Ask your doctor: 'Are supplements safe to take with my Rx?'

Supplements

Photo credit: e-Magine Art, Flickr. Used with permission under Creative Commons license.

By pH health care professionals

Many of you can probably recall that questionnaire you received at your doctor’s office inquiring whether you take any dietary supplements.  If you are like most people, you do not include all the supplements or vitamins you take, and might jot down a few easy ones like vitamin C even if you take others.  

With 50% of Americans taking dietary supplements, it is important to understand why you need to accurately recall the supplements you take and report them to your doctor.  

What is a dietary supplement?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a dietary supplement can be a mineral, vitamin, an herb or botanical or amino acid. These supplements can act like prescription drugs and produce therapeutic effects.

What does your dietary supplement have to do with your prescription?

Studies show that 1 in 3 American adults takes both prescription medications and dietary supplements, creating a risk for dangerous interactions.  If you take prescription medications and also take supplements, you should ask your physician if your supplements are safe to be taken with your other medications.

Why would taking dietary supplements not be safe with anything? They’re not drugs; they’re natural.

Dietary supplements can interfere with the absorption, metabolism and excretion of your prescription drugs as well as other supplements.  They can reduce or increase the effect of your prescription drug.

What are some examples where a supplement would react with prescription drugs?

  • Ginseng is a dietary supplement that is used to provide energy.  However, it can increase the bleeding effects of heparin and warfarin sodium (Coumadin) (both prescription drugs used as blood thinners).  You could bleed to death!
  • Zinc is a mineral with many uses, including maintaining sex hormone levels, hair and skin health and preventing the common cold.  However, it can interact medications such as penicillamine (used for Wilson’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis), antibiotics like quinolones (Cipro, Levaquin, etc.) and tetracycline, reducing their absorption. Amiloride (water pill) can increase the level of zinc in the body.  Caffeine, large doses of iron, calcium, bran and phytates all decrease zinc absorption.
  • Garlic is generally used for high blood pressure and to lower cholesterol.  It should be used in caution with blood thinners, aspirin and ibuprofen.  It can also affect the blood level of saquinavir, an anti-viral used in patients with AIDS.
  • St. John’s Wort is used for depression, but it can reduce the blood levels of cholesterol-lowering drugs like lovastatin (Mevacor) and drugs for erectile dysfunction drugs like sildenafil citrate (Viagra).

Why would you hesitate to disclose your supplements with your physician?

Studies have shown that the most common reasons for not disclosing your supplement intake with your physician are:

  • You think your physician will not approve of your use of supplements.
  • You think your physician does not know about supplements.
  • You did not have time to discuss, and you were not asked to complete the information.

Whatever the reason may be, it is important that you list all your supplements with the rest of your medications. Doing so will give your physicians an opportunity to look up the actions of your supplements and determine if they can safely be taken with your prescriptions. Always ask your physician or pharmacist if what you are taking are safe together. 

Come into pH Labs to speak with one of our on-site doctors about which supplements are safe to take with your prescribed medications.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.

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