From vitamins to herbs, dietary supplements have become increasingly popular
in recent years, particularly among Americans age 60 and older. In fact,
according to a recent study published in the
Journal of Nutrition,70 percent of older adults take at least one supplement daily, and 29 percent
take four or more each day.
What's the big deal, you might be thinking? After all, supplements
are made of natural ingredients, so they must be safe–right? Not
necessarily. Not only can supplements have potentially harmful effects,
but when taken in conjunction with prescription medications the ensuing
interactions can prove very dangerous.
Considering that those 65 to 69 years old take some 14 prescriptions annually,
and individuals ages 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per
year, supplement safety is a serious issue.
July is Herbal/Prescription Interaction Awareness Month, and ATRIO Health Plans is supporting this educational effort by increasing
awareness–especially among seniors–that supplements should
not be taken without first consulting with a healthcare provider who can
determine if any supplements pose a danger when taken with your prescription
While the following list is by no means comprehensive, it provides a sobering
sampling of the potentially serious problems that can occur when mixing
supplements with prescription medications:
Coenzyme Q-10 and ginseng–Can decrease the effectiveness of warfarin.
Danshen (also known as red sage)–Significantly increases bleeding risk for those taking a blood thinner.
If you're taking a calcium channel blocker, danshen raises the risk
of dangerously low blood pressure.
Chamomile, cranberry, evening primrose, garlic, ginger, gingko biloba,
ginseng, green tea, and saw palmetto–All may increase bleeding risk for those on blood thinners or an aspirin regimen.
St. John's wort–Reduces the effectiveness of calcium channel blockers, blood thinners,
and statins; also, should not be taken with antidepressants.
Echinacea–Has been known to negatively interact with some chemotherapy agents.
Fish oil–May cause problematic interactions with birth control pills, blood thinners,
hypertension medication, and Xenical (treats obesity).
Central to preventing potentially dangerous drug-supplement interactions
is keeping an up-to-date record of all prescription and over-the-counter
medications you consume, as well as of all vitamins and/or herbal supplements you take.
It's also essential to share this information with your healthcare
professional. If he or she okays your supplements and prescriptions, be
sure to follow dosing instructions carefully. Also, be watchful for any
unusual signs or symptoms that you could be experiencing a potentially
dangerous drug interaction, such as rapid heartbeat and/or changes in