Don’t get me wrong, I am not just blindly wanting you to follow “Big Pharma” down the rabbit hole of taking more drugs and needing drugs to counteract the side effects of those drugs. Actually, I am all for all sorts of different combinations of lifestyles. If you love taking pharmaceuticals, then go take your pharmaceuticals and I’m so happy that they make you feel better! If you love taking supplements, then please go take your supplements and enjoy your life! If you love combining the two, then go do that too and enjoy feeling better! Woot for feeling better and managing our symptoms the best way we know how!!!
Anyway. Now that that is over, here we go. The point of the post 😛
Some people don’t realize that supplements can carry just as many risks as pharmaceuticals can. In fact, I would argue that, because of the state of “common knowledge” they are more dangerous. Why do I say that? Simply because people read an “all natural” label and are willing to pop it into their mouth without learning anything else about it… leading to potentially deadly consequences.
Wait, did I just say deadly?
Yes, yes I did.
Recently, Real Simple magazine (the only “pop culture” magazine that I receive) published a piece about 15 supplement ingredients that have potentially disastrous consequences. What kinds of consequences? How about things like cancer, organ damage, and cardiac arrest. Yes, CARDIAC ARREST! Hence, “deadly consequences.” Here is the link to their article, which is a summary of the report by Consumer Reports. This isn’t just some off the wall report that they dug up out of the ether, it’s a legit and scary thing people.
by Real Simple
Most supplements also aren’t regulated as strictly as pharmaceuticals, so they don’t have to meet dosing and quality restrictions. Always research the brands and what goes into the medications. Look for labels that show you what types of quality control goes into the products. If you’re unsure, go to a grocery store that contains a pharmacy (or a pharmacy that has a vitamin section, etc) and ask an actual licensed pharmacist what vitamin brands they recommend and why. They are not paid by specific pharmaceutical companies, so they will have your best interest in mind, and if you don’t trust their recommendation or feel pressured, ask a different one. Two certification organizations (third party companies that do not make the supplements but test them for purity and quality) that I am aware of are USP and NSF; at least they certify supplements here in the USA. (While looking for images of the USP and NSF symbols for you, I found this blog post on NY Time’s website talking about this very thing. I didn’t read the entire thing in depth, but I skimmed it.)
You also need to be aware of interactions. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it won’t interact with what you are already taking. Actually, a lot of supplements interact with each other, pharmaceuticals, and sometimes even certain foods. I have had people tell me that a certain supplement doesn’t interact with anything only to later look it up (I refuse to take anything new without looking it up because I take so much and my system is so sensitive) and have it interact with at least one of my medications. Sometimes, the actual active portion of the supplement may not be the part the interacts, but the delivery mechanism might (like a capsule coating) or a secondary ingredient. You need to read all of the ingredients and ALWAYS look up the correct supplement or at least every portion of the medication. My favorite interaction checkers allow me to enter a list of medications and will cross check the entire list (drugs.com is one of my all time favorites, but it doesn’t always have supplements).
An example of a supplement reaction that I mentioned earlier is peppermint oil: I was talking about my digestive issues and someone recommended that I take peppermint oil orally in an enteric capsule. They didn’t believe it interacted with other medications. We had a wonderful exchange and they were very helpful. 🙂 Now, as I said, I research everything. I hate my IBS with a passion, so I definitely want to try this at some point, so I went to look at the interactions, hoping that it wouldn’t interact with anything. I googled “peppermint oil interactions” and ended up on RxList’s interaction checker (never used it before, but I liked it). The results were unfortunate. The peppermint oil itself does interact with “medications changed by the liver,” the checker gives a drug type and then examples such a Zofran and ibuprofen, making them break down or change slower than normal. The enteric coating interacts with H2-blockers, such as ranitidine (Zantac), which can dissolve the coating far too quickly and cause heartburn and nausea. Sadly, I have to take Zofran and ibuprofen regularly to cope with chronic pain and crippling nausea, meaning that ingesting peppermint oil is a no go. Bummer 😥 But it’s a good thing I checked, or else I suddenly wouldn’t have had any idea as to why my Zofran was less effective and why my nausea was possibly getting worse.
You can research interactions on interaction checkers online, like I did, or you can ask your pharmacist. Also, be sure and let your doctor know everything you are taking! Interactions can occur in the weirdest of places and you never want to be surprised by them!!!
Remember, knowledge is our most important tool! Never just take something because it’s “all natural” or because “it works for me!” Everyone is different, and everyone has a completely different set of problems and body chemistry. I am always open to suggestions, but my answer will always be the same: “Sounds great, I’ll look into it!” I don’t take anything, pharmaceutical or supplement, without researching it or discussing it with my doctor/pharmacist first!
Be safe out there!