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Drug Interactions with Alternative Therapies

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Herbs and other alternative therapies were the original medicine. Ancient cultures used herbs and plants to stay healthy and cure illness. But, for years after the pharmaceutical world took over treatment, the Western world lost interest in alternative therapies.

Today, however, interest in alternative therapies is renewed. Many people are choosing to treat some conditions naturally before trying medicines. For example, many people recently diagnosed with high blood pressure and high cholesterol are choosing to increase their exercise, change their diet and lose excess weight before resorting to high blood pressure and cholesterol medications. In many cases, patients can reverse their blood pressure and cholesterol problems without ever needing medication.

Other patients are using alternative therapies as adjuncts to traditional medicine. For example, green tea has been shown to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy in some forms of cancer. Drinking large amounts of tea while undergoing chemotherapy treatments can increase the concentration of the chemo drugs in the cancerous cells, making it more effective.

A large number of people are also using alternative therapies for preventative purposes. Take green tea, for example. It has been shown to prevent many types of illness, including heart disease, Alzheimer's and some forms of cancer. Others use yoga to relieve stress and massage to manage muscle and joint pain.

But, what if you're pursuing alternative therapies at the same time that you're using conventional drug therapies? Is there a chance that there could be interaction between the two?

Well, the answer is, possibly. There are thousands of drugs being prescribed for hundreds of different conditions today, and no doubt some of the drugs will interact with some of the alternative therapies.

Since alternative therapies have become so popular, some research has been performed to determine how, and if, some of the most popular alternative therapies interact with drugs.

One study, in particular, reported by the UK Tea Council studied the effects of flavonoids on drug therapies. Flavonoids were chosen for study because they are contained in so many substances that we many of us consume regularly, and because flavonoids are generally thought to be very healthy.

Flavonoids are a type of anti-oxidant. Anti-oxidants are extremely important to our health because they combat free radicals. Free radicals are created in our bodies as a by product of converting our food to energy. Free radicals damage our cells and DNA. Over time, this leads to premature aging and disease. Anti-oxidants combat these free radicals, preventing them from causing damage. Research has shown that a diet rich in anti-oxidants, including flavonoids prevents many forms of disease, such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's.

Fruits and vegetables contain flavonoids, as does beverages made from plants, such as tea and wine. But, doctors wondered, could these healthy flavonoids interfere with drugs that we may be taking for medical conditions?

The research mentioned above found that flavonoids can, in some cases, interfere with the transport of certain drugs. Transport refers to how drugs reach the organs or body systems they're designed to affect.

In some cases, this could cause interactions between your medications and alternative therapies such as Gingko Biloba, Milk Thistle, green tea, and soy isoflavones. It's not likely that the flavonoids found in your food would interact, as they are not typically consumed in highly concentrated quantities as is found in herbal supplements.

So, for example, if you're drinking three or four cups of green tea each day to help protect your health, it's unlikely that there would be any interaction. However, if you're taking 10-12 capsules of green tea extract each day, your concentration of flavonoids would be significantly higher, and might cause some interaction.

This information is not designed to influence you to stop using flavonoids to protect your health. Research has shown time and again that they're very effective at keeping you young and healthy. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, green tea and other anti-oxidant sources can help you keep your weight in check, lower your cholesterol and even regulate insulin.

However, as with any alternative therapy you're considering, it's important to keep your doctor in the loop. Inform him of any alternative therapies you'd like to try, and find out how they might interact with any particular medicines you're taking. This way you can ensure that you're treating your particular health concerns in the best way possible, whether that means traditional medicines alone - or in combination with alternative treatments.

It's nearly impossible for researchers to list every possible medication and every alternative therapy that it might interact with. But, working closely with your doctor, who knows your medical history, health concerns and treatments can ensure that you're pursuing the healthiest route for treatment.

We're all concerned about our health. And, many of us are also concerned about using natural, healthy remedies whenever possible, as well as taking advantage of all we've learned about how substances like anti-oxidants can prevent disease. Alternative remedies can be a great way to stay healthy, but it's important to always consult your doctor before you begin something new.

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