Dangerous Mix?

By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter
By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter

Knoxville (WVLT) - Whether it's behind, or over-the-counter, if you get the cold or flu this season, you'll likely be looking for something to give you a little relief.

Many people try herbal remedies to ward off or even cure what ails them.

Medical Reporter Jessa Goddard asks, could those herbal supplements interact with other medications you may be taking?

A common misconception is that something labeled herbal -- or natural -- can't be harmful.

When, in fact, many of these herbal supplements can have interactions with other medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.

"There is one supplement, licorice, that is found in a few cold supplements that might not be such a great idea for people who already have high blood pressure," explains Kenny Stevens, from Nature's Pantry.

"Particularly, one that is really serious and one that you definitely want to talk to your doctor about is coumadin, a blood thinner," says Dr. John Watson, from UT Emergency Medicine.

About 45 percent of Americans take at least one prescription medication a day.

Would you know if one of yours would have a harmful interaction with one of these? Or do you have to have a PhD to figure it all out?

"In answer to your question, all I can say is maybe. Maybe some of them are risky, especially if you're on other medications," Dr. Watson says.

Here's what we do know: herbal supplements have active ingredients that can affect how your body functions, just as prescription and over-the-counter medications do.

The food and drug administration is responsible for overseeing them, but doesn't have the authority to approve herbal supplements before they're sold.

And while herbal supplements are supposed to contain what their labels claim, that isn't always the case.

"For many of the herbal medications it really is a maybe, whether or not you're getting exactly what's on the package," Dr. Watson says.

Herbal supplements can cause serious side effects when mixed with any prescription or over-counter-medication, particularly aspirin, blood thinners or blood pressure medications.

If you're not taking any medications, and are simply looking for some relief from the common cold, a growing number of studies find supplements containing zinc show promise.

"One of the better known are zinc lozenges. There are studies that show that using zinc lozenges for colds can cut the duration of colds by 50 percent," Stevens says.

Both doctors and herbal supplement retailers are quick to point out, the best way to boost your immune system is through a healthful diet, exercise and adequate sleep.

And both agree it's important to consult your doctor before taking any herbal supplement.

She can access the latest medical guidance on its uses, risks and interactions.


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