Herbal Supplements: Are they Safe? (cont.)

For those who are interested in using medicinal herbs you must seek out reliable retail establishments that staff trained personnel who, hopefully, know which the best, reputable brands are.

Is there any comprehensive source of information on supplement/drug interactions?

Yes. There are several good sources for drug interactions Some of them are extensive books. Some of the books that I use are:

  • A to Z Guide to Drug/Herb Vitamin Interactions
  • PDR for Herbal Medicine
  • Herbal Medicine Expanded Commission E Monographs
  • American Herbal Products Associations Botanical Safety Handbook
Other sources might be online through the American Botanical Council or the American Herbalist Guild.

Is it important to let your doctor know about all of the supplements you are using before they prescribe any medications?

In terms of safety, it is critical that if one is taking or being prescribed pharmaceutical medicines, that one informs the prescribing physician of what you're taking. There are legitimate herb/drug and dietary nutritional supplements interactions. Unfortunately, today it is probably next to impossible to find a physician or pharmacist who is well versed enough in this area to identify such an interaction readily.

This is one of the things that I am working hard to do, traveling, giving lectures to pharmacy associations, continuing education classes, and working through a distance learning university called The American Academy of Nutrition to prepare educational materials for retailers, pharmacists, nurses, MDs, etc. It's almost mandatory to either have your doctor seek advice and research (which is unlikely; he or she will probably say don't take the herb), or research it on your own, or go to an herbalist to research the safety.

Many times taking an herb with prescription medicine enhances activity. I encourage people who take antibiotics to take eluthero, because the eluthero enhances the bacteria-killing ability of the drug. I encourage people who are undergoing cancer therapies to use host-building herbs.

What kind of health care giver should you see if you want to take herbal medicines? I am not comfortable picking out herbs from the shelf for myself.

Many times better vitamin stores employ trained personnel. Otherwise, one might seek the advice of a physician who utilizes or integrates natural medicines into his or her practice. In many states, naturopaths are recognized and licensed health care professionals. Internet searches of complementary and alternative medicine organizations may help lead you to a practitioner in your zip code. I would begin with the American Herbalists Guild and perhaps the American Botanical Council.

What herbs are safe to take for weight loss?

Weight loss is a complicated area. Obesity is an epidemic in the United States today. In the last decade, obesity for adults in their 40s went up 34% and up 48% for people in their 50s. We're learning today that obesity can be directly related to many diseases, not just cardiovascular, which would include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, hypertension, but also diseases like cancers. Fat cells can make estrogen. Estrogen can drive breast cancer. So I take obesity very seriously.

If one is young their bodies can sustain things that people over 40 might need to be careful for. There are weight loss supplements on the market that contain stimulants. A young healthy person would not think twice about consuming five or six cups of coffee per day and probably would not have to think twice about consuming weight loss products that contain stimulants. These stimulants are often thermogenic agents. Thermogenic agents are ingredients or chemicals that contain natural chemicals that stimulate certain fat cells in the body to turn up their thermostat and generate more heat at the expense of fatty acid fuel.

Now, this is not the final answer. This mechanism makes a small contribution to overall weight loss. Weight loss is still governed by what goes in your mouth and how much you move your body. But every little bit helps.

On the other hand, what about those of us that are in our 40s and 50s and 60s who have put on the middle-age spread who are now at an age when our doctors have informed us that we are borderline hypertensive or perhaps hypertensive enough to be on medication, our blood sugar may be riding high in a prediabetic state, and we're advised to stay away from stimulants. Up until very recently there were not many supplements available to this age group. Things that were available and still are available are things such as calorie blockers and supplements that contain fiber, which tend to fill the stomach when consumed with large quantities of water.

There has been a product on the horizon for several years that I have been following the ingredients of, not for weight loss, but in antiaging research. One such ingredient is a proprietary extract from a plant called cat's claw. Indigenous people use cat's claw for inflammation, tumors, and rheumatism, and laboratory tests show that ingredients in this plant increase immunity reduce inflammation and are potent antioxidants. A manufacturer wanted to combine this novel extract with medicinal mushrooms, which also have activity on immune response and overall health. Being a pharmaceutical lab, they realized when combining ingredients you can't say the whole is equal to the parts unless you retest. When they retested the new combination they discovered that all the indices of aging they tested for improved:

  • Decreased DNA damage
  • Increased DNA repair
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Increased antioxidant activity
  • Increased immune response
  • Increased apoptosis (that means programmed cell death or cells the body needs to rid itself of)
  • 78% of the test population lost up to 7 pounds in four weeks.

Because as a dietary supplement you cannot make claims for inflammation, cancer, and the like, this company decided to market this product as a 40-plus dietary supplement that has the ability to improve metabolism. I have been taking these ingredients separately for the last five years; today they're available in one pill, with new other novel ingredients for weight loss, and marketed under the name Xenadrine 40 Plus. So now those of us over 40 who may have health challenges can use a product with no known side effects or drug interactions, that can help with metabolism, aches and pains, fatigue, and enhance DNA repair. Xenadrene 40 Plus is very readily available in the mass market across the country.

What herbs would you recommend for anyone over 40?

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