February 1, 2023
Bad Medicine: Vitamins and Prescription Drugs Can Be a Dangerous Mix
Chances are you’ve spent some time on the vitamin isle at your local grocery store or pharmacy. You’re not alone. Many of us—four out of five Americans according to a Harris Poll—take vitamins. It’s good to give our body an extra boost of healthy nutrients, right? Maybe some vitamin C or D to strengthen the immune system. A dose of vitamin E for glowing skin. Or a multi-vitamin to cover all the basis.
For many of us, taking vitamins is often part of our morning routine. A glass of juice, a cup of joe, and a handful of vitamins. What could possibly be the harm? After all, they’re sold over-the-counter (OTC).
In fact, it’s hard not to be lured into buying some kind of dietary supplement. The industry makes them very hard to resist. Statistics from 2022 reveal there are 29,000 different supplements available to U.S. consumers. Together, we spend more than $30 billion a year on them—about $96.50 per trip to the grocery store, pharmacy or health shop.
But here’s another fact: Supplements aren’t a quick fix for an unhealthy lifestyle. No pill, powder or liquid supplement can undo the harms caused by years of poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking or substance abuse.
Along with being expensive, vitamins and supplements have some potential risks you should know about before taking them.
Promises or Problems?
With bold claims offering to combat dementia, lower high blood pressure, boost libidos, sharpen eyesight, fight cancer and more, it’s easy to understand why so many people peruse the vitamin isle. Still, it’s best to get guidance from your care provider before taking any OTC product. Regular physical exams and bloodwork can identify deficiencies and determine which vitamins and supplements will be beneficial to your body.
Still, of those who say they take vitamins and supplements, only 24% have received test results or a recommendation from their primary care physician. Every person has different nutritional needs. Your age, health, diet, activity level, even where you live, all affect your body’s chemistry.
Blindly taking a particular vitamin or supplement when your body doesn’t need it means it most likely will be flushed from your body through your urine.
For example, if you’re a breastfeeding mother, you’ll need different supplements than an elderly man battling prostate cancer. If you follow a strict vegan diet, you may need to up your vitamin B12 intake. If you walk three miles a day, you may need extra magnesium. If you live somewhere where winters are long, you may need a vitamin D boost.
Most importantly, if you take prescription medications, you need to be careful with vitamins and other supplements to avoid toxic interactions.
Nix a Dangerous Mix
Before you take any vitamin or supplements talk with your doctor. Together, you can review all the prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements you take. This ensures you are using your medications properly and only taking the vitamins or supplements that address a specific need.
Remember, if you take a antibiotics or other prescription medication to treat diabetes, high blood pressure, a sleep disorder or any medical condition, there’s always a chance it won’t mix well with some vitamins and supplements. And when you take several drugs, supplements or a combination of the two, you raise the chance for side effects and adverse reactions—including cognitive impairment.
While herbal supplements made from natural sources may seem harmless, they often have potent ingredients that can trigger dangerous interactions with drugs, other supplements, and even certain foods and drinks.
If you’re pregnant, talk with your obstetrician/gynecologist before taking anything. Certain vitamins and supplements should never be taken during pregnancy. Synthetic or preformed vitamin A is one. It can be dangerous to both mother and baby.
Be Choosey When Choosing Any Supplement
With 1,000 new products added to the market every year and so much money to be made, it’s smart to use a “buyer beware” approach when considering any supplement. Unfortunately, not all products are created equal—or by reputable companies.
Prescription drugs must be safety and efficacy standards set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA. As a result, there are huge differences in the purity and quality of the ingredients, formulas and the form in which they’re sold (powders, capsules and liquids).
Before you buy:
- Look for trusted brands with proper certification, third-party testing and clear labels.
- Research products before you buy.
- Check the reputation and track-record of the company and ratings of customers.
- Speak with your doctor if you are taking medication, pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Choose natural products without artificial ingredients and additives.
It’s also a great way to identify ones that may cause adverse side effects or problem interactions with other prescription medications and vitamins.
Just as important, a good relationship with your primary care doctor is the best way to help prevent and control disease. Together, you can talk about ways to improve your lifestyle, age better, any prescription medications you may or may not need, and what vitamins and supplements might be a good addition to your health routine.
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