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June 13, 2017

Herbal Supplements and Prescription Medications: What Seniors Should Know

Against the Grain
Think of any condition, disease, or ailment. The odds are pretty high that at least one type of prescription medication exists for it. And attaining said medication generally requires nothing more than a trip to the doctor’s office and pharmacy (depending on the ailment). In spite of this, some may not be so quick to embrace prescription medications, due in part to increasing cost. The other major deterrent? The looming possibility that the side effects may cause more harm than the ailment itself. Those looking for alternatives often turn to herbal remedies or supplements.

Herbal Supplements and Prescription Medications: What Seniors Should Know

Although there is a rather substantial segment of Americans that pay for prescription drugs (approximately $200 billion annually), usage of herbal remedies or supplements is still quite profound, with an annual spend of around $20 billion. However, even with such a high volume of herbal consumers, it’s not uncommon for medical professionals to recommend prescription medication over natural supplements.

A Matter of Regulation
One reason for this hesitation is that these herbal alternatives are not actively investigated or approved by organizations such as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While pharmaceutical drugs go through extensive trials to prove out both efficacy and safety, herbal supplements often do not have substantial evidence to prove their marketing claims. However, it should be noted that these FDA trials for pharmaceutical drugs are not as black and white as they may appear.

While early research may be conducted by a separate entity, trials are generally sponsored by the pharmaceutical company itself, which can allow for some bias. Similarly, the FDA approval committees that ultimately deem a drug safe for the marketplace, are often comprised of company members. Recommendations have been made to the FDA insisting that these approval committees not have as many members with financial stakes in the products.

In spite of some of the inherent challenges of regulation, advocates for alternative medicine continue to push for the research and trialing of herbal supplements. It’s suggested that this would ultimately benefit consumers by providing them the opportunity to compare potential side effects and weigh their options accordingly.

Knowledge Is Power
The history and tradition behind herbal remedies is certainly evident. Centuries before the onset of modern pharmaceutical companies, we relied solely on botanical concoctions to cure ailments – and many of these continue to be passed down to subsequent generations. It should come as no surprise that many people want to find ways of healing that are more natural. After all, if it’s more natural, it should be better for the body. Unfortunately, that may not always be the case.

Similar to pharmaceutical drugs, there are some herbal supplements that can cause negative side effects, especially when combined with other drugs and/or supplements. A recent study indicated that of the adults who take herbal supplements along with prescription drugs (approximately 1 in 6), many have little to no understanding of how one interacts with the other. For older adults, many of whom take at least one prescription drug, there is an even greater possibility of a negative reaction from the combination of supplements and medications.

As the demand for alternative medicine continues to grow, the number of companies wanting to capitalize on it will only increase. And while some of these companies may be motivated by the desire to help people through more natural products, others may only be interested in profit. Ultimately, the key for consumers is to research both forms of medicine as thoroughly as possible and to consult with a physician/dietician to understand the positives and negatives behind both.

On the research side, there are several helpful resources that provide insight into the latest pharmaceutical and herbal products. Here are a few sites that you or your aging loved one can utilize to help inform their decisions:

Comfort Keepers® Can Help
Our caregivers can aid in compliance with prescription medication or herbal supplements (as advised by a physician or other medical professional) to help keep loved ones safe and healthy by providing medication reminders. We can also help promote a healthy lifestyle and provide companionship. Contact your local Comfort Keepers®’ office today for more information.

HealthGuidance. “Prescription Drugs vs. Natural Alternatives” by John Gibb. Web. 2017.
Love To Know. “Alternative Medicine for the Elderly” by Chris Dinesen Rogers. Web. 2017.
Mother Earth News. “Herbs Vs. Drugs: Get the Facts about Medicine” by Lynn Keiley & Stephanie Bloyd. Web. 2007.

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