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Vitamins and supplements: Why bother telling your doctor?

August 01, 2017

To take better care of yourself, you eat healthy foods, exercise, and see your doctor regularly. You also may take vitamins or supplements to boost your immune system or get essential nutrients. But how can you know what kinds of vitamins or supplements to avoid and what is actually good for you?

Not all doctors agree about the benefits of vitamins and supplements, but there’s one thing they can all agree on: If you are taking any kind of vitamin or supplement, you need to tell your primary care doctor as well as any other doctors involved in your care.

More than half of all American adults take some kind of vitamin, but most don’t think they need to tell their doctor. All vitamins, minerals, supplements and detox regimens are medically important.

“Unfortunately, just like with prescription medications, the wrong combinations of vitamins can mean more harm than help: Some pre-existing health conditions don’t mix well with certain supplements, and some vitamins can counteract or react with prescription medications such as birth control, blood thinners, heart medication and even antibiotics,” says Kali Hollingsworth, DO, a family and sports medicine physician with Kettering Physician Network’s Primary Care — Greystone in Sugarcreek Twp. “Taking the wrong doses of vitamins, combining vitamins, or mixing supplements and alcohol could have negative effects on your health.”

Common supplements that can interact with medications include St. John’s wart, feverfew, vitamin E, garlic, Co Q10, fish oil, and vitamin D.

Millions of Americans are also taking probiotics for digestive health. There’s evidence that some probiotics may help prevent diarrhea caused by infections or antibiotics. Some may also ease the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance. But the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t approved any health claims for probiotics.

“It’s always best to talk with your doctor before you start taking a supplement, especially if you already take medications, have health concerns or are pregnant,” advises Dr. Hollingsworth.

People who take more than one medication or supplement are at high risk for a potentially negative interaction, some of which can take weeks to develop.

When possible, foods, not supplements, are the best sources of nutrients. That’s because produce is packed with other naturally occurring substances that are good for you, too.

If you’re a caregiver who manages medications for a family member or loved one, be sure to keep a list of every medication your loved one takes. This includes prescription and nonprescription drugs, as well as nutritional supplements and vitamins. Give a copy to each health care provider that your family member or loved one sees.

Be sure to have a doctor or pharmacist review that list at least once a year and look for possible drug interactions.