Medical herbalist Nicola Parker explains how to balance taking herbal and medical prescriptions

Herbs can be used to battle the side effects of prescribed medications.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 3:45 pm

As a herbalist I am always grateful to be approached with questions relating to herb/drug safety and to have the opportunity to promote the safe use of plant medicine.

The safe and informed use of herbal medicine can not only lead to improved health but in many cases I use herbs to battle the side effects of prescribed medications.

Itchy skin, muscle pain, constipation and low energy are the more common side effects I hear complaints about, often followed by the question, “Is there something herbal I can take instead?”

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Milk thistle

Herbal medicine can only replace prescribed drugs if your GP is in agreement that coming off the medicines will not threaten your health.

While using prescribed drugs we are under the watch of our doctor who is able to adjust our prescription and medical records based on how well our medication is working.

If you cease to follow their advice and self medicate with over the counter remedies instead, they are no longer able to monitor or record this data meaning they cannot advise you appropriately.

This does not mean that all other avenues are closed to you.

If your medication manages a non-life threatening condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, joint pain, indigestion or skin problems (for example), then herbal medicine may offer an alternative solution to symptom management.

Rather than working blindly though, discuss these options with your GP and consult a qualified herbalist about how best to approach managing the condition.

Many non-life threatening conditions can be successfully managed through a combination of plant medicine and lifestyle adjustments.

For many people though, a combination of prescription drugs and herbal medicine is the most appropriate way forward. In my clinic the three most common reasons for combined herb/drug are as follows.

The herbs and prescription medicines are being used for completely different conditions and do not affect each other.

The herbs help manage an existing medical condition to reduce the need for additional medications.

A good example her would be of patients that suffer with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Echinacea can help fight and prevent infections while remedies like Ivy Thyme Complex act as expectorants to clear excess mucous.

By improving your immune system you reduce the likelihood that you’ll need antibiotics in the future and protect your lung tissue from the damage caused by repeat infections.

The herbs help manage the side effects of medication. I treat a lot of patients with constipation and digestive upsets caused by heavy duty pain medication.

I use liver herbs like Vogels Milk Thistle Complex to help protect the liver and eliminate the itchy skin which often comes with using strong or multiple medications. Co enzyme Q10 is an over the counter remedy that can ease the muscle pain and tiredness that come with statin medication.

Whatever your reason for using both drugs and herbs, do ensure that you inform your doctor of all herbs you are taking and your herbalist of all prescription drugs you are using.

I hear too much reluctance to speak openly about herb use in front of GPs as many people fear their disapproval. If your doctor is unaware you are taking a herb they lack the ability to observe the full picture of your health.

If you worry that your doctor isn’t well versed enough in herbal medicine to inform you about it, ask your pharmacist instead.

Their expertise lies in drug mechanics so they know exactly how they work. They will be aware of any potential interactions between drugs and natural remedies as well as all the relevant up-to-date information your GP may not have time to look up during your appointment.

Alternatively ask a Medical Herbalist who will be able to do the same. At my clinic we offer a free drug/herb interaction checking service that can be done with a quick two minute visit or phone call. Ignorance is the enemy of progress and consulting an expert before using herbs helps to ensure they continue to be used safely, responsibly and effectively.

l For more information or to book an appointment with Nicola, contact her clinic on 01524 413733.