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Avoiding Herb and Food or Drug Interaction

Science has actively and intensively studied how drugs interact with other drugs and how foods and beverages can increase the risks or decrease the benefits of drugs. Not much testing has been done with herb and drug interactions, however. Why? Because little patent protection is offered to companies who do spend millions on testing herb combinations.

Few studies look at the interaction of herbs and drugs and the side effects these interactions may produce. Even so, you are much more likely to have an unpleasant or dangerous reaction with a drug-drug interaction than an herb-drug interaction — some people take three or four drugs at a time and as people get older, doctors often add even more to the cocktail, including up to ten drugs at once.

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Here are a few general guidelines to help you minimize drug-herb or food-herb interactions and maximize your healing experience.

  • Before you take a pharmaceutical drug, don't take herbs that have a high mucilage content, such as marshmallow root, flax, or psyllium seed — they can inhibit the absorption of many drugs. Take these soothing and bowel-tonic herbs at least an hour after you take your drugs. Herbs with a high mucilage content can also cause a change in your blood sugar, so be careful with them if you're a diabetic.

  • Stay away from very spicy herbs like ginger and cayenne when you take drugs — these are known to enhance absorption of some chemicals. Eat spicy foods at least an hour after taking a drug.

  • Avoid heart tonic herbs such as hawthorn or cactus if you're taking digoxin or other heart medications, unless you're under the care of a doctor and herbalist.

  • When taking heart medications or mood-altering drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil, be careful with caffeine-containing herbs like guarana, green tea, yerba maté tea, kola nut, and chocolate, or other herbal stimulants like ephedra (ma huang). Stimulant herbs can make your nervous system more responsive to many kinds of drugs that affect your nervous system or cardiovascular system.

  • Many Chinese ready-made pills and tablets, as well as herbal tea formulas that you make, contain licorice. Don't use licorice or formulas that contain it when taking diuretics like furosemide (Lasix) because licorice can cause potassium depletion in your body, especially when you use the herb for more than ten days or so.

  • If you're taking any pharmaceutical drug called a MAO inhibitor for depression, don't take the African aphrodisiac herb yohimbe.

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