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Health Team

Study: Don't mix herbal remedies and heart drugs

Posted February 8, 2010 7:34 p.m. EST
Updated February 8, 2010 7:37 p.m. EST

Herbal supplements, including ginkgo biloba, garlic and St. John's wort can pose risks when taken with medications for heart disease, according to a new study.

More than 15 million Americans use herbal remedies or high-dose vitamins. But the elderly should be especially careful when taking supplements since they are already at risk for bleeding, the study authors say.

“I think that one of the most common misconceptions that people have about herbal remedies is that they are natural and therefore they are good for you, and that couldn't be further from the truth,” said Nieca Goldberg, MD, clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

The study found that the St. John's wort, which is often taken to treat anxiety, can reduce the effectiveness of certain heart drugs.

Ginkgo biloba and garlic supplements can increase bleeding risk when taken with blood thinners, according to the study.

Another concern is that people are not disclosing the use of herbal remedies, which are not subject to same regulations as traditional medications, to their doctors.

“Not telling your doctor is probably the most dangerous thing that you can do for yourself,” Goldberg said.

The supplement industry also urges people taking herbal remedies to speak with their doctors.

“I try to be very careful that I don't take anything that might interact,” said Dale Burg, who takes herbal supplements. “You can't diagnose for yourself just because it's in the store and available without a prescription."

The study is slated for publication in an upcoming Journal of the American College of Cardiology issue.