Anne McCormack, Peacock Dreaming The Wisdom Of Flowers

When Herbs & Minerals Become Dangerous

I don’t mean to be a scaremonger with the title to this blog entry.  It is just that I awoke from one of those really poignant dreams yesterday morning. You know, the sort that you remember quite clearly long after you have woken up.  Anyway, in the dream I heard a lady’s voice saying,”I wish I had known that the herbs I was taking were toxic.”  Pretty random, right?  Anyhow, this lady (whomever she is) got me thinking – how often do we load up our diet with herbal supplements without the consultation of professionals, believing that we are doing the “right thing” by our health?

There are so many websites out there and listicles about different herbs and minerals that have healing properties.  However, these articles rarely highlight cautions and contraindications.

So, I thought I would compile a wee listicle of five very common supplements readily used in today’s society to promote optimal health with the intent of encouraging you to seek a well-rounded approach to your healthcare.

1.  Aloe Vera


Aloe Vera is wonderful for burns and skin abrasions and is extolled as a superfood – packed with vitamins and minerals galore.  It aids digestion, strengthens the immune system, lowers cholesterol, and has been used to relieve arthritis pain.

However, aloe vera can decrease the body’s blood clotting abilities.  It can increase the absorption rate of steroid creams.  For those people who take medication heart rhythm problems, due to its natural effect on potassium levels, aloe vera can interfere with some of the medications prescribed.  Aloe vera can also be dangerous for diabetics due to its natural ability to lower blood sugar levels.

Pregnant women should not ingest aloe vera as it is known to cause uterine contractions.  It can also exacerbate the condition of those suffering Crohn’s Disease.

Excessive consumption of aloe vera has also been linked with kidney damage and should be avoided by those who have kidney-related issues.

2.  Arnica


Warnings about arnica?  Are you kidding me?  Whilst arnica is awesome for aching muscles and joints, and works wonders on bruising, this herb needs to be applied externally only.

Arnica has also been reported over the ages to be good for the heart. However, arnica is known to be dangerous to the liver (or hepatoxic) if taken internally.

It seems a bugger that such a wonderful herb can’t be utilised for those people with weak or struggling hearts.  Ah, don’t lose hope – with consultation from a qualified herbalist and in conjunction with your cardiologist you can explore the use of arnica in very small doses in the form of a tea or a topically applied tincture (in plant based creams, the active chemical constituents can get into the blood stream via the dermal layers).

3.  Chamomile


Chamomile varieties (German, Roman and Moroccan) are renowned for their sedative, antispasmodic and soothing properties.

Surely chamomile tea and oils are not dangerous?  Well, if you are on blood thinning medication like Warfarin, it is recommended you steer clear of the humble chamomile as it has a natural blood thinning effect.  Chamomile may also interfere with tricyclic anti-depressants

Consumption of chamomile tea is recommended in moderation as it has been known to cause gastrointestinal irritation in some people.

4.  Fish Oil


Fish oil is used for kidney-related ailments and is touted as a brain food. It can be taken to help mouth ulcers, blood pressure, menstruation cramps, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, asthma, osteo and rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, psoriasis and many other conditions.

However, those on blood thinning medications need to be wary of the anticoagulant properties of fish oil.  Fish oil (omega-3) can also interfere with birth control pills and medications for high blood pressure.

5.  Garlic


Garlic has long been reported to prevent cancers and some use it in conjunction with cancer treatments.  It helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Garlic has been used for treating hay fever, pre-eclampsia, yeast infections, flu symptoms, chronic fatigue, menstrual disorders.

Garlic can interfere with the effectiveness of some HIV/Aids medications (Viramune, Rescriptor and Sustiva).  It can also contraindicate retro-antiviral medications.

Garlic can impact the effectiveness of birth control medications given its impact on the break down of oestrogen.  It can also interfere with the effectiveness of medications used to treat liver diseases like Cyclosporin.  Additionally, garlic has may decrease the effectiveness of anticoagulant and blood-thinning medications.

Above are just five examples of supplements we use in our diets daily.  I don’t know about you but the potential contraindications with medications and conditions shocked me, and really highlighted the importance of respecting herb and mineral supplements in whatever form they are.  Talk about your supplements with your medical practitioners and seek guidance and services from qualified practitioners (rather than self-prescribing with “off the shelf” supplements).  It may ease a lot of pain or even save your life!

As well as being the author of Peacock Dreaming: The Wisdom Of Flowers and Lovitude:  Trying To Calm The Monkey Mind, Anne McCormack is also a qualified Clinical Aromatherapist.  Anne has practised and presented courses and workshops in Australia, and has been a guest speaker for organisations such as the NSW Encore Support Group for Breast Cancer.

Photographs in this article courtesy of Pixabay

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