Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe!

Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe!

I find myself repeating this phrase over and over again at health talks and to my clients.  I say it so frequently that it warrants a blog post.

What I mean by, ‘Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe!’ is that just because you can buy a product at a natural health store or a product was prescribed to you by a health care practitioner does not mean it has no side effects, interactions, contraindications or toxic dosages.  

It also does not mean that you can give this product to your friend with the same symptoms.   Would you share your prescription drugs with your friend? Definitely not recommended!

Side effects:

Natural health products DO have side effects, the most common being skin rashes, allergic reactions, headaches and digestive symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  They don’t show up in everybody, it depends on the person and how sensitive they are.  The main point here is to not rule out the possibility that the appearance of these symptoms is caused by the new natural health product you just started.

Medication interactions:

Natural health products work on similar pathways as pharmaceutical drugs and DO interact with prescriptions.  The most common herbs that have high interaction rates are St. John’s Wort, Gingko biloba, and Licorice.  These herbs alter liver metabolism which affects how your drugs are broken down resulting in increased or decreased drug effectiveness.  Always check the labels for drug interactions and speak to your primary care provider before starting new health products.

Contraindications:

Natural health products are contraindicated if you have certain medical conditions which means they should be avoided.  For example, licorice increases your blood pressure so if you have high blood pressure you should not take licorice.  Also, many of those ‘natural cleansing products’ are contraindicated in people with liver, gall bladder and kidney problems; especially those with gallstones or kidney stones.  Once again, be sure to check the labels for contraindications and speak to your primary care provider.

Toxic overdose:

I once had a client who brought in a bag of natural supplements she purchased from a health food store.  Upon review, I discovered she was taking a supplement for bone health, a supplement for skin health, a supplement for boosting her immune system, and a multivitamin/mineral formula.  When I added all of these together I found that she was taking over 500 mg of zinc per day.  That is 10 times the safe daily dose of zinc which is 50 mg per day! And 50 mg per day would only be prescribed if we suspected she was zinc deficient.  Even though this client had very good intentions when she self-prescribed these supplements she was potentially doing herself harm.

Next time you walk through the supplement aisle please be mindful about the safety of the supplements you are about to purchase!