Oh, you crazy kids with your all-natural supplements and your star-spangled eyes. Read the article Heart Patients Using Herbal Remedies May Be at Heightened Risk of Dangerous Drug Interactions on Science Daily.
Oh, I know. You’re thinking it’s a crock. Mother Nature would never do anything to hurt us. She’s super kindly and a stone fox, how on earth could anything she created be dangerous? Well, it’s easy. The things we consume, whether they be all natural healthy supplements or McDonalds cheeseburgers, engage in chemical reactions inside our bodies. The nature of these reactions is what determines whether something is good or bad. Good things tend not to kill us, and bad things do. The trouble is that there are very few absolutes in life, and something may be good most of the time, but not all of the time. This is where we run into things mixing and creating problems. Remember that Batman movie where Jack Nicholson¬†played The Joker? Remember how he made his super evil poison a series of different chemicals in a myriad of products, so that using a combination of them would trigger the reaction? Same principal.
We can’t possibly know every reaction between every combination of foods, herbs, medicines, and environmental compounds. That’s just not possible. But the difference between those who go through the proper FDA channels and those who go through the supplement back door is that the FDA approved medicines are required to test, and to publish the results of those tests, along with warnings for possible interactions.
Do you suppose that the next box of Gingko Biloba you buy will warn you about this interaction? Do you imagine a world where an ad for Saint John’s Wort will include a cautionary “Warning, possible side effects include…” message? I don’t. They don’t have to, so they won’t. Me, I’d rather know if the herbal medicine I’ve been told to take by my nutter hippie friend might just cause problems with my existing medications.
Oh, and the easy argument would be, “But Jim, it’s not the natural products that are the problem, it’s all the toxins in the medicines the patients are taking!” Well, like most easy arguments, it’s weak like tea. Tea made from natural herbs no less.
You see, the medicines are actually doing a particular job. They were designed to do this. Tinctures and ground up leaves were not, and are at best less effective at it, and may even lessen the effectiveness of the actual medicine. Here’s what the article says we could expect:
St. John’s wort, which is typically used to treat depression, anxiety and sleep disorders among other problems, reduces the effectiveness of medications contributing to recurrences of arrhythmia, high blood pressure or increase in blood cholesterol levels and risk for future heart problems. Ginkgo biloba, which is supposedly used to improve circulation or sharpen the mind, increases bleeding risk in those taking warfarin or aspirin. Garlic, which supposedly helps boost the immune system and is commonly used for its cholesterol and blood pressure lowering properties, can also increase the risk of bleeding among those taking warfarin.
That’s just three examples. Three pretty shitty examples. So let’s say you’re on warfarin because you are dealing with a deep vein thrombosis. At the same time, you start popping garlic capsules because you just don’t want to get sick. Well, the result can be devastating.
I’m not saying that natural remedies are unsafe. I’m saying that they cause¬†chemical reactions in the body, and sometimes those reactions can be dangerous. We can’t hide behind the rose colored glasses of assuming that natural means healthy, we need to know what we’re taking in to our bodies and (as much as possible) how they might conflict. But that means testing, and testing means money, and the billion dollar supplement industry doesn’t have to and doesn’t want to pay the price tag.