Herbs to Stay Away From on Zoloft

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Two St. John's Wort plants.
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Dietary supplements and herbs provide alternative treatments to several disorders, and can complement conventional medical techniques. However, the active ingredients in some herbs can interact with specific pharmaceuticals, increasing or decreasing the drugs' efficacy and potentially leading to side effects. If you take Zoloft, also called sertraline, a medication prescribed for depression and other neurological disorders, you should stay away from certain herbs to avoid harmful herb-drug interactions.

Function of Zoloft

Zoloft belongs to a family of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. It helps treat disorders associated with a decrease in serotonin signalling. For example, since serotonin plays an important role in emotional regulation and helps improve your mood, SSRIs such as Zoloft can help treat some forms of depression. Since many compounds -- including vitamins and other compounds found in dietary supplements -- also affect the levels of serotonin in your brain, combining Zoloft with some herbs can prove harmful.

Herbs that Increase Serotonin

One herb that boosts your serotonin levels is St. John's wort. The herb might function similarly to SSRI drugs, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, and the herb seems to prove as effective in treating depression as many SSRI anti-depressants. Ginkgo biloba might also help treat depression in some cases -- taking the herb helps reduce depression in Alzheimer patients, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Taking St. John's wort or ginkgo biloba along with Zoloft might raise the levels of serotonin in your brain to a dangerous level, causing serotonin syndrome.

Effects of Serotonin Syndrome

Serotonin signalling resulting from interactions between Zoloft and herbal supplements causes a number of symptoms and can even prove fatal. As the amount of serotonin in the brain increases to dangerous levels, you might feel disoriented or irritable, suffer from muscle twitches or rigidity, feel abnormally warm, and begin to sweat profusely. Left untreated, serotonin syndrome can lead to a coma and eventually cause nervous system damage.

Considerations

Never take supplements in combination with Zoloft without approval from your doctor. In addition to dangerous herb interactions, other dietary supplements might also increase the risk of serotonin syndrome if taken in combination with Zoloft. For example, both 5-HT and L-tryptophan serve as precursors for serotonin and increase serotonin levels, and therefore might prove harmful to take with SSRI medications. Notify your doctor if you take any herbs or supplements before taking Zoloft, and seek medical attention if you develop side effects after consuming dietary supplements with Zoloft.

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