Tell physician you're taking herb



Q. In December, our world fell apart because my husband was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. I know he's angry and I am his sounding board, but his reaction has been quite hostile and not easy to cope with.

After many tears and sleepless nights, I decided to pull myself together and started taking Saint Johnswort to cope better. It seems to help me, but I am aware that even vitamins and herbs should be treated with caution. What should I know about Saint Johnswort?

A. Saints Johnswort has been studied in Europe for treating mild to moderate depression. There it is considered approximately equivalent to many prescription antidepressants, and in fact is prescribed more frequently than Prozac in Germany.

It would be wise to let your physician know that you are taking this herb. You will also need to be careful to avoid sun exposure while you are taking it. One of the compounds in Saint Johnswort reacts with sunlight and can cause rash, sunburn or even nerve damage in exposed skin.

The most common side effect of this herb is digestive upset. We also suggest you not mix it with other antidepressants or with the cough suppressant dextromethorphan.

Social support is essential in such a situation as yours, so please find someone to talk to.

Q. I am taking Coumadin every day. I've been reading about the medicinal properties of ginger and have found references to its ability to act as a blood thinner. Does this put it in the same category as fresh leafy vegetables? Also, I find that a tea made from thin slices of ginger root soothes a sore throat and is effective as a cough remedy.

A. People taking Coumadin need to be very careful about the foods they eat and any other drugs -- even herbs -- that they take. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, as well as broccoli, brussels sprouts and other members of the cabbage family, are rich in vitamin K and can counteract Coumadin's activity.

For more details, check out the Coumadin Cookbook at 410-749-1989. There is also a Web site:

Ginger is reported to keep blood platelets from clumping together. Theoretically, it could add to Coumadin's effect and make bleeding slightly more likely.

You are right that ginger is a good cough medicine. Tea made from fresh ginger root is one of our favorite home remedies for a cold.

Q. After 30 years of split nails, I was told by a friend to try B complex vitamins ("Balance B"). It has taken six months, but I no longer have split nails!

A.Thanks for the tip. It may not work for everyone, but it seems worth a try.

Write to the Graedons in care of The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278, or e-mail to


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