Herbal Products and Your Anesthesia

Information You Will Want to Share

What are Herbal Products?

Medical herbs have been used since the beginning of time. In fact, many of the prescription drugs on the market today are derived from plant products. Herbal products are also known as dietary supplements, alternative therapies, complementary medicine, and homeopathic or holistic healthcare.

Some of the most common include: Echinacea, Feverfew, Garlic, Ginger, Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng, Hoodia, Kava, St. John’s Wort, and Valerian.

Herbal products are available as tablets, liquids, granules, or powders, and are commonly contained in herbal teas. They may be available in their natural state as well. The Dietary Supplemental Health and Education Act of 1994 recognizes “herbal products” as foods or dietary supplements. Therefore, they are not regulated by the FDA. There are few instructions on proper use, dosage requirements, possible side effects, toxicity and possible drug interactions. This makes it difficult to predict the patient’s reaction or to know whether the herbal products are working.

What are the Concerns?

People believe if something is natural, it is safe. That is not necessarily true. While many herbal products offer noticeable health benefits when used correctly, taking herbal products right up until the day of your surgery or diagnostic procedure may have an impact on the success of your anesthetic and procedure. Herbal products may interact with anesthetics. Some of the potential side effects are increased surgical bleeding, heart and blood pressure effects, reactions with sedatives, and changes in the body’s interactions with other medications.

Unlike Western medicine, traditional Chinese herbal remedies often consist of mixtures of herbs, making it difficult to determine the exact amounts of each herb you are taking.

Use of herbal medications is not an absolute contraindication for surgery and anesthesia. It is essential that you tell your anesthesia professional and your surgeon about all the herbal products and other supplements you may be taking. 

Before Having an Anesthetic

  • Stop taking the herbal product at least 1-2 weeks prior to the scheduled procedure/surgery to prevent side effects.
  • Inform your surgeon and anesthesia professional that you are taking an herbal product.
  • When asked about your medication history, disclose ALL over-the-counter drugs, herbal products, dietary supplements, minerals, and teas you are taking.
  • If you are not sure of the contents of the herbal product, then bring it and its container with you for your preoperative anesthesia interview.
  • Make sure that your spouse, a friend, and/or a family member is aware that you take an herbal product. In the event that you need emergency care, he/she will need to share this information with your healthcare providers.
  • Realize that herbal products need to be treated as medicine. Even if the product is natural, it still may be harmful.
  • Possibilities for interactions are endless, and the risks increase with the number of products you are taking. 

Popular Herbal Products and Possible Side Effects or Interactions with Anesthetics

Black Cohosh

  • Blood pressure decrease; may increase bleeding.


  • Immune suppression; liver inflammation.


  • Migraine, insomnia, anxiety and joint stiffness; risk of prolonged bleeding.


  • Blood pressure changes; risk of prolonged bleeding.


  • Sedative effects; risk of bleeding, especially if taken with aspirin and ginkgo.

Ginkgo Biloba 

  • May increase bleeding.


  • Insomnia and irritability; risk of cardiac effects.


  • Changes in blood sugar; possible arrhythmia.


  • Sedative effects; potential liver toxicity; risk of additive effect to medications.

St. John’s Wort

  • Sedation; blood pressure changes; risk of interaction with 
    other medications that prolong effects of anesthesia. 


  • Increased sedative effects.

Using Herbal Products Safely

The dietary and herbal supplement industry is unregulated. Safety and effectiveness are largely unstudied. To use an herbal product as safely as possible:

  • Consult your doctor first.
  • Do not take a bigger dose than the label recommends.
  • Take it under the guidance of a trained professional.
  • Be especially cautious if you are pregnant or nursing.

Recognize that the supplement you take may have various additives that can interact with anesthesia, or may harm you and your baby.


  • Ang-Lee MK, Moss J, Yuan C. Herbal medicine and preoperative care. JAMA. 2001; 208:208-216.
  • Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act of 1994, 103rd Congress, Public Law 103-417, pub#103-417. Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1994.
  • Heyneman CA. Preoperative considerations: which herbal products should be discontinued before surgery? Crit Care Nurse. 2003;23:116-124.
  • Lee A, Chui PT, Aun CS, Lau AS, Gin T. Incidence and risk of adverse perioperative events among surgical patients taking traditional Chinese herbal medicines. Anesthesiology. 2006;105:454-461. Naushad AN. Herbs and Anesthesia. Meo Publications. 2002.
  • Norred CL, Zamudio S, Palmer SK. Use of complementary and alternative medicines by surgical patients. AANA J. 2000;68:13-18.
  • Olson G. When pregnant patients use nutritional and herbal supplements. Contemporary Ob/Gyn. 2001;46:63-81.
  • Wade C. Hormone-modulating herbs: implications for women’s health. Journal of the American Women's Association. 2001;54:181-183.