Consumers looking for kinder, gentler treatments for medical ailments have been snapping up herbal remedies from pharmacy shelves in recent years. Herbs like St. John's wort and ginkgo biloba have enjoyed an overwhelming popularity of late as natural therapies for various conditions including anxiety, headaches, depression, and fatigue. But according to an article to be published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, for those patients taking heart medications, such ancient herbal remedies can introduce some deadly modern-day complications.
Take, for example, heart patients on aspirin or the blood thinner known as Warfarin or Coumadin: their risk for bleeding shoots way up when they take these medications in tandem with ginkgo biloba. Meantime, St. John's wort, in great demand as a natural treatment for sleep difficulties and depression, can interact with prescribed heart medications so as to cause arrhythmias, through-the-roof cholesterol levels, and skyrocketing blood pressure.
While such herbal remedies have a known and very real influence on drugs for heart conditions, doctors often don't think to ask their patients about their use of these homespun remedies, since they aren't in the same class as prescribed medications. Patients too, don't think to mention to their physicians that they are using these herb treatments when asked about their current medication usage. This has created an informational gap between doctor and patient that can have dire effects.
Cardiologist Dr. Arshad Jahangir, affiliated with the Mayo Clinic, authored the review article that treats this subject and hopes his work will help to close the gap. The cardiologist tells us that the idea that a remedy is herbal or natural lulls consumers into a false sense of security that may end up being a deadly state of mind for elderly heart patients, who are at a greater risk for bleeding and other co-existing medical conditions.
The answer, according to Jahangir, is to educate both health providers and patients to give a fuller picture of their drug regimens and toward a greater awareness of herbal remedies as factors to consider when creating an appropriate treatment plan. Health care professionals need to learn the right questions to ask. For instance, grapefruit juice or garlic may just seem like healthy components of a well-balanced diet, but when taken in high amounts can have dangerous interactions with heart medications. People take garlic supplements to aid them in lowering their blood pressure and boosting their immune systems but these innocuous-sounding food-based supplements can raise the risk for bleeding in heart patients on Warfarin.
Jahangir doesn't pooh-pooh the benefits of herbal remedies, some of which have been around for hundreds of years, but he does believe that their current popularity deserves a concurrent information campaign and greater scrutiny. Most of these remedies have been classified as foodstuffs, so they aren't given the rigorous clinical trials afforded to prescription drugs.