ST. LOUIS -- People are mixing supplements, herbs and over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs to cure themselves of ills, unaware that they could be making themselves sicker, says George Grossberg, M.D., director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Saint Louis University.
Dr. Grossberg is about to change all that. He is the co-author of a new book, "The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide," which is a comprehensive listing of what various herbs and supplements do, possible side effects and how they might interact with other medications and foods.
"People think if it doesn't require a prescription, it's got to be safe, and that's not true. There could be life-threatening effects."
Dr. Grossberg first became interested in the topic after a routine six-month visit with a patient he had successfully treated for depression. He had been seeing the patient for four or five years, and asked if the man was dealing with any new health problems.
The patient mentioned that he was scheduled to go in for cystoscopy in a couple weeks because there had been blood in his urine. The procedure involves inserting the pencil-thin tip of a probe through the urethra, up to the bladder to detect the cause of the problem.
The patient had undergone thousands of dollars of MRIs and CAT scans of his lower abdomen and pelvis, which had not revealed the reason for the bleeding, and the test was the next diagnostic step.
Dr. Grossberg asked if the patient had changed anything perhaps had started taking a new medication.
No new medicine. Then the patient's wife pulled from her purse a vial containing a supplement she had purchased from the health food store to enhance memory. Both husband and wife had started taking the herbal memory enhancer, which largely contained ginkgo biloba