Always, Always, Always Consult with a Physician Before Trying New Supplements
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on February 11, 2019 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in General Wellbeing
Nowadays, vitamin and mineral supplements are everywhere. Bottles line the shelves at the supermarket, online blogs promote the latest formulas and health advocates push them as a crucial part of a well-rounded health and fitness routine.
While it can be tempting to just do a little research on your own and run out to grab supplements you think you need, doing so without consulting a professional first can be dangerous. Although most supplements are over-the-counter and considered “safe,” it’s not correct to assume they can’t hurt you.
All of this is not to say that supplements are bad. In many cases, they can help transform people’s health. However, it’s extremely important that you are buying supplements after you become well-informed through research and conversations with your primary care physician.
Common misconceptions about supplements
One of the biggest dangers surrounding supplements is ignorance about their effects, proper dosages and drug interactions. There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding supplements that can be downright dangerous. It’s important to clear up these misunderstandings and promote the proper and safe use of supplements.
Misconception: Supplements cannot interfere with medication.
Many people mistakenly believe that because many supplements are natural or because they contain compounds found in the body, they won’t interact with medications. However, many vitamins and nonvitamin supplements have been known to interfere with both prescription and over-the-counter medications, potentially causing harmful side effects.
They can also potentially reduce the effects of your medication, which can be extremely dangerous if your medication is necessary for your health or wellbeing. Just a few of the common supplements that can potentially interfere with medication include St. John’s wart, vitamin D, vitamin E, garlic and fish oil.
Misconception: You can’t overdose on supplements.
There is truth to the idea that you can have too much of a good thing, and supplements are included in this. While you might think it’s impossible to overdose on something that occurs naturally in our bodies (or in nature), taking more than the recommended dose for some supplements can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as much more severe health issues over time. Some of the most common vitamin supplements that can build up to toxic levels include vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E and iron.
Misconception: Supplements are regulated like other medications.
A lot of people think that, since supplements act like medication, they are as closely regulated as medication is. However, this is not the case. In many markets, nutritional supplements are not regulated much at all and don’t require extensive testing and research to be sold. This allows low-quality supplement companies to put false claims on their packaging to mislead customers. You should always be sure you are buying your supplements from a reputable brand that provides proof of its own research and testing.
Misconception: Everyone should take supplements.
The health market can sometimes make it seem like people who don’t take supplements are unhealthy, but that’s not always the case. Many times, people take supplements erroneously and don’t truly need them.
Multivitamins and nutritional supplements, in particular, are not always necessary if you are eating a well-balanced diet. Ideally, you will get all your vitamins and minerals from your meals each day.
However, you may actually need supplements if you have dietary restrictions, if you are experiencing a known deficiency or if you have another health condition that could be alleviated through supplement use.
The importance of consulting a professional
All of the above-mentioned misconceptions can easily be cleared up by speaking with your doctor about vitamins and supplements. Even if you’re hoping to avoid prescription medication and take an all-natural approach to your health, you should still visit a physician before taking any kind of supplement.
Having studied medicines, vitamins and chemicals extensively, your doctor will have the breadth of expertise necessary to know which supplements and medications cannot be taken together, which supplements can harm you if taken in excess and which are truly necessary for your health. By discussing supplements with your doctor, you can mitigate unnecessary health problems caused by bad interactions or overdoses.
Doctors also usually know which supplement brands are most reputable and can recommend one or two to you. Using physician-approved supplements helps ensure that you’re taking supplements made with quality ingredients that will actually do what they are supposed to do.
Most importantly, your doctor will be able to explain the reason you should be taking the supplements. When you have this knowledge, you will be able to make much more informed and safe choices about your health in the future.
You don’t need to be afraid to take supplements, nor should you avoid them entirely. However, you should always turn to a licensed professional for advice before buying and taking supplements to protect your body.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan