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Why Prescription Drugs and Herbal Supplements Don’t Always Mix

September 14, 2018
Almost half of Americans have taken a prescription during the past 30 days, and nearly 60 percent of Americans take some form of dietary herbal supplement regularly. Medications and herbal supplements aren't always compatible, though, so here’s what you need to know about mixing prescription drugs and herbal supplements.

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Almost half of Americans have taken a prescription during the past 30 days. Nearly 71 percent of Americans take some form of dietary herbal supplement regularly. Americans bought more than $7 billion in herbal supplements in 2016.

Be Aware - Supplements Change Things

Some supplements are useful alternatives to medications. Your doctor can advise you about herbal supplement safety, especially when you take medications. Ask about possible interactions when you get a new prescription.

When taken with prescription drugs, herbal supplements may decrease the effectiveness of your medications, changing how they’re absorbed or metabolized. They can even block the medication’s intended effect altogether, making it useless to you.

Supplements can also increase both the strength of your medication and its unpleasant side effects. This can be dangerous.

Consider Everything You Take

Over-the-counter medications such as aspirin, decongestants and allergy medicines can also interact with supplements in a harmful way.

Keep Accurate Records

Carry a list of medications and supplements you take in case of emergency. One easy way to keep track is to take a picture of the list or use a notes app on your smartphone.

Always inform your doctor about what you’re taking, how much you take, and when.

When something changes, update your records, share the info with your doctor, and be sure to ask about potential side effects.

Plan Ahead for Surgery

If you’re having surgery, consult your doctor about whether you need to stop taking any of your current medications or supplements.

For instance, some herbal supplements have side effects you may not be aware of, such as thinning the blood, which could cause complications during surgery. This is because they may affect your response to anesthesia or IV medications given during the procedure.

More Good Practices
  • Talk to your Pharmacist
  • Read labels carefully
  • Always read the “Supplement Facts” label carefully to see all the ingredients in the product; some might be harmful if mixed with medications.

Your pharmacist is another good resource to ask about possible interactions between your supplements and medication—both prescription and over-the-counter.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The Council for Responsible Nutrition
The American Botanical Council