Many Americans take dietary supplements and prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Sometimes these drugs and supplements may interact in harmful ways. July is Herbal and Prescription Awareness Month, so here are some important reminders about interactions and safety issues when taking supplements and medications.Sometimes supplements may increase the effects and side effects of drugs.
For example, the herb schisandra may slow down the processes in your body that change drugs into inactive substances. The drug’s effect may become too strong, and unwanted side effects may increase.
Sometimes, taking a drug and a supplement together may decrease the drug’s effect. This means that you aren’t getting the full benefit from the drug that your health care provider wants you to have.
One popular herbal supplement is especially well known for decreasing the effects of drugs. It does this by speeding up the processes in your body that change drugs into inactive substances. St. John’s Wort may decrease the effectiveness of more than 70% of all drugs.
Interactions from supplements and drugs can cause harmful side effects. When people think about interactions, they often think of prescription drugs. But drugs that are available without a prescription can interact with supplements too. If you are considering taking both an over-the-counter drug and a dietary supplement, it is a good idea to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible interactions.
Talk to your doctor
It’s important to tell all your health care providers about all dietary supplements and drugs you take. That way, they can help you avoid harmful interactions.
Often, when you visit a health care provider for the first time, you fill out a form that asks you to list all the drugs and supplements you take. Be sure to update this information every time you visit the provider’s office. It is a good idea to bring a written list of all the drugs and supplements you take, how often you take them, and the dose you take. You might also choose to bring in the bottles of products to your health care provider’s office. This way, the labels are available if there are questions or if a product has multiple ingredients.
It is also vitally important to talk with all of your health care providers about the dietary supplements you are taking when you are going to have surgery. Speak with your health care providers as far in advance of the operation as possible and tell them about ALL the vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements you are taking, as well as all medications.
Some supplements may cause problems during surgery because:
- They may affect your response to anesthetics or to other medicines that you may be given before, during, or after the operation.
- They may increase your risk of bleeding.
Some doctors will ask patients to discontinue all herbal supplements several weeks before having elective surgery (surgery that can be scheduled in advance).
If you’re having an emergency operation, you won’t have a chance to stop taking supplements ahead of time. But it’s still important for you or a family member to tell your surgeon and anesthesiologist about all dietary supplements you’re taking, so they can be prepared for any problems that may occur.
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