How Supplements Interact with Prescription Drugs: Part 3

Friday Author: Seth Kaplan

In this last installment of my comments on Laura Landro’s recent article on supplements and drugs in The Wall Street Journal, I’ll discuss magnesium, red clover, saw palmetto, and fenugreek. I shall also provide some more information on turmeric/curcumin, which got short shrift in Ms. Landro’s article, but deserves much better.

Remember: Regardless of information provided here or opinions expressed, you should always inform your doctor about supplements you plan to take, especially if you already take prescription medications.

Supplement: Magnesium

Supplement: Unlike the herbal supplements discussed, magnesium is a mineral; i.e., it comes from the earth. It is essential for proper functioning and health of the human body.

Magnesium

Unlike the herbal supplements discussed, magnesium is a mineral; i.e., it comes from the earth. It is essential for the proper functioning and health of the human body. So, I’m guessing that Ms. Landro dealt with word count and format issues by saying only that magnesium’s “Purported Benefits” are that it prevents asthma, migraines, heart disease, and fatigue, and helps bone development. As for “Unintended Consequences,” she writes that it may reduce antibiotic absorption and increase blood thinner absorption.

Because magnesium is involved in over 300 reactions in the human body, it is easy to understand the general observation about magnesium in Phyllis Balch’s Prescription for Nutritional Healing:  “ . . . a low magnesium level makes nearly every disease worse.” Of course, one cannot make a blanket definitive statement that magnesium prevents or cures any condition in everyone. Vitamins, minerals, and herbal and plant supplements are very individual in their correct use and effect; i.e., what helps one person may not help another. It is a mind-boggling thought that human genomes and biomes are different in each person, but it is true. Belatedly, it is also the notion that is driving much of the latest allopathic medical research into disease identification, prevention, and cure.

My personal knowledge of magnesium is that it is a relaxant, which means that it helps to keep the walls of blood vessels supple and flexible. It also helps prevent the calcification of soft tissue, which is one characteristic of heart disease. Most calcium consumed by humans should go to support hard structures like bones and teeth. Taken at bedtime, magnesium can help people fall asleep. It can also help regularize peristalsis, so bowel movements are smooth, requiring little pushing.

Migraineurs may know that magnesium, taken at the onset of a migraine, can help quell the electrical “storm” in the brain that often characterizes migraine. Dr. Blaylock recommends taking 800 mg of either of the two quickly absorbed magnesiums, magnesium malate or magnesium citrate, to help the brain “relax” and avoid progression of a migraine.

Supplement: Red Clover

Ms. Landro should have given more space to this legume because, unlike some of the others she included, red clover’s benefits are questionable while the interactions and side effects appear real. She notes very briefly that red clover relieves menopause symptoms and stops muscle spasms, but that it also may increase the effects of blood thinners.

Supplement: The key thing to remember about red clover is that it contains isoflavones, which produce estrogen-like effects in the body. Men should probably avoid it for this reason alone.

Red Clover

The key thing to remember about red clover is that it contains isoflavones, which produce estrogen-like effects in the body. Men should probably avoid it for this reason alone. Women use red clover to reduce symptoms of menopause like hot flashes. It also has helped some people with skin conditions—psoriasis and eczema, for example—and respiratory ailments.

Some researchers believe that they can trace skin and breathing problems to the immune system and gut dysbiosis; 80% of the immune system resides in the gut. They are right, but this is another topic for another time.

As a blood thinner, red clover can help keep arterial walls—the endothelium— supple; however, if a person already takes Coumadin or another prescription blood thinner, red clover could increase the risk of bleeding. Pregnant and nursing women should not take red clover.

The estrogen-like effects of red clover can increase the effects of birth-control pills, hormone-replacement therapy, and other estrogen-related medications. It also interferes with tamoxifen. So, the jury is out on red clover.

Supplement: Saw Palmetto

“Inhibits prostate cancer growth and promotes urination,” writes Ms. Landro. That, of course, grabs the attention of men everywhere, and may cause them to ignore her warning about increasing effects of NSAIDs and blood thinners. Note, though, that saw palmetto does NOT inhibit prostate cancer growth. What it DOES do is reduce the availability of dihydrotestosterone to prostate tissue. This can reduce prostate swelling and make urinating easier and less frequent. But, if you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, have a discussion with your urologist/oncologist about using saw palmetto before trying it.

If there is benefit in saw palmetto, it lies in reducing the prostate swelling most often associated with BPH (Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy). Interrupting nighttime sleep to run to the bathroom is uncomfortable and can affect your daytime alertness, too. That is when saw palmetto, often combined with pygeum, can be useful.

Supplement: Fenugreek

The @WSJ article misses the mark again when listing benefits of fenugreek (another legume): Help cancer treatment, high cholesterol, inflammation, and infections. Nothing I have read suggests that fenugreek helps cancer treatments or infections. As Ms. Landro notes, fenugreek can increase the effect of blood thinners (this criticism comes up when discussing a lot of herbs).

Supplement: Today, fenugreek is recognized as one of the best plants for treating diabetes. The seeds contain mucilages, which coat the stomach lining, slowing digestion. This, in turn, slows glucose absorption, which means the insulin in the bloodstream can get the glucose into cells without having them become overloaded. Overloading can lead to insulin resistance, which in turn can cause Type II diabetes.

Fenugreek

In the 21st century, fenugreek has acquired a reputation for supporting weight reduction and appetite suppression. This may be due to the recognition by all of the world’s main medical traditions—Arabian (unani), Greek (sidha), Indian (ayurveda), and Chinese—that fenugreek can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, which contribute to the current weight loss problem.

Today, it is recognized as one of the best plants for treating diabetes. The seeds contain mucilages, which coat the stomach lining, slowing digestion. This, in turn, slows glucose absorption, which means the insulin in the bloodstream can get the glucose into cells without having them become overloaded. Overloading can lead to insulin resistance, which in turn can cause Type II diabetes.

More Information About Turmeric

[I formed the following thoughts after reading an interview with Dr. Ajay Goel in “Good Health” magazine and an article in the March 2016 issue of “Life Extension”].

Dr. Goel challenges the notion that, if a disease runs in your family, you will get it, too. “We have complete control over our lives,” he writes, stating that it is epigenetics, not genetics, that is relevant to every disease and behavior in our lives. In his home country, India, cancer occurs much less frequently than in the Western world; however, we are all similar genetically.

One distinction, though, is diet. Every Indian meal contains lots of curry powder, a by-product of turmeric. As a strong anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant, turmeric can help control chronic inflammation, the basic cause of all cancers.

Dr. Goel wants patients to give their oncologists research about turmeric (or other well-studied herbs). When they see that there is science behind it and that it is safe, they may agree to use it. They may like it better when their patients feel better.

The “Life Extension” article ties turmeric/curcumin to the loss of cellular function seen in both cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. In cancer, this loss leads to unregulated cell growth and replication; in age-related neurodegenerative diseases, loss of control fosters cell death and cognitive decline. Studies show that turmeric/curcumin can reverse cancer-promoting processes.

We have a long way to go in all these areas, but it is all happening faster and faster.

The Series

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