Dangerous Drugs in Your Medicine Cabinet

July 5, 2010
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

78426158_1Also pay attention to supplement-drug interactions.

Worldwide, prescription drug abuse is even higher than the combined use of illicit drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin, finds the UN International Narcotics Control Board. In this country alone, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently reported that abuse of prescription painkillers has led to an alarming 111% jump in emergency room visits over the last 5 years!

And a new study in American Journal of Psychiatry, based on a survey of almost 35,000 American adults, shows that abuse of and dependence on anxiety drugs are also increasing substantially. “We urgently need to take action,” says CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH.

“These prescription medicines help many people, but we need to be sure they are used properly and safely,” he adds. Taking higher than recommended doses of medicines and using a pharmaceutical prescribed for someone else are only part of the problem. Poorly regulated online pharmacies can make it easy to abuse these drugs as well.

No wonder there are 13,000 fatal overdoses from opioids alone each year. “This public health threat requires an all-out effort to raise awareness [among] the public about proper use, storage, and disposal of these powerful drugs,” says Pamela Hyde, JD, at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Dr. Ann Louise’s Take:

Clearly, it’s critical to follow directions carefully on any medicines—pharmaceutical or natural—that you take.

You don’t even need to swallow medications, though, to be ingesting them. According to the American Chemical Society, bathing and showering sends antibiotics, hormones, and other meds down the drain—into our drinking water. Toilets have long been recognized as a source of pharmaceutical pollution, as has putting unused meds down the sink. Researchers also find drugs downstream from the plants that manufacture them.

Whether you choose to take medications or are unwittingly exposed to pharmaceuticals in your drinking water, consider some support for your liver to help your body break down these drugs and eliminate toxic metabolites. Liver-Lovin’ Formula contains artichoke (a liver tonic packed with antioxidants), chlorophyll (rich in purifying magnesium, an important cofactor in the detox process), and taurine (an amino acid that boosts the liver’s production of bile to aid in metabolism).

Avoid Unwanted Interactions
Another—often overlooked—safety concern is the risk of interactions between any medications and supplements that you’re taking. For instance, even a safe, popular herb like ginkgo—used to treat cerebral insufficiency and peripheral vascular disease—can enhance the effect of blood-thinning drugs like aspirin, heparin, and warfarin, altering bleeding or clotting times.

While the Nutrition Journal reports that 89% of nurses and 72% of doctors take some form of dietary supplements, most of those surveyed admit they have no formal education in herbal medicine or nutrition. But that doesn’t stop them from recommending supplements.

Here are some common drug interactions—as well as potential benefits—when taken with herbs and other supplements or even certain foods:

Anticonvulsant drugs (like Carbatrol, Depakote, Dilantin, Mysoline, Tegretol) may react negatively with ginkgo, glutamine, grapefruit juice, nicotinamide (a compound produced when the body breaks down vitamin B3, or niacin), sedative herbs (kava, hops, passionflower, valerian), St. John’s wort, vitamin A, and white willow (an herbal analgesic). But carnitine and vitamin D may be useful for people taking these drugs.

Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety and sedative drugs like Ativan, Halcion, Klonopin, Librium, Serax, Valium, Xanax) can interact with grapefruit juice and sedative herbs (kava, hops, passionflower, valerian), while melatonin (a natural hormone that regulates sleep) may be beneficial.

Corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive meds like Articocort, Celestone, Decadron, Hydrocortone, Nasacort) are not recommended with the herb licorice (if taken internally), but calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D supplementation can help prevent bone loss due to these drugs. And topical use of aloe and licorice appears to enhance the effects of hydrocortisone cream.

Heparin (a very strong blood thinner) is not recommended with garlic, ginkgo, phosphatidylserine, policosanol, vitamin C, or white willow, but because this drug can interfere with vitamin D in the body, you may need to supplement this “sunshine” vitamin.

NSAIDs (pain-relieving anti-inflammatories including aspirin, Bufferin, Cope, ibuprofen (like Midol, Motrin), naproxen, and Cox-2 inhibitors may react negatively with arginine (an amino acid found in dairy, fish, poultry, and meats), feverfew, garlic, ginkgo, policosanol, potassium citrate, St. John’s wort, vitamin E, and white willow. But cayenne, folate, licorice, and vitamin C supplementation may be useful.

Statins (popular drugs like Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, Zocor for lowering cholesterol) are not recommended to use with grapefruit juice, niacin, or red yeast rice (an herbal cholesterol-lowering therapy), but anyone taking statins also needs CoQ10 for energy production and normal heart function.

Tamoxifen (an anti-estrogen drug used in treating breast cancer) may have its beneficial effects enhanced by the omega-6 fatty acid GLA.

Thyroid hormones (like Armour Thyroid, Choloxin, Euthroid, Synthroid) should not be taken at the same time as calcium or iron supplements, and soy may interfere with the absorption of these meds.

Warfarin (a somewhat dangerous anticoagulent drug) is not recommended for use with alfalfa supplements, Asian ginseng, devil’s claw, digestive enzymes (bromelain and papain), dong quai, feverfew, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, green tea, policosanol, St. John’s wort, vinpocetine, vitamins A, C, E, K, or white willow.

Obviously, you need to tell your healthcare provider about any supplements you take regularly—and don’t be afraid to explain why. Even more important, ask about any potential adverse effects and interactions for all medicines he or she prescribes. It’s never a bad idea to ask your friendly, local pharmacist about interactions, either. Often these professionals are very knowledgeable on the ill effects of drugs.


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Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

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  1. Jan

    I’m having a colonscopy next week and starting today (one week ahead) my doctor’s directions say no herbs, fish oil, or multivitamin. While I presume that’s in case he needs to remove a polyp, isn’t a week ahead of this procedure a bit much?

  2. liz

    Sounds like the doctor is being conservative. They don’t always ask for this.

  3. P Hatwan

    I can not imagine that Nature Cure supplementation will have negative interactions with compounds that are not recognized by the body as nurturing.
    From my perspective, the good doctors should consult with the patient and/or nature cure doctor prior to prescription in order to determine if prescriptions are safe.


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