All drugs have side effects. Many side effects of medication are mild and barely noticeable; some are irritating and inconvenient whilst others are serious and can cause far reaching complications.
It is difficult to be completely precise about whether a specific medication will affect you as this depends upon several conditions: your age, general health, pre-existing conditions, allergies. It is also possible that a natural remedy or herb may affect you though it is rare for this to happen.
It is important to remember that prescribed medication is artificial and will contain multiple man-made chemicals as well as the main active ingredient. Your body may react to any of these chemicals, indeed there is a long history of cases where people have experienced bad reactions after taking prescribed medication. This is why a warning leaflet containing information about all known side effects is included with prescribed medicine.
The most common side effects involve nausea and discomfort or skin infections or rashes. Usually these are temporary and nothing to worry about however, some side effects are much more serious and should be avoided. It is alarmingly common for side effects to cause more discomfort than the original condition for which they were prescribed. Even more alarming is the cavalier attitude taken by the major pharmaceutical manufacturers towards these problems. Take a look at the following……….
Drugs can react badly against each other or certain foods that have been recently digested. If you are taking multiple prescribed drugs you should be particularly vigilant about the side effects of medication. Alcohol is possibly the most common cause of negative drug interaction and can lead to extremely serious complications. Did you know that grapefruit can also cause serious problems when taking blood pressure or cholesterol medication?
This issue is problematic because many of the side effects happen after the drug has been distributed and is widely in use. Only if large numbers of people report the side effect is action taken and warnings issued.
There have been numerous cases where side effects have been largely unknown for long periods of time until serious incidents occur causing a specific drug to be controlled or even withdrawn from use. Raptiva, Baycol, Duract, Selacryn and Oraflex are well known recent examples (1.)
The most infamous adverse reaction case is, of course, Thalidomide from the 1960s. Originally developed as a sedative it was then prescribed for conditions such as colds, flu, nausea and morning sickness in pregnant women. This resulted in the darkest chapter in the history of pharmaceutical drugs (2) & (3). Other, more recent cases include Bromfenac (Duract) in 1998 and Rofecoxib in 2004. (4)
If you are beginning to think this is an overreaction, an overview of adverse reaction cases is included in this article on Pharmacovigilance (5).
Herbs and plant based natural remedies can also cause side effects, but these are rare in comparison. It is always wise to check with your personal doctor or other health professional before taking any natural remedy, however the only well known and publicised warnings about the risk of herbal remedies is for St John’s Wort, a commonly used herbal treatment for depression, and Gingko Biloba both of which should be avoided if other medication is being taken. (6) &(7)
Many doctors are sceptical about the effectiveness of alternative medicine. Government Health Departments and official clinical management bodies (their paymasters) plus, of course, the major pharmaceutical companies, are also cynical. This is not because there is abundant evidence from research that they are unsafe or ineffective; the real reason is …………. they feel threatened by them.
Research has shown that care should be taken with certain natural and herbal supplements, especially for pregnant women and people with pre-existing conditions that are already affecting their health. Some of these are listed below:
Vitamin D: a vital substance for good health. Difficult to obtain through food but naturally produced through exposure to sunlight. Indoor lifestyles and increased use of sun protection further inhibits the main natural source. Vitamin D supplements have become increasingly popular in recent times. However, too much can potentially harm your kidneys. (8)
St John’s Wort: commonly used to relieve mild depression but should not be taken with other medication due to the risk of interaction. St John’s Wort is known to react adversely with many common pharmaceutical medications including Paracetamol and Tramadol (9).
Calcium: another essential substance needed for good health. Normally acquired through food such as milk, cheese, tofu, fruit and juices. Unfortunately, people over 50 do not absorb the quantity required to maintain strong bones, therefore it is common for doctors to prescribe calcium supplements. A study done in the US in 2016 on heart disease patients found that too much calcium led to plaque build-up in arteries. (10)
Multi-vitamins and multi-minerals are no substitute for a healthy balanced diet, it is claimed by doctors and nutritionists. That may be true. However, for an increasing proportion of people in western society, a healthy balanced diet is fiction. An increasing number of doctors prescribe vitamin and mineral supplements to help bring about a healthier, more balanced diet.
Recent research (11) strongly suggests that regular use of vitamin supplements was highly beneficial to overall health, particularly in the over 50 age group. The place of vitamins and supplements is neatly summed up by Robert Berberian who states “…the role of vitamins is not to cure chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or even cancer. The role of vitamins is to supplement some of the nutritional gaps in our diet.”
Soya: this is a source of many minerals, protein and fibre. However, there have been concerns that it is linked with breast cancer. Some major studies counteract this claim by revealing no increase in breast cancer risk from eating whole soya foods such as tofu and edamame beans (12).
Additionally, in a study lasting ten years and published in the Cancer Journal in March 2017 it was shown that a weekly serving of soya beans significantly lowered the overall risk of death. If you’re concerned about breast cancer, stay away from soya supplements and soya-based protein, it is advised in this study.(13)
Clearly there are conflicting opinions about supplement use, though there is an abundant lack of evidence to support any widespread negative effects. Therefore, it is probably safe to assume that the risk of side effects from natural remedies is far lower than from prescribed artificial drugs produced by the pharmaceutical industry.
Before taking any type of medicine you should read the package label or patient information leaflet that comes with all prescribed medicine. If in doubt speak with your doctor or a pharmacist.
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