· Ginkgo: Taken to help boost memory and prevent dementia, as well as treat a variety of other ailments, this popular supplement also can raise your risk of bleeding when combined with blood thinning medications. It can also counteract the blood pressure lowering effect of thiazide diuretic drugs and can interfere with anti-seizure medications and insulin used to treat diabetes.
· Ginseng: Taken primarily to improve overall health and boost the immune system, this herb can reduce concentrations of the anticoagulant drug warfarin and can interact with some antidepressant medications. People with diabetes also should use extra caution with ginseng if they are taking medicine to lower blood sugar.
· Kava: Promoted as a treatment to curb anxiety and stress, kava has been reported to cause liver damage, including hepatitis and liver failure. It also can interfere with antipsychotic and Parkinson’s medications, can thin the blood and should not be taken with anticoagulants and can cause drowsiness, so it should not be taken in combination with any sedatives.
· Licorice root: Taken for ulcers, bronchitis and sore throat, licorice root can cause high blood pressure and salt and water retention, raising the risk of heart problems. It also can thin the blood and should not be used with blood-thinning drugs.
· St. John’s wort: Marketed as an aid to treat depression, Saint John’s wort can reduce the effectiveness of a number of prescription medications including anticoagulants, antidepressants, seizure-control drugs and certain cancer drugs.
· Zinc: Taken as a defense against colds, excess zinc can cause nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, diarrhea and headaches. It also can interact with a variety of prescription drugs, including antibiotics and hypertension meds.
To get more information on the safety, side effects and effectiveness of these and many other herbal remedies, visit the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center site on herbs, botanicals and supplements at mskcc-herbs.org and see the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine “Herbs at a Glance” web page, nccam.nih.gov/
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.