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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Health Note

Air Date: Week of July 13, 2001

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Living on Earth's Jennifer Chu reports on the dangers of undergoing surgery while taking herbal medications.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up, the rarest wolf on the planet lives in the mountains of Ethiopia. First, this environmental health note from Jennifer Chu.

[MUSIC]

CHU: The popularity of herbal medicine has grown tremendously over the past few years. Right now, more than 1,500 different herbal medications are widely available in the U.S. But for surgical patients, taking some of these substances can lead to serious risks. Herbs can affect heart rate, inhibit blood clotting, and interact with anesthesia and pharmaceutical drugs. Writing in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, University of Chicago physicians make recommendations about when to stop the use of herbal medications before surgery. The researchers focussed on the eight most commonly used herbs: echinacea, ephedra, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, kava, St. John's Wort, and valarian. For example, ginkgo, an herb used to enhance memory function, should be stopped about a day and a half before surgery, since it acts as an anti-coagulant. And echinacea, an herb used to boost the immune system, can impair wound healing and, actually, suppress the immune system, when taken long-term.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists has also weighed in on this question. That group suggests patients discontinue the use of all herbal medications at least two weeks before surgery. However, studies show that a majority of patients who take herbs don't tell their doctors about it, even when asked.

That's this week's health note. I'm Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

 

 

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