Are Herbal Supplements Putting Your Health at Risk?

According to a study in the July issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, about half of plastic surgery patients take herbal and other supplements. You would think this is a good thing—but the truth is, when it comes to surgical procedures, certain supplements can actually be dangerous to your health. A number of supplements have been linked to increased risk of bleeding after surgery, including fish oil, flaxseed oil, garlic, vitamin E, Chinese peony, ginger, ginkgo, ginseng, wintergreen oil, saw palmetto, echinacea, ephedra (ma huang), kava, St. John's wort, valerian, feverfew, bilberry, bromelain, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), and selenium.

Scary? Absolutely—especially because so many patients have no idea that the herbal remedies and vitamins they’re taking to improve their health could actually damage it, not to mention the fact that not all doctors even realize it’s something they should ask about when planning for a procedure.

For this study, the researchers analyzed the preoperative medication lists of 200 patients undergoing cosmetic facial surgery (more than 80 percent were women—an accurate reflection of the overall ratio of female to male plastic surgery patients). They found that 49 percent of patients were using at least one type of supplement, and 17.5 percent were taking supplements that have been connected with increased risk of bleeding. This means that, had they not stopped taking those supplements prior to surgery, 35 of those 200 patients would have been in serious danger of bleeding either during surgery or post-operatively.

The good news is that as more studies like this one are released about the prevalence of the use of herbal and other homeopathic supplements—and their possible ill effects—more doctors and patients are becoming aware of the issue.

If you’re taking any vitamins or supplements (herbal or otherwise) and you have an upcoming plastic surgery, be sure to let your doctor know exactly what you’re taking and ask if any of them will put you at risk of bleeding. As long as you discontinue taking them two to three weeks prior to your procedure (and hold off on taking them after surgery until after you’ve healed!), you should be fine—but as usual, the best way to figure out exactly what you should do is consult with your plastic surgeon!