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10 Common Herb Mistakes - And How to Avoid Them

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Updated September 13, 2013

When it comes to the herbs you're taking, are you unwittingly making mistakes that could harm your health? Here's a rundown of the 10 most common herb mistakes.

1) You drink chamomile tea without knowing what medications it interacts with.

Although most people think of chamomile tea as being harmless, it can have some serious side effects if it's combined with certain medications.

For example, a case report published in the April 2006 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal describes a 70-year-old woman who, while being treated with the drug warfarin, was admitted to hospital with internal bleeding after having used chamomile tea and body lotion for cold symptoms.

Tip Take a look at this list of drugs that can interact with chamomile.

2) You're tired all the time so you turn to herbs and other natural products to boost your energy.

Constant weariness, tiredness, or lack of energy warrants a trip to your primary care provider, not the health food store. Although diet and supplements may help, the first step is make sure that the cause of the fatigue isn't an underlying illness, such as:Fatigue can also be a symptom of other conditions such as infectious diseases (e.g. mononucleosis), heart failure, diabetes, liver or kidney disease, Addison's disease, Autoimmune diseases (e.g. lupus), cancer, malnutrition, or due to medication side effects.

Tip See your primary health provider first. He or she will ask you questions and make sure you have the proper laboratory and/or imaging tests to rule out these conditions. Then you can think about natural approaches.

3) You take herbs, supplements, and/or drugs that together may increase your risk of bleeding.

Anticoagulant drugs such as aspirin or warfarin (commonly referred to as "blood-thinners") prevent the formation of blood clots inside arteries, reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. When they are combined with herbs and supplements that also have an anticoagulant effect, they can increase the risk of bleeding:Tip If you are taking more than one of these herbs or are taking them warfarin, aspirin, or other anticoagulants, or if you are self-prescribing any of these herbs, consult a licensed holistic practitioner (such as a naturopathic doctor) for guidance. Be sure to inform your family physician of all herbs and supplements you are taking. Blood tests called the prothrombin time and international normalized ratios (PT/INR) can be used to assess blood clotting.

4) You quit your coffee or soda habit in favor of lots of yerba mate and energy beverages.

Yerba mate is the coffeehouse "it" drink. Widely consumed in Central and South America, it's often touted as a healthier alternative to coffee, a herbal tea that energizes without causing jitters. However, yerba mate has been associated with esophageal, oral, lung, and bladder cancers in several research studies. Although studies have found it's really only a risk for people drinking huge amounts of the tea (greater than 1 liter a day) or very hot tea, it should be avoided until more evidence is in.

Energy drinks, such as Red Bull, Monster Energy Drink, Full Throttle, contain caffeine and a slew of vitamins and herbs. One of the biggest concerns is that we just don't know enough about the combined effects of these ingredients. Many ingredients are believed to work synergistically with caffeine to boost its stimulant power. Most of them contain loads of sugar and are really no better than soda. What you need to know about energy drinks.

Tip If you're looking for healthier drink options consider water with a splash of pomegranate juice or cranberry juice.

5) You take immune-boosting herbs like echinacea and goldenseal with immunosuppressant drugs, such as corticosteroids.

Drugs that suppress the immune system are used to prevent organ rejection after transplant and to control the symptoms of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and type 1 diabetes (more autoimmune diseases). Herbs that stimulate the immune system may counteract these medications, resulting in transplant rejection, an exacerbation of pre-existing autoimmune disease, or precipitation of autoimmune disease in people genetically predisposed to such disorders.

Tip If you are taking immunosuppressant drugs such as the ones listed below, do not take the herbs alfalfa, astragalus, echinacea, ginseng, licorice root, or the mineral zinc.
  • Cyclosporine
  • Azathioprine
  • Corticosteroids such as prednisone
  • Methotrexate
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