Herbal Supplements and Test Results

Part of the process of becoming a participant in CSP's program includes medical testing for the surrogate and their spouses/partners. Occasionally, we see an abnormal result that is surprising because of the generally healthy, young population we are testing. These abnormal results are sometimes the result of the person taking supplements. It's very important to note if you are taking supplements, and to discontinue use weeks prior to taking your lab tests.

Below are excerpts from a very informative article at www.clinlabnavigator.com that illustrates how OTC supplements can affect test results.

Recent surveys indicate that more than 50% of the population use some form of complementary and alternative medicine. In the US, the sale of herbal medicines now exceeds $4 billion per year. Marketing campaigns imply that any natural product is safe. However, herbal medicines are classified as dietary supplements and do not have to be proven safe before being released into the marketplace.

Many herbs have been associated with adverse test results. Abnormal results may occur by any of the following mechanisms: Assay interference (the way they actually analyze the test being affected by the supplements in the specimen); Herb-therapeutic drug interaction (the supplement may decrease the efficacy of your prescription meds, or increase their effect in an adverse way); Organ toxicity (the build up of the supplement in your system may become toxic as your body is unable to metabolize and expel it)

For persons taking seizure meds such as phenobarbital or phenytoin, herbs like Evening Primrose, can decrease the drug's level in your system by 40%. For persons taking warfarin, some herbal meds interfere with its anticoagulant properties and can increase the risk of bleeding by inhibiting clotting.

Some herbal medicines, like Kava, are hepatotoxic (toxic to the liver), and can cause an increase in ALT and AST (liver function tests).

Kelp is promoted as a thyroid tonic and anti-inflammatory medicine, but Kelp tablets contain substantial amounts of iodine, which can cause hyperthyroidism. T4 and T3 are increased, and TSH is suppressed.

Chromium is a trace metal that helps to regulate glucose metabolism. Athletes and bodybuilders take chromium supplements to enhance performance, but large doses can induce hyperglycemia (increased glucose in the blood). In contrast, ginseng has been associated with hypoglycemic episodes (not enough glucose in the blood).

An additional risk of taking supplements is unexpected lead poisoning that may occur from herbal medicines contaminated with lead. Some Chinese herbs have been found to have lead content as high as 20,000 ppm, which translates into approximately 200 micrograms per deciliter. The US accepted blood lead levels are less than 20 micrograms per deciliter for adults and less than 10 micrograms per deciliter for children. Lead has no role in the body, and its harmful effects are myriad.

Generally, a balanced diet and a daily vitamin will provide your body with what it needs for optimum health, but if you do take any supplements, please be aware of the possible side effects and adverse reactions, not only the supposed benefits of it. And if you are doing any kind of lab work, or having any kind of surgery, let your health professional know and discontinue use a few weeks before your procedure.