Crack open just about any medicine cabinet and there they are, staring you in the face: medications. The shelves before you are lined with lined with sleep aids, pain relievers, cold remedies, fish oil, multivitamins, and the list goes on and on and on. It’s a packed house in there, full of prescription medications plus over-the-counter products and dietary supplements.
The visual seems harmless, right? It is, so long as you understand how to safely combine these treatments, that is.
Some of these pills can do more harm than good, if they are not taken properly. That’s why knowing how your various meds can potentially interact with one another can be critical to your health and safety. That’s also why you need to always keep your health care providers informed of all treatments—whether they are prescriptions, over-the-counter products or supplements. If you don’t, you can’t know how each will react with the other in your system.
Did you know?
Yup, that means your ophthalmologist needs to be informed that you’re taking 2500 mg of biotin to help thicken your lovely mane. And that daily calcium pill may seem insignificant to you, but if your doctor knows it is part of your regimen, she can make sure you’re taking it properly and getting its maximum benefit. For example, calcium and magnesium can compete for absorption with one another in doses higher than 250 mg, and that means it’s important to take each mineral at a different time or split the doses into smaller amounts.
Take another example. Some over-the-counter treatments, such as allergy or cold medicines, are notorious for causing or worsening high blood pressure. So for someone on a high blood pressure medication, frequent use of a decongestant can dangerously impact their condition.
Did you know that some supplements, such as fish oil and vitamin E at high doses, can thin your blood and should be stopped before surgery? Your doctor does. And if you’ve been open about your medicine regimen, then you’ll know, too.
For those who take thyroid medication, you don’t want to take it at the same time as (or within 4 hours of) supplements that contain calcium or iron, which can interfere with the absorption of the thyroid hormone. It may seem like a lot to consider, but it’s worth knowing these nuances to your regimen.
Finally, while dietary supplements can be great for your health, it’s important to take the right amount – not too much, not too little. In some cases, taking certain supplements at improper doses can cause physical symptoms that mimic medical conditions. For example, many people take iodine supplements due to a deficiency of this important mineral. But if you take too much iodine, it can cause symptoms such as palpitations and anxiety as well as thyroid problems that could be mistaken for Grave’s disease.
So remember: that initial form you fill out listing all the drugs and supplements you take is not enough to keep your doctor informed. A safer bet is to bring along a list of every health and wellness product you take, remembering to include when you take these treatments and the specific doses. And for your own protection, don’t forget to update this information during every visit to every doctor.
There’s no doubt about it: medications and nutritional supplements all have a place in helping you feel your best. Your job is to always be smart about what you take and when you take it.
YOUR MEDICATION MIX CHECKLIST
- Put pen to paper, write down all the prescription, over-the-counter and dietary supplements you take, include doses and time of day you take each product
- Share the list with all of your health care providers
- Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice regarding when to take each treatment to ensure you are taking products safely and maximizing their benefits
Doctors Romy Block and Arielle Levitan created Vous Vitamin® to provide people everywhere with quality vitamins suited to their individual needs. They are the authors of the award-winning book The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health.