Researchers are investigating the interaction between herbal remedies and normal medicines
Herbal remedies such as St. John's wort, ginseng and ginkgo can cause harmful interactions with conventional medication. The herbal remedies in combination with conventional medication can also interfere with antiretroviral treatment and even have toxic effects.
In their current study, scientists from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa found that a combination of herbal remedies used with conventional medicines can lead to undesirable effects. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology".
What did the researchers find out?
In the comprehensive investigation, the team uncovered dozens of cases where alternative treatments alter the effects of prescription drugs. The effects include, for example, a weakening of the effect, an increase in the potency of the medication or even the generation of dangerous side effects.
Experts found several examples of dangerous side effects
In their study, physicians found several examples of serious problems after taking herbal medicines along with antidepressants and medication for HIV, epilepsy and heart disease. "In South Africa, up to eight out of ten people infected with HIV will eventually use traditional medicines," explains study author Dr. Charles Awortwe of the University of Stellenbosch in a press release. Because of the widespread use of herbal medicinal products together with prescription medications, the research team led by Dr. Awortwe asked to investigate the possible effects.
Herbal medicinal products played an important role in almost 60 percent of the cases examined
The scientists examined existing medical literature to find previous cases of patients with obvious side effects. Current research included 49 case reports and two previous observational studies that described 15 cases of adverse drug reactions. The researchers analyzed these cases to find out whether the problems were caused by an interaction based on the pharmacological properties of the active substances. The experts came to the conclusion that herbal medicinal products probably played a role in almost 60 percent of the cases.
Active substances in herbal medicinal products influence drug metabolism
Recent studies have already shown that some active ingredients in herbal medicines can influence the so-called drug metabolism, which then speeds up the rate at which other drugs break down in the liver. This will reduce the effectiveness of these drugs. For example, St. John's wort, an over-the-counter herbal remedy for depression, can interact with a large number of medications. St. John's wort is believed to increase the side effects of antidepressants. There is also evidence that St. John's wort can reduce the effectiveness of medications such as warfarin, statins, antihistamines, and HIV medications.
Interaction with herbal remedies can have toxic effects
Moringa oleifera (also known as horseradish tree, beech tree, beech walnut tree, clarifier tree, drumstick tree) is a popular herbal remedy. However, it appears to interfere with antiretroviral treatment and even to have toxic effects when used concomitantly with antiretroviral treatment and other conventional medications.
Interaction of normal medication with Moringa oleifera
The research showed that taking Moringa oleifera as a herbal supplement worsened the health of patients with drug treatment. Moringa oleifera is rich in protein, calcium, iron and vitamin C and is used, for example, to treat HIV, cancer, arthritis, asthma, high cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) and high blood sugar (hyperglycaemia), the experts say. It is also used as an aphrodisiac or to prevent pregnancy, but none of these applications is currently supported by scientific evidence.
If people are taking herbal remedies, they should tell their doctor
"The use of herbal medicines is increasing worldwide and many consumers assume that these products are herbal or natural and also completely safe, but that is not true," explains study author Dr. Charles Awortwe. If people are taking herbal remedies, they should tell their doctor. Possible interactions and their consequences can have a very negative impact on the patient's health, the expert adds.
Herbal products interfere with the chemical breakdown of medicinal products in the body
A key concern of the study was to investigate the concurrent use of herbal medicines alongside traditional medication, Awortwe says. "It is well known that herbal products can interfere with the enzymes responsible for the chemical breakdown of drugs in the body, so they have an impact on the clinical efficacy of a drug or its toxicity," explains Dr. Charles Awortwe in the press release. The study author estimates that a third of cases of acute kidney failure in Africa are caused by traditional medication. (as)