Can your herbal supplements interact with your prescription medication?

The Mayo Clinic is reporting that about half of all adults in the U.S. take some type of herbal supplement or vitamin. Unfortunately, they are not always telling their doctors about them. While supplements are not regulated by the FDA and are sold over the counter, they can have serious interactions with prescription medicines.

"Some supplements can compete with the medication, it can affect the absorption of a drug, a prescription drug that patient may be taking," said Steve Ciullo, Upstate University Hospital's Director of Pharmacy.

Medications like Coumadin that prevent blood clots have some of the most serious interactions with supplements. Ginkgo Biloba, fish oil and chamomile all increase the blood thinning effect of Coumadin and can lead to internal bleeding. Garlic supplements, St. John's Wort, Vitamin E and zinc can also interfere with prescriptions. As supplement use has become more common, doctors and nurses at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse are now asking more questions about exactly what over the counter products patients use.

"The people who do the interviews are actually trained to probe, to go beyond just the medication list the individual patient received from their pharmacy," said Ciullo.

The Natur-Tyme store in East Syracuse has one of the largest selections of supplements in the Syracuse area. Registered dietician Laurel Sterling Prisco says supplements can also help people who have vitamin deficiencies due to some long term prescriptions but anyone looking into supplements needs to talk to their doctor and pharmacist before starting. Natur-Tyme also has a computer program to check for any drug interactions.

"The awareness is the key, the education is the key. They need to have everybody informed in the the entire process," said Sterling Prisco.