Herbal Supplements: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

The idea that relatively inexpensive, naturally derived products can be used topreventdisease or improve health and quality of life is intriguing to many people. Alternative medicineincluding Herbal or botanical supplements have been used for thousands of years and are still popular additions to many a modern, health-conscious person’s daily routine. But don’t be misled… Your herbal remedy may be a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Natural doesn’t mean harmless or effective, and most herbal supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. That means it’s up to consumers to do their homework and seek the advice of their doctors … do you know what you are taking?

More often than not when it is time to update the health history at the dental office people omit mentioning the supplements and other over-the-counter products that they consume. However, it is important to realize that it doesn’t matter whether the active chemical substances contained in a product occur naturally in a plant or whether they are synthesized in a pharmaceutical laboratory; the effect may be the same. As a matter of fact, many commonly prescribed medications include ingredients that derived from the very same plants and natural ingredients that are available for purchase over the counter as a supplement. Familiar examples include:

  • St. John’s Wort contains ingredients chemically similar to many commonly prescribed SSRI antidepressants like Prozac, Zoloft and Celexa.


  • Warfarin (Coumadin) is an anticoagulant or “blood thinner” that contains coumarin, an ingredient found naturally in many plants including sweet clover, licorice, parsley and chamomile.


All drugs (natural or pharmaceutical) that are ingested have what is known as a primary effect (the reason one takes the drug), and a secondary effect (side effect) which can sometimes be harmful. Furthermore, adverse interactions between herbal remedies and prescription medications are common, as are sometimes serious side effects, but we may choose to take these substances anyway when the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Vitamins and herbal supplements can cause a variety of effects including bad breath, cardiac and respiratory complications, excessive bleeding, negating or increasing the effects of antibiotics and other types of medications, and more. A few supplements have specific oral effects including these examples:

  • Gingko Biloba and several other botanical supplementscan cause throat swelling, bleeding of the gums.
  • Kava Kava: can cause muscle spasm of the lips and tongue, may increase the effects of anesthesia during surgery.
  • St. Johns Wort: can cause dry mouth

Botanical supplements frequently do exactly what they are advertised to do, and can be very beneficial; but just as you would not take someone else’s prescription medication, it is important to thoroughly investigate any vitamin or herbal supplement with your health providers before deciding to include it in your health regimen.

Next time you are asked about your medical history at the medical or dental office, remember to list everything you take, including any herbal supplements. The information could be very important when deciding what other medications are prescribed for you, and it may even be a clue to resolving unexplained symptoms!

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