Although those using natural products may assume they are doing good things for their health, a recent study showed that Canadians who use natural health supplements in addition to their prescription medications may be at least 6 times more likely to experience negative side effects, compared with those using only the medications.
This is a critical finding, considering how many people are augmenting their traditional medical advice using popular supplements and vitamins.
The study showed that certain natural remedies may actually alter the effects of the medications that may be prescribed. In many cases, the alterations may not be dangerous, but, in at least one instance, an 8-year-old girl suffered cardiac arrest. Others may experience only bruising or digestive difficulties, but the consequences of the interactions should be considered, with any natural supplements while taking prescription drugs.
Canadian consumers may be at a higher risk than people residing in other countries, as approximately 50% of those using prescription medications are also using natural remedies, according to this recent study conducted at the University of Alberta.
It is critical that doctors carefully monitor the supplements and natural remedies used by their patients, and that patients explicitly disclose any additional supplements or remedies they may be using.
Sunita Vohra, M.D., one of the research experts in charge of the study, stated, “In light of how many Canadians mix natural products and prescription medications, we do not have enough information on which of those combinations are safe – and which should be avoided.”
Although avoiding natural products and supplements entirely is not necessary, it is important that patients and doctors understand the implications of any possible interactions or interferences. While side effects of most prescription medications may be clearly explained, natural products may not be as well-researched and the disclosures may be more subtle.
Ran Goldman, a doctor who has evaluated many alternative health supplements, affirms that patients should not assume that just because a product is considered to be “all natural”, it is totally safe or harmless, particularly if they already take prescription medications for any condition. Natural remedies should be carefully evaluated, just as any pharmaceutical product would be.
Parents should be especially cautious when using natural remedies and supplements with their children, according to Dr. Goldman. He discusses problems that he has dealt with when medications and natural treatments interact in children, including a dangerous interaction between seizure medication and St. John’s Wort. He urges parents to treat natural remedies in the same way as medications, and to use them with caution.
St. John’s Wort, often used as a natural treatment for depression, can have adverse effects on many different prescriptions, from seizure medications, to birth control to blood thinners and more. It should be avoided when a person is already taking prescription medications for depression, because it can create a critical over-production of serotonin in the brain.
Although the studies investigating natural supplements have been small and few, they have had alarming results and indicate the need for further research and education for the public. Patients should be encouraged to disclose all medications and supplements that they are taking, to allow physicians to understand their unique situation and prevent any dangerous interactions.
SOURCES: https://news.nationalpost.com/2014/04/13/patients-using-natural-health-products-with-prescription-drugs-increase-risk-of-unwanted-side-effects-canadian-study-suggests/;https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html; Image courtesy of Praisaeng / FreeDigitalPhotos.net