Top 5 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Alternative Heart Medicine

Question #1: How do alternative therapies work with my prescription heart medications?

Anyone who's spent time in the dating world knows the difference between a good relationship and a bad one. In a healthy relationship, two people work together to bring out the best in each other. In an unhealthy relationship, two people clash and show the worst of themselves. The same can be said for interactions between prescription drugs and alternative medicines. So in this scenario, think of your doctor as a matchmaker. He or she can tell you which drugs and alternative therapies would make good couples and bad couples.

The heart-healthy alternative medications omega-3 and niacin haven't been found to interact negatively with other heart medications. In fact, when coupled with a statin, a popular type of cholesterol medication, niacin and omega-3 can have dramatic effects. One new study on omega-3s and statins showed that the combination of the two reduced the risk of a heart attack more than if you were just using the statin alone [source: Sekikawa et al.]. That doesn't mean all alternative therapies are good matches for patients popping heart pills. In fact, there's a long list of herbal medications that are on the "do not date" list.

There are a lot of drugs out there for those with faulty tickers. There are high blood pressure medications (ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, diuretics), cholesterol lowering drugs (statins), medications that keep blood clots from causing heart attacks or strokes (warfarin and clopidogrel), and some that keep the heart beating like it should (digoxin). Which medication you use determines which alternative therapy you can use. For example, the heart-friendly vitamin D gets along with most of the medications listed above but can prove to be a bad mate to digoxin.

When looking for alternative medicine and drug interactions a search on the Internet will produce an impressive list, but many claims aren't fully proven by research. This is the very reason you should ask your doctor before adding any alternative therapy to your current medication line up. Here's a short list of the major offenders and what makes them, and your heart medication, a bad match.

Alternative Medicine Heart Medication Why They’re a Bad Couple
Ginkgo Aspirin or Warfarin Increases the drug’s action, possibly causing excessive bleeding.

Diuretic Can cause your anti-high blood pressure medication to instead be medication that causes high blood pressure.
Ginseng Warfarin Can reduce the amount of Warfarin in the blood, possibly resulting in blood clots.
Green Tea Warfarin Contains small amounts of vitamin K, which decreases warfarin effectiveness and may lead to blood clots.
St. John’s Wort Warfarin Makes the drug less effective, possibly resulting in blood clots.

Plavix Increases the drug’s action, possibly causing excessive bleeding.

Statins and Digoxin Reduced the amount of the drug found in the blood, thereby reducing it effectiveness. This can result in high cholesterol in the case of statins, and an irregular heart beat with digoxin.

[source: Hu et al.]

If you'd like to learn more about alternative medicine, from the effects of meditation on pain to the benefits of reflexology, try links to articles on the next page.


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