Herbal Supplements and Prescriptions: What Patients and Professionals Need to Know


Throughout my career as professional pharmacist, I have often come across incidences where the herbal supplement trend has crossed a patient’s course of prescription treatment. Whether a patient is on a prescription-driven treatment plan for a minor ailment or a chronic condition, it is important for all parties in the care process to understand the risks associated with introducing herbal supplements into the mix.

Let’s look at the history of the herbal supplement trend.

Herbal dietary supplements are primarily dispensed on an over-the-counter (OTC) basis, meaning that you can walk into a store and choose from a virtually unlimited menu of herbal supplements. You’ll most often find these in the vitamin section of drug and grocery stores, and in natural food markets, there are entire sections dedicated to herbal supplements.

But did you know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires these product labels to display similar information found on food packaging? It is important that you not treat OTC supplements like food. Instead, you should treat them as potent medications.

What can happen?

Supplements have medicinal effects in the body and, unknown to many consumers, mixing some prescription medications and supplements can cause potentially harmful interactions.

When you take prescription medications, there are already a number of chemical processes going on in your body; documented processes and side effects that, under the guidance of your healthcare professional (physician or pharmacist), can be anticipated and safely managed.

But, if you add OTC herbal supplements to the mix,especially without professional medical supervision,you could encounter what is known as a drug-drug interaction. The effects of drug-drug interactions can be dangerous. For example, some interactions can increase or decrease the potency of prescription drugs thereby causing potentially dangerous side effects.

I always stress to patients: your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare professional is your advocate; discuss everything you are taking—prescription or OTC—with them. They will know how to work with the active ingredients in prescriptions and supplements to keep you out of harm’s way.

At Axium Healthcare Pharmacy, patient safety is our top priority. Our pharmacists, nurses and patient support teams are here to keep patients on the safest path to treatment. Discussing the pros and cons of herbal dietary supplement use with a prescription treatment plan is a big part of our job. So, never be shy about talking to us about it.

Who should avoid herbal remedies?

  • Those who are less than 18 or over 65 years of age
  • Patients who are having surgery
  • Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Those who are already taking any form of prescription or supplement

If you are considering using herbal dietary supplements:

  • Always inform your doctor, pharmacist or healthcare provider of any over-the-counter supplements you are taking. We count on you to let us know. It helps us to help you.
  • Educate yourself about dietary and herbal supplements and how they interact with common medications
  • Stay up-to-date on what supplements and herbs have been deemed hazardous by the FDA. The FDA regularly reports on potentially hazardous products.
  • Do not take a larger dose than the label(s) recommend

Resources and Guides

Visit these web sites to gather up-to-date information about dietary and herbal supplements.