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How to win at Alternative Therapy for Pain

How to Win at Alternative Therapy for Pain

I almost couldn’t believe what had happened: My mom’s eyes had swollen to the point where one of her eyelids was almost covering her entire  eye.

Tips on Herb-Drug Interaction
Confused Man


No, it isn’t.

I’m sure you can just imagine how I felt. I was scared. It  turned  out that some herbal tea she had drunk  a few days before had reacted badly with her medication and caused poor mom to look like a one-eyed creature.

Herbal Tea as Alternative Therapy
Cup of Herbal Tea

And that’s the day I realized I needed to find out more about the problem of alternative medication—especially herbal therapies– when mixed with traditional  drugs.

Curious About Herb-Drug Interaction
Curious Man


I’m glad you asked. Here is the scoop.

It took some digging  and a lot of follow up research, but I got the information  that may be useful to you if you are taking care of an elderly person who  wants to know how to win at alternative  therapy like spinal manipulation.

Using Chiropractor for back pain
Alternative Therapy

You see, interactions between herbal medicines and synthetic drugs exist and can have serious clinical consequences.

The good news is that one can learn to better understand the possibility  of herb-drug interactions and come up with a strategy where they can still safely pursue alternative  therapy for back pain. One can learn how to win at alternative therapy for pain.

Let’s jump in…

Nearly One-Third of Elderly Use Alternative Therapy for Pain

Almost one-third of elderly people use some form of alternative medical therapy, according to a  1999 national telephone survey released by The Family Practice News [1]

This confirmed the findings of earlier research . In the USA, one study found that the use of alternative medicine had increased from 34% in 1990 to 42% in 1997. [2]

Here’s more…

The most common therapy used by the elderly  was chiropractic, reported by 11% in the mentioned telephone survey. [3] This will be very important later, but first let’s look at the problem of herb-drug interaction.

Let’s talk about Ginkgo and Warfarin

Two herbal supplements in particular, ginkgo biloba and garlic, have demonstrated effects on warfarin

Ginkgo  increases small-vessel and cerebral artery blood flow. It has reputation for enhancing memory and cognition. This is why some older people may want to use it–the same patient population most likely to be taking anticoagulants.

Here’s The kicker:

Ginkgo and garlic, contain naturally occurring anticoagulants (e.g., coumarins) that will increase the anticoagulant effects of drugs like warfarin. [4]

Here’s The Deal:

Warfarin extends the time it takes for blood to clot and inhibits the pathological formation of blood clots within blood vessels by reducing concentrations of factors within the plasma that contribute to clotting.

In plain English this means that Ginkgo combined with warfarin can promote internal bleeding that can lead to a intracerebral hemorrhage.

The Bottom Line is This:

intracerebral hemorrhage occurs when a diseased blood vessel within the brain bursts, allowing blood to leak inside the brain. (The name means within the cerebrum or brain). The sudden increase in pressure within the brain can cause damage to the brain cells surrounding the blood. If the amount of blood increases rapidly, the sudden buildup in pressure can lead to unconsciousness or death [5]

You can read more about here:

Consider the following case:

A 40-year-old woman was admitted to the hospital with an acute subdural hematoma. There was no history of head trauma, falls, alcohol abuse, or bleeding disorders… After questioning, it was discovered that she had been taking 40-mg ginkgo tablets twice daily for the past 2 months to assist while studying. Her family continued to give her these tablets while she was in the hospital, saying that they were “just herbs.” Once ceased, the blood results returned to normal, and the patient was discharged more fully informed about adjunct drug therapies. [6]

Now  we know the danger of mixing herbal therapies with synthetic drugs such as warfarin. Lets get back to the notion that the most common  alternative therapy used by the elderly, according to the mentioned study earlier,  is chiropractic.

In other words we are talking about the spinal manipulations. This makes sense because there is  convincing  evidence that  manipulation and mobilization are likely to reduce pain and improve function for patients with chronic low back pain

This is the problem:

According to Dr. Foster of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston:

“The elderly are more likely than younger patients to be taking medications that interact with herbal therapies and are more likely to have skeletal problems that make spinal manipulations more dangerous”. [7]

This simply means that the alternative therapy  of manipulating your spine to relieve pain could instead have disastrous effects if one does it combing drugs with a herbal remedy like Gingko.

It Gets worse:

About half of adults in the United States use an herbal product, and many do not tell their doctors that they do because they believe their doctors would disapprove.[8]

The result is that the doctor, not seeing the patient get better, may increase the dose of the prescription drugs. And then what happens?

You guessed it. The herb-drug interaction worsens the patient’s condition even more.

Here is The Good News:

A Consumer Reports survey found that only about 5% of physicians are against using herbs; indeed, one in four users of an herbal product does so on advice of a doctor or nurse. [9]

This means the key to understanding  how to win at alternative therapy for pain is to simply  get your doctor  or nurse involved and let them guide you as you switch from pills to an alternative therapy like spinal manipulation.


In general I’m an advocate of people using natural remedies  to manage pain when appropriate. If you have  followed my website you know that I have covered many alternative therapies to managing pain.

That said, I see it as my mission to provide honest answers as to the best ways for people to keep their  loved ones and themselves safe and healthy. This means that while I encourage people to embrace the “back to nature” approach I don’t want them to make the mistake of thinking that “natural “ drugs are always better than synthetic drugs.

Most times they are, but sometimes they are not. And certainly mixing both can be a very bad idea. When in doubt check with your doctor. You would be surprised that they too want you to understand how to win at alternative therapy for pain.

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I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.




Barbara Baker. “Nearly One-Third of Elderly Use Alternative Care.”

Family Practice News. 29.15 (Aug. 1, 1999): p29.





Walsh, Nancy. “Gingko Raises Risk of Warfarin Bleeds.” Internal Medicine News, 1 Oct. 2001, p. 9.



Evans, Vicki. “Herbs and the Brain: Friend or Foe? The Effects of Ginkgo and Garlic on Warfarin Use.” Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, Aug. 2000, p. 229


Barbara Baker. “Nearly One-Third of Elderly Use Alternative Care.”

Family Practice News. 29.15 (Aug. 1, 1999): p29.

8 thoughts on “How to win at Alternative Therapy for Pain

  1. Very important topic, especially that you need to be mindful of taking herbs that may conflict with other medications. If you keep track and also talk to your Pharmacist, they have great information and often know what medications you are on too. They are a great resource and usually promote both synthetic and natural remedies. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hello Tara,
      Many people take prescription medicines in combinations with herbs or vitamins. A problem may arise when they do not report that fact to their physician, nurse, or pharmacist. This post is aimed mostly at making those people aware that they are risking their health by keeping such secrecy. You’re absolutely right. It’s best practice to keep your pharmacist informed as to the herbs you’re taking in combination with the synthetic drugs. Thanks for checking in.


  2. Hello
    It sounds like many people don’t take natural herbal products seriously enough when they also are taking prescription medications, both of these are medication only one is natural and the other is man-made.

    I have learned from my own experience to consult my physician before adding any type of natural herbal product, I have found some man-made medications and herbal remedies do not mix well together.


    1. Hello Jeff,
      I think more people would do themselves a lot of good if they followed your example of consulting with their physician before adding any type of natural herbal product to their synthetic medication. Unfortunately, some seniors hide from their doctors the fact that they are mixing herbs with their medication because they believe their doctor will disapprove. This can end up being a tragic decision. I hope more people, especially the elderly, follow your example of always consulting with their physician before mixing herbs with prescription medications. Thanks for checking in.


  3. Hello Thabo,

    Just like Tara said above, this is such an important topic. It’s great that you share the knowledge about the dangers of taking synthetic medicine and herbs simultaneously.

    My parents take medicine which interferes with herbs and other natural food supplements. I always try to find out options for my parents to stay healthy, but mostly my suggestions are not possible because of their medicine. Let us take turmeric for instance, which is a very healthy spice. They must avoid it because of its blood thinning effect.

    I read about the beneficial effects of coenzyme q10 and checked with the doctor. She said, people, taking blood-thinning medicine must avoid all kind of natural medicine as it has not been done sufficient research on the effects when taking them.

    Well, I believe in many cases the synthetic medicine would not be necessary at all, if only people ate the appropriate food, containing the healthy nutrients that the body needs.

    Thanks for this eyeopening post!

    1. Hello Pernilla,
      A lot of people think that because something is natural that means it’s good for them. However they have to stop and understand how that particular natural therapy works. If for example a herbal treatment works by promoting blood flow, it would be very dangerous when combined with a synthetic drug that is an anticoagulant. The result could be a stroke. I agree with you that in many cases synthetic medicine would not be necessary at all if people ate healthy and got the nutrients that the body needs. I’m so glad you found the post informative.


  4. I have a friend that is always taking herbal remedies along with her prescribed medications. She does not tell her doctors everything she is taking. I counsel her frequently regarding this and sometimes she listens and sometimes she does not. I am glad she does look things up and calls me though.
    Thanks for this excellent article warning of the dangers of mixing alternative and herbal remedies with prescribed medications. I am going to send the link to my friend.

    1. Hello Cynthia,
      You are exactly kind of medical professional that one needs to consult when taking herbal remedies along with prescribed medications. I’m glad that you’re there for your friend so that at least she is made aware of the possible dangers. Thanks for sharing your story because it helps a lot in helping others relate to the message of the post.

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