Even Natural Supplements Can Endanger You During Surgery

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Dear Pharmacist,
I’m having surgery next month and I take a slew of vitamins and herbs.  My doctor told me to discontinue one of my medications the day before surgery, but what about the natural things?
A.D.,  Boston, MA

Answer: Dietary supplements and herbs can definitely interfere with medical procedures and labs.  Kava and valerian are often used by consumers to induce sleep and control anxiety, so these herbs can boost the effects of anesthesia and sedation.  It’s because the combination works together and over-sedates you.  Ginseng, garlic and ginkgo are known to thin the blood, a dangerous scenario during surgery. The natural antidepressant St. John’s wort can prolong the effects of anesthesia.  Ephedra can interfere with the heart’s rhythm.  Combine any of these supplements with prescribed medication and you could end up with a medical disaster. The American Society of Anesthesiologists suggests that people stop taking natural supplements two weeks before surgery.  Be careful though. Certain herbs, like valerian should be weaned.  Never stop taking anything abruptly until you’ve checked with an expert in natural medicine.