Nutritional supplements 101 and a rundown on herbal products

Vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids are normally found in the body from food. In our bodies, these components of nutrition facilitate regular biochemical and physiological functions to keep us healthy.

Using nutritional supplements to ensure the correct amounts and the correct form of each of these components makes good sense, especially if you are not sure that you are getting all the nutrients that you require.

Deciding about herbal products, especially if you are taking other medications, is a more complicated undertaking, especially if you are not under the care of a knowledgeable health care practitioner who knows about nutrition and about alternative medicine approaches. Most often, a naturopathic doctor is the one who can properly supervise the combination of medicines and herbs.

Here are some of the effects of well-known herbs that have been used over the years successfully to treat various conditions. This list is not intended for self-treatment of any ailment but simply as information that you may wish to explore with a knowledgeable health care provider.

St. John’s wort is used to treat depression anxiety and insomnia. However, most St. John’s wort products inhibit a liver enzyme that is responsible for metabolizing most other medications.

Therefore, St. John’s wort should never be taken with any type of medication. For example, it can interfere with warfarin, resulting in decreased blood clotting times, interfere with birth control pills and also interfere with statin drugs resulting in higher levels of cholesterol.

Ginseng is used for many applications but it can raise blood pressure and also reduce the therapeutic effects of warfarin. Best used under the guidance of a trained herbalist or naturopathic physician.

Garlic is well known for its antioxidant, anti-fungal and anti-aging properties. However, it also has anticoagulant effects, so caution is required in its use.

Saw palmetto is used as a treatment for alopecia and bladder and prostate conditions. It can cause bleeding when taken alongside blood thinning medications. Saw palmetto also increases the effects of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories because it inhibits certain bodily enzymes.

Echinacea is used by many to treat the common cold. However, Echinacea can increase the effects of statin medications, thereby generating increased vulnerability to liver toxicity.

Licorice is an effective remedy for stomach ulcers, cold sores and canker sores. However, licorice can increase water retention because it effects the sodium and potassium levels. Licorice can raise blood sugar levels as well, and thus make diabetic medications less effective. It also is a blood thinner.

Black cohosh is used to treat menopausal symptoms and is effective but it seems to also interfere with the liver’s ability to metabolize other medications.

Valerian is an herb that is used to treat insomnia, anxiety and depression. However, it can increase the sedating effects of benzodiazepine medications.

According to Dr. J. Prousky ND, chief naturopathic medical officer of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine writing for Alive magazine, all herbal products should be discontinued for at least a week to 10 days before surgery because they may interfere with blood clotting, or interact with the anesthesia or other necessary medications at the time of surgery.

He also recommends that pregnant women should not take herbal supplements during their pregnancy, although ginger for nausea is recommended.

Breastfeeding apparently does not hold the same concerns as pregnancy but it is recommended that a breastfeeding mother consult with a lactation specialist or a pediatrician who is aware of herbal medicines and their effects.

Some foods and drinks can also result in adverse interactions when combined with medications. Grapefruit juice should be avoided when taking statin drugs for cholesterol, certain antibiotics, calcium channel blockers, certain cancer medications and certain immune-suppressants.

There are about 45 different drugs that are shown to react negatively with grapefruit juice. Cranberry juice may increase the likelihood of bleeding with people using warfarin because of its blood thinning properties. Aged cheeses, cured meats, sauerkraut, soy sauce and some wines may contain an amino acid called tyramine. Tyramine regulates blood pressure and must be avoided if taking a monoamine oxidase inhibitor, which is commonly prescribed for depression.

Soy supplements, soy milk or soy-containing foods can decrease the absorption of thyroid medication. Dr. Prousky notes that there is no concern about skin flushing due to niacin consumption, or an increased yellow color to the urine after taking B2. These are both water soluble B vitamins.

Food supplements are one thing — alternative medicine is quite something else. Always consult an expert before you start playing around with your health.


Dr. Jane Riley, EdD., is a certified personal fitness trainer, nutritional adviser and behavior change specialist. She can be reacheds at, (808) 212-8119 cell/text, and


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.