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July is Herbal, Prescription Interaction Awareness Month

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
July is Herbal and Prescription Interaction Awareness Month.

The month’s purpose is to spread knowledge about how herbal supplements can interact with prescription medications, causing harmful effects.

Some of these effects include interference with medication absorption and reduced or intensify effectiveness of medications, said Janine Reinholtz, 20th Aerospace Medicine Squadron registered dietician.

“Herbal supplements are over-the-counter products, often times botanical,” said Reinholtz. “Sometimes (they are) roots, sometimes leaves or sometimes stems of plants. They are not to be confused with man-made supplements or by-products of animals.”

Herbal supplements can include cinnamon, garlic, ginseng, ginkgo, horse chestnut, licorice root, St. John’s Wort and turmeric.

“These (substances), when taken in the common quantity consumed in food are generally safe,” said Reinholtz. “However, when we are taking them in large quantities, pill or tablet form, we can run into medication interactions.”

One such substance is St. John’s Wort, which can cause reduced effectiveness of antidepressants, anticoagulants or blood thinners, and birth control pills according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Unfortunately, most herbal supplements are not Food and Drug Administration regulated, making it difficult for us to know what’s in them,” said Maj. Eva Chatman, 20th Medical Group family health medical director.

Because the supplements are not FDA regulated, the companies that produce them are not held to the same labeling standards as prescription medications, meaning hidden ingredients may interact unexpectedly with medication, said Chatman.

It is important for a person taking herbal supplements to speak with his or her primary physician to learn more about how medications may be affected.

Primary care doctors know their patients best, said Chatman. They are knowledgeable about what supplements are safe with what prescriptions and know their patient’s medical history, so they are a resource patients should reach out to any time they have questions about their health.