Could herbal supplements affect my mother's ability to drive?

1 answer | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mother often buys herbal supplements at the health food store. She believes the manufacturers' extravagant claims and is always eager to try the latest "all-natural" miracle cure. Her nonprescription pill popping has always seemed harmless to me, but recently a friend mentioned that herbal products could affect her driving ability. So far my mother hasn't had any driving problems, but I can't help worrying about her.

Expert Answers

Elizabeth Dugan, a Fellow of the Gerontology Institute, University of Massachusetts Boston, is the author of Driving Dilemma: The Complete Resource Guide for Older Drivers and Their Families.

You're right to be concerned. Many people don't realize that even though herbal supplements can be purchased without a prescription, they can still have serious side effects. Just like other drugs, herbal supplements can affect a person's physical and mental condition -- and that includes her ability to drive safely.

One reason that herbal supplements pose a health risk is that manufacturers aren't required to meet the same safety standards that regulate over-the-counter and prescription medications. As a result, a number of herbal supplements have been found to be dangerous only after they've been on the market for some time.

Herbal supplements can also interact with other medications and cause serious health problems. Seniors may be at particular risk because they commonly take a range of different medications. Also, as people age, it takes longer for their bodies to metabolize drugs and other substances and eliminate them from their bodies.

Encourage your mother to talk to her physician -- and any specialists she sees -- about the supplements she wants to take.