Health Column: Consider the impacts of combining herbs with drugs
Free Press Health Columnist
Colorado has a new law and the jokes are already rolling. On a recent Saturday night, I smelled the unmistakable scent of cannabis from party-goers while in line for a show in Mountain Village (a gondola ride away from Telluride). Then at the show, the bass guitarist wondered how many people had taken the “ganjola” ride.
While state law kept the event center free from nicotine or THC clouds, there were undoubtedly bloodstreams full of alcohol, cannabis and legal prescriptives on the dance floor in numbers that are only likely to increase.
Yes, cannabis is an herb and it is also a particularly powerful medicinal. This brings up important considerations when herbs and drugs are in the same body.
Searching the Internet, it’s hard to find trustworthy information on herb/drug interactions. It does not however take long to find one horror story or another warning of the dangers. Because of this, I use a paid subscription called “Natural Standard,” which provides the known evidence-based interactions between prescription medications, herbs, vitamins, minerals and even specific natural product names, including all the ingredients.
I say “known” because after four or five ingredients, we reach a point where the effects of the consumed cocktail in your unique body with your individual state of health will not have been researched in any laboratory. Compound this with the fact that medications like blood thinners and anti-seizure medications pop up an interaction almost every time, and a hefty dose of prudency is required.
I encourage people to think about this story in terms of how drugs are interacting with our foods and medicinal plants, rather than how the fundamental nutrition and herbs that we humans have been consuming for millennia are throwing off our medications. Ideally, you are approaching your health from a wellness standpoint and bypassing the need for medications in the first place. If you are already on medications and want to be on less, you’ve probably already done a Google search and hopefully have an amenable prescribing doctor who will work with you.
In my experience, some of the most difficult prescriptions for people to get off of include anti-coagulants, anti-depressants, and medications for reflux and heartburn. Preventing any need for these medications with basics like healthy food, exercise and mental health is always best.
Some herb/drug interactions will actually be favorable. Because statin medications so severely deplete the co-enzyme Q10 Q10 (aka CoQ10), oral supplementation of CoQ10 can spare people some of the detrimental side-effects of these drugs used to decrease circulating cholesterol levels in the blood. Or in the case of “loop diuretics” — like HCTZ, which help with high blood pressure but deplete potassium — taking additional potassium helps with the common side effect of leg cramps. Of course, the best way to get any nutrient is in your food, such as potassium-rich bananas and avocados.
Herb-drug interactions can be serious business. Do your research, know the risks and be willing to ask the tough questions. Remember that you — not your healthcare provider, your partner or your insurance company — are responsible for the health of you and your children.
Dr. Christopher Lepisto, a GJ Free Press health columnist, graduated as a naturopathic doctor (N.D.) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit http://www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
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The Valley Health Alliance invites small businesses and individuals who buy health insurance to Health Insurance 2022, a virtual panel and Q&A event set for 12-1 p.m. Wednesday.