QUESTION: I’d like to start taking natural remedies such as vitamins, minerals and herbs, but I’m taking several prescriptions. Should I be concerned about mixing the natural with the not-so-natural?
That was my shortest answer ever, wasn’t it? It’s nice to have definitive yeses and no’s in life, but that doesn’t always happen. My clients and students are very accustomed to hearing, “It depends.”
Some medications actually cause a shortage or imbalance of nutrients in the body. Some examples include the following:
- Medications for cholesterol can often cause a deficiency of coQ10, vitamin E, vitamin D, folic acid and vitamin A. The coQ10 deficiency, for example, can often cause a stroke, heart arrhythmias, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and serious muscle pain and weakness. One in four Americans over the age of 60 takes a prescription for high cholesterol. Thankfully, more and more physicians are recommending coQ10 when they prescribe cholesterol meds.
- Prescriptions for blood sugar imbalances and diabetes can also cause a deficiency of coQ10, vitamin B12 and folic acid. A shortage of B12 can result in irreversible dementia, extreme fatigue, confusion, memory loss, moodiness and depression.
- Birth control pills can cause deficiencies of folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin C, tryptophan, tyrosine, magnesium and zinc. Folic acid shortages can cause headaches, insomnia, birth defects, anemia, fatigue, nausea, anorexia, cervical dysplasia and birth defects.
- Blood pressure/heart meds can result in deficiencies of zinc and coQ10. Poor night vision, mental disturbances, extreme fatigue, frequent infections and impaired testicular function are all signs of a zinc deficiency. Yes, we all know what that means.
The list above by no means covers everything for each medication, but it can give you an idea how extensive side effects can be with common prescriptions. So, when deficiencies occur as a side effect of medications, it would be wise to use a natural supplement as insurance.
I am often asked what interactions exist with certain medications and natural supplements. The number one rule when you are taking prescriptions is to call your pharmacist and determine what precautions should be taken when you are considering supplements. Generally speaking, however, interaction is not as accurate as the term “overkill.” If that sounded a little like a melodramatic pun, it really isn’t either. Taking a prescription to dilate your blood vessels or to lower blood pressure and also taking an herbal remedy that does the same thing can result in a serious problem. Herbs can be very powerful and must be treated with respect. Herbs for blood pressure, for example, tend to normalize blood pressure rather than lower blood pressure. But if you also take a prescription to lower blood pressure, you could bring your blood pressure to a dangerously low level.
WITHOUT EXCEPTION, SEEK THE ADVICE OF YOUR PHARMACIST. He or she can advise you of foods that interact with your meds as well as any supplements. An experienced herbalist and pharmacist can be very powerful members of your optimal health team.
Hot Tip: Carefully read information included with your prescriptions.
Marty Kernion, Ph.D. is not a medical doctor. She has a doctorate in naturopathy. Naturopathy uses natural, gentle ways to bring our bodies back into balance so that they have the God-given ability to heal themselves. She is a retired professor of herbal medicine and nutrition and has written 39 college level courses in natural approaches to health. She has published two books on natural health. She can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org for scheduling a class or consultation, or for sending in your questions for this column.
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