevier Ltd. London.