By Lisa N. Schatz, Pharm.D., Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist
This article is not intended as medical advice but only as informational and educational.
Natural Supplements and Medications each have a role in helping you get healthier. There are many pathways to health, with Traditional Medicine as the foundation. When it comes to natural supplements, it pays to be an informed and educated consumer. Here are the top 4 concerns that consumers have when combining medications and natural supplements:
1. Are the supplements safe to take with my medications? It depends. Some are safe, some are not. You are the master of your health. By understand your condition, and what you expect to get out of a supplement will help you to have an intelligent conversation with your medical practitioner. You must be honest with your medical practitioner and list every supplement you take. Stop worrying about any judgement—you are not responsible for what they think. You are the master of your body, and if you feel better taking a supplement, then share your information with your medical practitioner. They may also learn from your experience.
2. Can the supplements interact with my medications? Interactions and especially drug interactions are tricky to predict. Everyone’s biochemistry is slightly different. There are some general rules that pharmacists use to predict drug interactions and there are documented cases of supplement to medication interactions causing harm. When you begin to toss ingredients into the biological soup known as our bodies, sometimes unpredictable results can happen. Interactions are of four types: 1. can cause drugs to stop working, 2. can cause the drug to work too well through its usual mechanism (increasing toxicity), 3. can increase the amount of drug in the blood by blocking the pathway to elimination (increasing toxicity), and 4. can impact the amount of drug that can get absorbed into the body –both increasing or decreasing absorption. Be sure to ask a pharmacist about your supplements when you are prescribed a new medication. Investigate a new supplement before combining it with your medications.
3. How can I tell if the supplement is of good quality? Supplements are regulated by the FDA in a different way than food and medication, through the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994. FDA regulation controls dietary ingredients and the finished products. There are a lot of supplements in the marketplace, all with varying levels of quality. Generally, supplements that are professional grade are of a higher quality than store brands, however if the supplement is manufactured to the industry guidelines known as Good Manufacturing Practices, then the supplement should be of good quality regardless of store brand or professional brand.
4. What about supplements with multiple ingredients? Be wary of supplements that have multiple ingredients but the amount of each ingredient is not enough to produce any benefit. You would get more benefit from eating a plethora of fruits and vegetables from the rainbow than spending your money on many multi-ingredient supplement. Being knowledgeable about the recommended daily allowance (RDA) as a starting point can help you decide whether to spend your money.
In general, it is important to understand what the intended benefits of the supplement are before combining them with medications. If you are unsure, ask your health care practitioner for advice. Keep asking or searching for a qualified credentialed health care practitioner who can answer your questions. It is possible to safely combine medications with natural supplements, however it is imperative that the consumer be informed and well advised before doing so.