Herbals and Chemo – on Grey’s Anatomy

I’m a BIG fan of Grey’s Anatomy (not exactly a select group of fans – just a few bazillion of us!).

Thursday’s episode included a story about a woman who was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. They took a sample of her blood, then when she began having problems, whisked her off to surgery. During surgery, those in the room began passing out. Turns out her blood had become toxic from taking herbal supplements which, when combined with the chemicals from the chemo treatment created a deadly combination — for her, and anyone else in the room.

As someone who advises patients on practical issues, I have long touted the need for making sure all your doctors know everything you take. Patients tell me they are afraid of telling their doctors they take herbal supplements or natural remedies, even vitamins or aspirin anything else available without a prescription. That can be so dangerous to our health!! And as I’ve said before — your doctor isn’t there to judge you. S/he is there to assess everything and make his/her best recommendations to you, taking it all into account.

So back to Grey’s Anatomy — is it possible that an herbal supplement would become toxic when mixed with chemo drugs? I checked in on the American Cancer Society’s website and learned this: there are supplements that can interfere with chemo, and there are some that can actually help it. Link to the article I found. I didn’t find anything that could become toxic — but….

The problem is, of course, there isn’t much research out there on supplements — because — who will pay for that research? Unfortunately, research isn’t usually done unless someone (read: pharma companies) can make some money from it eventually by selling whatever they develop. If it’s a natural supplement, it can be grown by anyone — and big pharma can’t make money from it. Therefore….? We just don’t know.

Bottom line – be smart about herbal supplements and natural remedies. Discuss them with your medical care providers and make sure they will be helpful — not harmful.

And if your provider won’t discuss them with you? Find one who will.

So now, shall we discuss how Callie and George eloped in Vegas? 🙂

Trisha Torrey
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