While many vitamins, minerals, and herbs are known to safely prevent or treat a variety of diseases, they work by altering your body chemistry—just like a medicine from your pharmacy. So before you take a supplement, it's important to learn about possible side effects and especially how it might interact with medications you are already taking.
Some interactions should be avoided but they can also be positive. Sometimes an interaction can mean that a medicine is depleting vital nutrients from your body and that an extra vitamin supplement may protect your health—but it's always a good idea to check. It’s also important to never discontinue or change dosage of a medication in favor of a natural treatment unless supervised by a doctor.
To find out about the potential benefits and risks of taking a supplement start by doing your research. It’s always wise to talk to a knowledgeable healthcare professional before taking any supplement, especially if you are already treating a medical condition. Also, special safety considerations apply to pregnant or breast-feeding women, children, and seniors.
To learn what scientific research has found about your medication’s interactions with herbs or supplements, look in Healthnotes Rx Answers. For reported side effects of a specific herb or nutritional supplement, look it up in Vitamins & Herbs.
In scientific process, scientists never consider one single study to be the last word; rather, each new study is added to previous research and becomes part of the medical community’s discussion.
When the news media report on new studies, they tend to look for the sensational. Though hundreds of studies are published every year showing the benefits of herbs and nutrients for a wide range of diseases, studies that make the news are frequently those that claim a supplement is dangerous or doesn’t work. On the other hand, some research is conducted by groups that stand to profit from positive results, such as a supplement manufacturer “proving” that their supplement (particularly proprietary mixtures) works for a particular health condition.
The next time you see a headline splashed across the news—especially about those supplements that continue to be the subject of heated debate, such as St. John’s wort, echinacea, vitamin E, vitamin C, and ginkgo—keep some perspective by thinking about the following:
Caution: You should never discontinue or change the dosage of a medication and/or begin a different treatment without a doctor's supervision.
When you consider treatment options, discuss the following with your healthcare provider when considering what to try:
Asking such questions will help you interpret the significance of scientific findings. To find answers, talk to a knowledgeable professional, and use a science-based resource that provides an evaluation of up-to-date research. Being informed is the best way to make good decisions for your health.