Pharmacokinetic interactions between herbal remedies and medicinal drugs

Xenobiotica. 2002 Jun;32(6):451-78. doi: 10.1080/00498250210124147.


1. The use of herbal products to treat a wide range of conditions is rising rapidly, leading to increased intake of phytochemicals. Recent studies revealed potentially fatal interactions between herbal remedies and traditional drugs. 2. In transplant patients, self-medication with St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) has led to a drop in plasma levels of the immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine, causing tissue rejection. 3. Intake of St John's wort increases the expression of intestinal P-glycoprotein and the expression of CYP3A4 in the liver and intestine. The combined up-regulation in intestinal P-glycoprotein and hepatic and intestinal CYP3A4 impairs the absorption and stimulates the metabolism of cyclosporine, leading to subtherapeutic plasma levels. The St John's wort component, hyperforin, contributes to the induction of CYP3A4. 4. St John's wort also enhances the metabolism of other CYP3A4 substrates including the protease inhibitors indinavir and nevirapine, oral contraceptives, and tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline. 5. Other herbal remedies with the potential to modulate cytochrome P450 activity and thus participate in interactions with conventional drugs include Milk thistle, Angelica dahurica, ginseng, garlic preparations, Danshen and liquorice. 6. Herbal products are currently not subject to the rigorous testing indispensable for conventional drugs. However, if potential drug interactions are to be predicted, it is essential that the ability of herbal products to interfere with drug-metabolizing enzyme systems is fully established.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / biosynthesis
  • Drug Interactions
  • Herb-Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Pharmacokinetics*
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / adverse effects*
  • Plants, Medicinal / adverse effects*
  • Plants, Medicinal / chemistry
  • Xenobiotics / metabolism


  • Plant Extracts
  • Xenobiotics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System