What You Need to Know About Adaptogens, Herbals, and Their Interactions

What You Need to Know About Adaptogens, Herbals, and Their Interactions

Photo courtesy of  Supernatural

Photo courtesy of Supernatural

Today, many people are aspiring to live a natural health conscious lifestyle. Plant based products are now available for use in everything from our cleaning products, dietary foods, and supplements. We also see homeopathic medicines becoming preferred over modern day medicine for treatment. Although, natural ingredients are more advantageous to our health, and better for the environment, which can reduce our carbon imprint, pharmaceutical products are still the mainstay of therapies for treatment of disease and illness. It’s important to understand when switching to all natural medicinal it can be challenging for patients with acute and chronic illness. Therefore, before incorporating plant-based products such as adaptogens and herbal supplements into your prescription regimen it’s important to do your research to avoid potential threats to your health and wellness. 

Adaptogens, and herbals are used as natural alternatives to pharmaceutical products for treatment of acute and chronic illness.  Pharmaceutical products are known to contain forms of synthetic chemical ingredients to achieve their mechanisms of action and have clinical indications for a specific diagnosis. Natural and homeopathic medicines are also used to cure and treat illness using natural plant-based phytochemicals. They are available in several forms such as bath steams, creams, lotions, powders, salves, tinctures, and teas.

Adaptogens and herbals are natural alternatives that have been used for thousands of years as treatment to prevent or cure disease. Their use is also prominent in Chinese Aruveydic medicine. Studies from the National Institutes of Health have been published confirming adaptogens ability to help the body adjust to stressors within the environment to lessen the negative effects of the impact of stress.  The most commonly used adaptogens include ashwagandha, rhodiola, a variety of ginsengeleuthero, cordyceps, and reishi. The most commonly used herbal products are ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, milk thistle, licorice, black cohash, Echinacea, garlic, St. John’s Wart, and valrian root.  Herbal products are also used as dietary supplements to improve health. 

When taken in excess or in small doses they can interact with pharmaceutical products, causing low to critical drug interactions. It is thus important to inform your doctor, and pharmacist of any natural adaptogen, and herbal products you may currently be taking. I know this may sound like a pharmaceutical commercial, but the data stands behind it. I am a licensed clinical pharmacist, and throughout my career many patients have asked for over the counter recommendations for natural products while taking prescription medications. My speciality is in HIV medicine, and several anti-retrovirals on the market interact with adaptogens and herbal products which can ultimately decrease the effectiveness of these medications ability to suppress the virus.

Other disease states such as asthma, anxiety, cancers and diseases of the pituitary gland, depression, diabetes insipidus, gastrointestinal disorders, and immune system disorders all require pharmaceutical products that can potentially interact with adaptogens and herbal products. 

The development of synthetic chemicals for treatment has allowed scientist to understand the mechanism of action of a pharmaceutical product, and its pathophysiology on the human body. Medications are developed specifically to target the areas of the body to alleviate, cure, or heal a specific diagnosis of illness. The medicinal chemistry of an adaptogen product’s mechanism of action, and pathophysiology relies heavily on theoretical scientific data on possible areas where they lend their effects which focuses on their effects on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. Phytochemicals can have effects on multiple receptors in the body that are still unknown, and while the side effect profiles of pharmaceutical products exist there is more scientifically data, as well as ongoing to data analysis to monitor new safety precautions of pharmaceutical drug products. 

The Food and Drug Administration regulates pharmaceutical manufacturers, and enforces product safety and effectiveness in order to be approved for any medical indication.  Drug manufacturers are also required to go through extensive phases of clinical trials during the drug approval process. This process is not required for adaptogen and herbal products since they are considered food products. 

The top 200 most prescribed medications in the U.S. are therapeutic classes of pharmaceuticals used for treatments of anxiety, depression, diabetes, hypertension, hormones for contraception and abnormalities, and pain. All of which having side effect profiles, and common drug- drug interactions. 

In summary, pharmaceutical products are prescribed by practitioners for their patients presenting with multiple disease states, and illnesses. Health literacy is a critical component of communication between prescriber and patient. Prescribers should assess their patient’s ability to understand the type of medication being prescribed, t is use, how often to take the medication, if it requires food or water, and any potential harmful drug interactions. If at any time you’re thinking of adding natural products to your medical regimen it’s important to always communicate any changes to your prescribing practitioner. Also, arming patients with all of the information about their medication is necessary to have success with their prescription regimens. This is critical not only to your patient’s health but also to their survival in some cases. Fact is, education is critical prior to combining any products to your drug regimen.  In order to prevent potential drug interactions prescribers should always ask their patients of any new supplements or herbal ingredients they are currently taking with their medications to mitigate the risk of potentially harmful herbal and drug interactions.  Lastly, your pharmacist is also your greatest accessible resource to your healthcare, and the last line of verification of drug information for prescription medication. Don’t be afraid to ask your pharmacist questions when considering adding natural products to your prescription medications. We have a wealth of knowledge, and also have an ethical duty to educate patients in need of help with their medications.  


About the Author

Tayiana J.Reed is a clinical pharmacist and wellness expert dedicated to curating affordable, clean and natural health & beauty products to cultivate a holistic lifestyle. Dr. Reed currently works in public health in the DC area and has dedicated her career to helping patients and clients obtain clinically proficient, cost effective drug information.

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