Exercise Caution When Using Herbal Remedies

Vol. 9, No. 2
August, 1999

  • Winthrop Opens Filmless Diagnostic Imaging Center

  • Winthrop Complies with Mammogram Quality Standards Act

  • New Device Revolutionizes Treatment of Cardiac Arrhythmias

  • Long Island's First Electric Mechanical Heart Recipient

  • Women's Resource Center Helps Women Navigate the Healthcare Maze

  • American Cancer Society Recognition

  • New Logo Heralds New Era at Winthrop

  • People with Diabetes Learn to Master Buffets

  • Four New Winthrop Board Members Strengthen Leadership

  • Winthrop's Junior Volunteer Program Awards Scholarships to Deserving Students

  • Students Stock the Shelves of the Child Life Program

  • Pharmacy Robot: A First on Long Island

  • A Warning from the Long Island Poison Control Center at Winthrop

  • Asthma and Allergy Family Fair Presented by the Winthrop Asthma Center

  • More than 500 Celebrate Life at Winthrop's Cancer Survivors' Day

  • 75th Annual Meeting of Winthrop's Auxiliary

  • Golfers Show They're "Fore" Winthrop at 1999 Golf Tournament

  • For Long Island Children who don't have Health Insurance

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  • aerbal remedies are increasing in popularity, and experts estimate that as much as 42% of the population uses these products to treat everything from the common cold to cancer. "People mistakenly believe that herbal supplements are natural and therefore, perfectly safe," points out Howard Mofenson, MD, Director of the Long Island Regional Poison Control Center at Winthrop. He adds that many herbals are safe, but others can have serious side effects, interact with other medications, and may even cause illness or death. Additionally, individuals with food or other allergies should use extreme caution before taking any herbal substance.

    Some herbals which appear to be relatively benign can interact with prescribed medications. "The classic interaction is with gingko biloba, goldenseal, or garlic with any anti-coagulant," warns Thomas R. Caraccio, PharmD, Clinical Coordinator of Winthrop's Long Island Regional Poison Control Center. "Taken together, they can stimulate bleeding." These kinds of interactions are difficult for physicians to anticipate because patients are often reluctant to discuss their use of herbal remedies with their doctors. "That is why physicians who routinely ask if their patients are taking any medications need to ask specifically about herbals, as well," Dr. Mofenson emphasizes.

    Echinacea appears safe, even for children. However, as echinacea boosts the immune system, it should never be taken by those with autoimmune diseases, such as muscular sclerosis or lupus. Purity is also an issue. "Often goldenseal is included in echinacea preparations, and this may not be as safe," adds Dr. Mofenson.

    "Part of the problem is the Internet, because people have a high level of confidence in information they find there," says Vito Mannino, Public Educator at the Poison Control Center. "Via the Internet, they can even purchase products that have been banned by Nassau County because they are not safe."

    The Long Island Regional Poison Control Center provides information to the community, including healthcare professionals, on all drugs and chemical substances, including herbal supplements; wild plants and mushrooms; and poisons. Calls relating to insect bites, snakebites, marine venomations (such as jellyfish bites), and product recalls all receive immediate responses - around-the-clock - from a staff that includes registered nurses with advanced training in poison information, a doctoral-level pharmacist and toxicologist, and a medical toxicologist/pediatrician.

    Winthrop's Poison Control Center can be reached 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, at 516/663-2650, or 516/542-2323.

    Herbals should not be administered:
    • to children until proven safe by human studies
    • to pregnant or nursing women
    • to persons on traditional medication for the same complaint
    • without checking on potential interactions with other medications
    • without knowing the appropriate length of time to take the supplement
    • in order to prevent illness
    • in large quantities
    • if they are in packaging that is not properly labeled.


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