# Monday, April 14, 2008

There is a common assumption that over-the-counter drugs and vitamins are safe because they do not require a prescription. Very few people read the labels and instructions about the safe use of these products, as well as investigating whether or not they negatively interact with other products and/or prescription medications. Many people also do not think it is important to tell their physician about any herbal supplements they are taking because they mistakenly think that herbal supplements are safe; however, these, mixed with other medications, can prove to be very dangerous.

Using herbs for their medicinal properties has been practiced for centuries. The problem is that people assume that because it is a natural remedy, it is 100% safe. While these supplements can definitely be helpful for some health issues, they must be taken in a safe manner, and with your physician's knowledge. Many times people take too much of these remedies, assuming that because they are natural, they can be consumed in high doses.  Herbal supplements and vitamins can be dangerous if taken in higher doses than suggested, the same as prescription medications. People with certain health issues need to be aware that certain herbal properties can exacerbate their condition, even when taken as directed.

Ginkgo biloba is a common herbal supplement that is used for memory enhancement. This is a very common supplement with Canadian seniors as a natural way to combat the effects of aging. However, many are not aware that ginkgo biloba should never be taken by anyone who is taking prescription blood thinners. Ginkgo biloba contains properties that naturally thin the blood; these combined greatly increase the risk of strokes and/or severe bleeding. Dong quai and ginseng are also dangerous for those on blood thinning medications.

 St. John's Wort is an herb that is commonly used to combat mild or moderate depression, but should never be used with prescription anti-depressants, especially those that are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, i.e. Prozac, Serzone, Luvox, Paxil, or Zoloft. This combination causes an imbalance, and can cause symptoms such as feeling weak, tired and confused; totally defeating the purpose of taking the medication to begin with.

Echinacea is a very popular herbal supplement that is designed to fire up the immune system. Millions of people take Echinacea at the beginning of the winter to help ward off colds as well as the flu virus. As well, many products such as cough drops and multi-vitamins contain Echinacea without the consumer's knowledge. Echinacea however, should never be taken by anyone who uses corticosteroids, or any other prescription medication that is designed to suppress the immune system.

Valerian is an herb that is a natural sedative, and is used by people to help those who are suffering from insomnia, or other sleep disorders. It can be dangerous, however, when combined with other sleep aids, either prescription, or over-the-counter, as it can cause over-sedation. As with any other sleep aid products, it should never be combined with alcohol.

Glucosamine is a natural supplement designed to help with joint problems and arthritis. However, many forms of glucosamine contain sodium, which can be very harmful for those who are on a low-sodium diet i.e. those who have high blood pressure. People who are allergic to shellfish may also be allergic to glucosamine.

You may be unintentionally putting yourself at risk if you are taking herbal supplements and/or certain vitamins if you have health concerns such as:

• Problems with blood clotting
• Any type of cancer
• Any form of diabetes
• Enlarged prostate gland
• Epilepsy
• Glaucoma
• Heart disease
• High blood pressure
• Psychiatric problems
• Parkinson's disease
• Immune system problems
• Have suffered or are in danger of suffering a stroke
• Thyroid problems
• Liver problems
• Are scheduled for surgery

It's important to recognize that the vitamin and herbal supplement industry is not as strictly regulated as prescription pharmaceuticals. This means that often warning labels are not included detailing the potential dangers of a certain product, or other drugs that the product may negatively interact with. And while the majority of natural supplements are safe and effective, they must always be taken in the manner prescribed. Taking too much of natural supplements can be harmful, the same as prescription medication. For optimal health results, tell your physician about everything you take, including vitamins in order to prevent any potential negative interactions. You can also do your own research about these vitamins and supplements to learn about the benefits as well as the dangers. Before buying any supplements, talk to your pharmacist, who is aware of all your prescription medications; they will also be knowledgeable about any potential harm.

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