Washington, Feb 2 (ANI): Herbal supplements such as St. John's wort, gingko biloba, garlic and even grapefruit juice may adversely affect people taking medications for heart disease.
The use of these products is especially concerning among elderly patients who typically have co-morbidities, take multiple medications and are already at greater risk of bleeding.
"Many people have a false sense of security about these herbal products because they are seen as 'natural,'" said Dr Arshad Jahangir, Professor of Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist, Mayo Clinic Arizona.
"But 'natural' doesn't always mean they are safe. Every compound we consume has some effect on the body, which is, in essence, why people are taking these products to begin with," he added.
In addition to their direct effects on body function, these herbs can interact with medications used to treat heart disease, either reducing their effectiveness or increasing their potency, which may lead to bleeding or a greater risk for serious cardiac arrhythmias.
"We can see the effect of some of these herb-drug interactions-some of which can be life-threatening-on tests for blood clotting, liver enzymes and, with some medications, on electrocardiogram," Jahangir added.
John's wort, which is typically used to treat depression, anxiety and sleep disorders among other problems, reduces the effectiveness of medications contributing to recurrences of arrhythmia, high blood pressure or increase in blood cholesterol levels and risk for future heart problems.
Ginkgo biloba, which is supposedly used to improve circulation or sharpen the mind, increases bleeding risk in those taking warfarin or aspirin.
Garlic, which supposedly helps boost the immune system and is commonly used for its cholesterol and blood pressure lowering properties, can also increase the risk of bleeding among those taking warfarin.
"These herbs have been used for centuries-well before today's cardiovascular medications-and while they may have beneficial effects these need to be studied scientifically to better define their usefulness and, more importantly, identify their potential for harm when taken with medications that have proven benefit for patients with cardiovascular diseases," said Jahangir.
"Patients, physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare providers need to know about the potential harm these herbs can have," he added.
The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. (ANI)