Herbs, Medications and Side Effects

Herbs Medications and Side Effects

The actions related to medications and side effects cannot be overlooked when developing a holistic treatment strategies.  

The other day, a 70-year-old man came to see me for herbal relief from psoriasis. He was baffled and miserable. Having had no history or experience with anything like this itchy skin condition. It seemed to develop out of the blue. A few weeks earlier, I helped his wife through some difficult symptoms including joint pain, lymphedema, and insomnia. Interestingly, in both the man and his wife, the causes of their individual dilemmas where the same. Both of their causes were side effects from prescription medications.  

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    Medications are Sometimes Necessary

    Now, we all know there are times when prescription medications are necessary. Heart medication, chemotherapy drugs, diabetes medications and more, save people’s lives. I have known many people who resisted western drug prescriptions, sometimes for years. Then, when they finally relented, they saw significant improvement in their situation and quality of life.

    As an herbalist and holistic practitioners, we are not here to judge. We do not question the Doctor. Rather, we look at what is happening now, assess individual circumstance with issues like personal history and constitution in mind, in an effort to improve health and quality of life. Herbs, nutrition, and yoga therapy can be extremely effective in the treatment of numerous situations, especially when we look past presenting symptoms and into the heart of what’s going on. 

    Know Your Medication

    For those on prescription drugs it is imperative to know your medications and how they work. However, understanding how medications and herbal supplements affect the overall chemistry of the body can take a little digging. The first step is to make a list of all the herbal supplements and medications you’re taking. Include:

    1. What drugs, herbs, and nutritional supplements are being taken?
    2. Why are you taking them?
    3. Dosage – How much are you taking?
    4. How long have you been taking the medication?
    5. Have there been any recent changes in medications, dosages, or their effects?
    6. How do you feel? Do you feel better? What kind symptoms do you experience?

    Look up each medication. Review their actions, side effects, herbal and drug interactions and nutritional suggestions. Once all the information is in, you can begin to form a plan.

    Medications and side effects

    Where to find the drug information

    My favorite websites to research drugs and drug actions/interactions are Drugs.com, Kaiser Permanente Drug encyclopedia and the Peace Health Information Library. Each is great in their own way. Peace Health has great information about which bodily nutrients are depleted by the use of each medication and which supplements might decrease side effects or increase the medications effectiveness. There’s a lot of cool stuff.

    How Prescription Drugs Can Cause Seemingly Unrelated Symptoms

    The 70-year-old man mentioned above has been taking a Metoprolol for some time. Metoprolol is a drug used to treat circulation issues like high blood pressure, angina, and heart failure. About 6 weeks ago, approximately a week prior to the onset of the psoriasis, his doctor increased the dose significantly. When he returned to the Dr, the man was given an itch cream. The Dr did not connect (or acknowledge to the man) the relationship between the increased dosage and onset of psoriasis. 

    Upon researching the medication, we found that psoriasis, generalized rashes and itchy skin is a very rare side effect of this medication. Further, it seems to work through the kidneys and effects other water and blood-based body functions. Metoprolol, for example, can cause thickening the blood, decreased urine output, and increased cholesterol levels, many of which the man was also being treated for.

    The Next Step - How Holistic Therapies Can Help

    Once we identified the drugs, how they work in the body, and how they interact with each other, we can more effectively address the presenting problem.

    In the example above, the psoriasis was probably caused by an increase in the medication Metoprolol. The drug itself doesn’t seem to directly affect vitamin and mineral levels. It doesn’t seem to interact negatively to herbal intervention. However, other medications such as blood thinners and cholesterol medications need to be taken into consideration before considering herbal and nutritional suggestions.

    The drug Metroprolol has a heavy impact on the functioning of the kidneys, liver, and circulatory system because of the drug’s tendency to thicken and slow liquid-based operations in the body. Since water and other liquids make up about 2/3 of the human body, all sorts of side effects can happen. Toxins cannot simply filter out as well through a thickened medium.

    The resulting herbal suggestion was to take a simple tea or tincture of Cleavers (Gallium aparine) and Dandelion Root (taraxacum officinale.) He decided on the tincture, which he took 5 ml 3x per day. The psoriasis resolved in about 2 weeks. 

    Holistic Treatment, Medications and Side Effects – Another Example

    The man’s wife had come for an herbal consultation to reduce body-wide pain, joint pain, peripheral edema, and insomnia. Having finished a round of chemotherapy for uterine cancer 2 years earlier, she was now taking aromatase inhibitors, which she needs to take for 3 more years. Aromatase inhibitors limit or regulate the amount of estrogen in the body in an effort to prevent recurrences of estrogen-friendly cancers. Most of these inhibitors have nasty side effects. In this case, she was taking Letrozole.  

    Letrozole, along with most medications in this category, work by flushing estrogens from the body along with several vital minerals and enzymes, including magnesium, potassium, lactobacillus (probiotic), N-Acetyl Cysteine, Spleen Peptide Extract, Taurine and more, suggesting the depletion of these essential nutrients were at the root of the painful symptoms the woman was experiencing.

    Treatment Suggestions for Letrozole Side Effects

    In this case, the woman was referred to a functional medicine doctor. While waiting for the appointment and tests to come through, she temporarily supplemented magnesium, potassium, and probiotics, as well as added a good nutritional-based organic smoothy to her diet. She also took an herbal formula at bedtime to help her sleep. Finally, she began a yoga therapy practice to help her relax, heal pain, reduce lymphedema, and keep healthy energy flowing through her system.

    Now, a few months later, she reports feeling about 80% better. The initial supplementation along with the herbal formula decreased her symptoms by about 50% and helped her sleep. The Functional Medicine Doctor was able to identify specific minerals, vitamins and enzymes directly effected by her medication and prescribed supplemental formulas to meet her needs. She continues her yoga therapy practice and says she feels better.


    When working with holistic therapies, we look at the whole person along with as much of the picture as can be managed. Before jumping to add more herbs or take herbal drops (tinctures) for this or that, we seek to know what medications are being taken, the condition and history of the problem they are being taken for, and possible side effects that may be present. Medications don’t always cause troubling symptoms; however, it happens often enough to take a look from all angles. 

    Once we understand the individual circumstances, history, and goals of each person, we can begin to suggest herbs, dietary modifications, yoga therapy and nutritional supplements. Unfortunately, it hardly ever works to just throw herbs at a problem without looking at all the surrounding evidence. 

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    The statements and ideas presented here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. They have not been evaluated by the FDA. All ideas presented are for the sole purpose of education. To help you take control of your own health. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. We suggest that you always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

    These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.

    Herbs taken for health purposes should be treated with the same care as medicine. Herbal remedies are no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are serious about good health, you’ll want to combine diet, exercise, herbals, a good relationship with your doctor and a generally healthy lifestyle. No one of these will do it alone.

    This information is designed to be used as part of a complete health plan. No products are intended to replace your doctor’s care, or to supersede any of his/her advice or prescriptions.

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