Recently I was looking online for some information that family member needed about whether it was safe to take melatonin when you were on an antidepressant. I was pretty sure that they should not be taken at the same time. I groaned when I saw the answer that someone had posted to this particular question on a message board. The answer was, "Melatonin is herbal, so it's safe to take it with anything."
Herbs are considered safe by many people, under any circumstances, because they're natural. But natural doesn't automatically equal harmless. Almost anything natural can be toxic if not used appropriately. Sunlight is natural, but too much of it can give you a sunburn, or skin cancer. When I was a few weeks away from my wedding, I thought that I'd make sure I didn't come down with a cold, so I took high doses of Vitamin C every day. I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that I spent a lot of time in the bathroom before I wised up and settled for taking a multivitamin instead.
A lot of people consider treating their depression with herbs or supplements, perhaps because of concern about antidepressant side effects, financial reasons or other considerations. Taking the herbal route to treat depression is a viable option, especially if you have mild to moderate depression, but there are several caveats.
First, you should always do so under the care of a doctor. A salesperson in an herbal store, an online community or even a book can't take the place of a doctor going over your medical record to make sure you're steering clear of interactions with other medication or natural substances. At the same time, do your own homework. Read one of the books listed below or research on reputable online sites.
Contrary to popular belief, natural treatments are not without side effects. Among the side effects that have been associated with St. John's wort are nausea, fatigue, dizziness, dry mouth, skin rashes and sensitivity to sunlight.
Some natural treatments can actually contraindicate with other prescription medications or even over the counter medicines. In other words, bad things can happen when you mix them. Going back to the analogy of sunlight as a natural but potentially dangerous substance, what happens when you combine sunbathing and slathering baby oil on your skin? You have the potential for a serious sunburn. And by the way, melatonin should not be taken while you are on an antidepressant.
Remember that herbs and supplements are not regulated by the FDA. They are not subject to the same quality control scrutiny as prescription and over the counter medication. I was taking regular doses of L-tryptophan, a dietary supplement, for my depression (I thought it was PMS) in 1990 when impurities were found in a batch that led to several cases of a rare blood disease. I stopped taking it immediately, and felt lucky that I had dodged that bullet.
Published On: May 16, 2011