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Prescription Drugs and Natural Remedies

What were once thought of as counterculture buzz words have made their way into mainstream with a vengeance – terms like organic, all-natural, herbal, range-free, cage-free, gluten-free, and GMO-free. People today are more informed about alternative medicines and health practices than ever before.

This is definitely good news; however, in our effort to live healthier lives, we cannot forget to keep the bigger picture in sight. Herbal and homeopathic remedies can be found not only in specialty stores, but in most grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as online. People have a wider variety of choices for maintaining healthier lifestyles and often seek help from a multitude of resources – despite the primary care provider approach mandated by many health insurance plans.

What Are Natural Remedies?

As a natural alternative to traditional western medicine, herbal treatments use parts of a plant for medicinal purposes including seeds, berries, flowers, roots, bark and leaves. Herbal remedies are available in many forms: teas, syrups, oils, tinctures, liquid extracts, and dry extracts (pills or capsules), and are widely accessible. In fact, some are so commonly used that they often aren’t considered medicine at all, and are consequently excluded from the list of medication that may be presented during a medical examination.

Interactions with Prescription Medications

Although some homeopathic remedies can be used in place of prescription drugs, it is important to note that taking them concurrently with certain medication may not achieve the desired result. While side effects and negative interactions with prescription drugs might not be something one would typically associate with natural remedies, combining a regimen of dietary supplements with medication has the potential to do more harm than good. Therefore, clear and complete communication is essential in adhering to any treatment plan, no matter the source.

Commonly Used Herbal Treatments

  • St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), a popular and effective herb used for treating mild to moderate depression, can be used along with certain prescription drugs for short term treatment. However, since it negatively interacts with so many medications, it may not be the right choice for everyone. This particular herb should not be combined with drugs taken for severe depression, high blood pressure, pain management, anxiety, epilepsy, cancer, HIV/AIDS, and many more. In addition, when taking oral contraceptives, St. John’s Wort may decrease the effectiveness of the birth control pill.
  • Willow Bark is another herbal remedy. It is used for reducing headache pain and acts much like aspirin and ibuprofen. This supplement should not be used while taking anticoagulants since it also slows blood clotting and might increase risk of bleeding and bruising. It should be avoided with diuretics, antihypertensives and NSAIDS, as well as several other types of drugs.
  • Valerian Root is a popular natural sleep aid and, when combined with other herbs that cause drowsiness, offers some relief for the inability to get a good night sleep. However, it should not be used with other sedatives or alcohol. Disrupted sleep patterns, specifically insomnia, are common byproducts of a hectic lifestyle.


Despite our efforts to be as health conscious as possible, our busy lives often demand that we take shortcuts and as a result, we often take trendy solutions for granted. For example, whey protein is commonly added to blended health drinks, or smoothies, as a food supplement to improve the nutritional content of our diet and to enhance athletic performance. However, this seemingly benign therapy can also have an effect on prescription medications and even other homeopathic remedies.

Specifically, whey protein negatively interacts with Levodopa, a drug which the brain converts to dopamine and is used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Whey protein decreases how much of the Levodopa can be absorbed by the body and should not be used while taking this particular medication. Caution should also be exercised while taking medication for diabetes or hypoglycemia, as well as herbs and supplements that may affect the immune system or are used for gastrointestinal disorders.

Other commonly used herbal remedies include:

  • Garlic benefits many conditions related to the circulatory system, but may interact with medicine that is changed and broken down by the liver.

  • Ginseng, one of the most popular herbal remedies in the world, can help boost the immune system, but shouldn’t be used with diabetes medication.

  • Gingko biloba is used to enhance memory, but it interacts with anticoagulants.

  • Grape seed extract is also beneficial for cardiovascular conditions, but it could interact with blood thinners, NSAID painkillers, certain heart medicines, cancer treatments, and more.

Talk With A Professional

It can be difficult to know which remedies are best since so many healthcare options are available. Just as we would tell our doctors what medications each have prescribed for us, we should also include a list of the alternative medications we are taking. We might not be aware of a connection between the two, but our doctors certainly would be. However, our doctors are not the only ones who would be able to spot a potential danger.

For example, our pharmacists also need to be informed about all of the medications we are taking including over-the-counter medications, natural remedies and herbal supplements, in addition to any drug allergies we may have. This is especially important if we are getting our prescriptions filled at more than one pharmacy. If the pharmacists are unaware of other medications and remedies we may be taking, they cannot be effective in helping us follow a safe health regimen because they wouldn’t have all of the facts and crucial information may be missed.

In addition, master herbalists are aware of how the variety of herbs interact with each other and are also knowledgeable about drug interactions. When seeking herbal treatments, an herbalist should be kept apprised of all medications and allergies as well.

For more comprehensive lists of negative drug interactions with natural remedies like St. John’s Wort, Willow Bark, or other herbal supplements, visit reliable online resources like WebMD.com and Mayoclinic.com. There is a wealth of information available to help us have more knowledgeable discussions with all of our healthcare providers.

If you have questions regarding your treatment plans, consult your doctor, ask your pharmacist, and ask your herbalist. Make sure they are all aware of the others’ advice so that everyone can keep the big picture – your health – in proper perspective.

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