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Child Psychiatrist /Adult Psychiatrist

Are Alternative Remedies Safe?

Updated: Sep 8, 2023


"Dietary supplements", aka herbal remedies are not stringently regulated as medicines. Despite the regulation by the FDA, various medications have strong side effect profile so it is always important to advocate for yourself when seeing a physician (such as primary care or psychiatrist) about how your body is reacting to the medication, as various mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic medications have horrible side effects.

green powder in wooden spoon

It was very surprising that the FDA approved Abilify and Risperdal for the treatment of irritability for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Both of these medications having side effects such as weight gain, blunting the dopamine receptor (the happy neurotransmittor) - one potential cause of overeating as you receive dopamine responses with food. Risperdal was originally developed to treat patients with schizophrenia, which is odd how it would reduce the irritability of patients with ASD.


Personally, I think there are many agents that can help control the symptoms of irritability if you understand the root cause of where it is coming from. Sorry that was a tangent, as I tend to be very cautious about use of mood stabilizers/anti-psychotics, as it seems that everyone is on it these days. I have added a link below so you can read and identify that you are not having severe or moderate side effects to your medications, as I could imagine it would be a frustrating experience. You are trying to get rid of one problem, while adding on one or more.


Regardless, consumers are left in an unregulated industry, unprotected by watchdogs like the FDA there is very hard to predict which manufacturer, products, and forms would we good for our consumption. Also, there is a lot of misinformation and erroneous information on the internet so it is important to know the source of information. It is always important to use these supplements under the guidance of a clinician, as sometimes herbal remedies are not potent enough for the underlying condition or may need to be augment with a medication and/or therapy.


a person looking through a magnifying glass

Self-diagnosis is always frowned upon as we innately have our own biases and lack objectivity. Also, it is important to understand and recognize that there is no such thing as a "fully safe treatment", even herbal remedies. It is important to recognize that the source of herb is just as important, as there are many ways of mass producing products that are not high grade with fillers/preventatives/contaminants. A majority of the content that I use is from Herbs of the Mind, which I feel is a well written book that helps a person understand and integrate mental health from a holistic model, is from two experienced psychiatrist from Duke University Medical Center, Johnathan Davidson, MD and Kathryn Connor, MD.


There is various studies that reflect simple herbs, which should be taken under the care of a physician, such as St. John's Wort (which can induce mania in patients) or 5-HTP can reduce symptoms of depression, Kava can alleviate stress and anxiety, valerian root can help with sleep issues, or ginkgo can help slow the rate of declining memory. Now, each response in on a case by case basis, again as mentioned is not full safe, therefore I would not recommend purchase these products without a physician's supervision.

close up of purple and white flowers

Did you know that Gingko Biloba can reverse the sexual side effects of SSRIs? St. John's Wort can long been used to help reduce the symptoms of depression (with caution based on concerns of inducing mania). Kava bars exist around the world, particularly in the Polynesia, but more recently into the US. The advantage of kava is can potential improve cognitive acuity unlike other anxiolytics that have a dulling effect. Valerian root is an alternative for people suffering with insomnia or mild anxiety (particular at night), compared to sleep aid (which cause sedation, which typically disrupt REM sleep). Most of data for herbal remedies comes from Europe, however there is limited long term data present in the US, as it is not typically studied as it is seen a non-lucrative, that is open to a lot of competition as it is hard to patient natural remedies, as they are hundreds, if not thousands of years old. One herb Ashwaganda has been used for thousands of years in India for anxiety, with minimal side effects.


Source: Herbs of the Mind



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