Do you take a prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medicine while also regularly taking a vitamin, mineral, herb, or other type of dietary supplement? If your answer is “yes” – you are not alone.
In fact, nearly 70% of Americans take at least one prescription medicine and 90% regularly use OTC medicines, while 57.6% of adults aged 20 and over take a dietary supplement each month. Many people may believe that taking a supplement will not interfere with prescription or OTC medicines, but it is possible that some combinations will not work well together.
Supplements containing certain ingredients can keep a medicine from working properly in the body. They can change how a medicine acts, or the way your body absorbs, uses, or gets rid of it – meaning you can end up getting too much or too little of a medicine that you need. Additionally, combining supplements that contain certain ingredients and medicines can have dangerous and even life-threatening effects.
Taking certain types of prescription medicines can also lead to deficiencies in specific nutrients. This is because in some cases a medicine may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb a nutrient from food or your body’s natural processes that are needed to produce nutrients.
For these reasons, it is important to always speak with your doctor or other healthcare professional about what supplements and medicines you are taking – whether OTC or prescription.
Let’s look at some of the most common medicine and supplement interactions you should know about.
How to Safely Manage Medication and Supplement Interactions
First and foremost, if you are currently prescribed a prescription medication or taking an OTC medicine, it is important to speak with your doctor or other healthcare professional about the dietary supplements you currently take or are considering using.
Here are a few other tips to help prevent potential medication and supplement interactions:
- Always check the Supplement Facts label for any specific descriptions or warnings on use of the product.
- Keep an updated list of medications and supplements that you take and share with your healthcare professional anytime you start or stop a medication.
- Use a reliable online drug interaction tool, like this one, to become more aware of potential interactions. Take this information with you to your healthcare professional.
- Do not take a medication prescribed for someone else.
Common Over-the-Counter Medicine-Dietary Supplement Interactions
In general, while using any type of OTC medicine, it is best to not take:
- Herbal stimulants or adaptogens – such as those containing ginseng, kava, and arnica – because they may affect a person’s blood pressure that could change how their body reacts to the use of OTC medicines.
- Supplements that are marketed to support mood states – such as those containing 5-Hydoxytryptophan (5-HTP), St. John’s Wort, and B vitamins – because they can limit the effectiveness of OTC medicines in the body.
There are also supplements that can interact with specific types of OTC medicines, for example:
Common Prescription Medication-Dietary Supplement Interactions
Here are four commonly-used types of prescription medications where the use of supplements should be discussed and managed appropriately by a doctor or other healthcare professional.
Statins are a group of prescription medications that can help to lower a person’s cholesterol.
When taking a statin medication, you should not take supplements that contain the following:
- Red yeast rice – marketed to help support healthy cholesterol levels. Taking a supplement containing red yeast rice while prescribed a statin medication could result in statin toxicity and cause muscle damage, muscle pain, and liver dysfunction.
- Black cohosh – marketed to help support healthy estrogen metabolism and manage the symptoms associated with menopause. Taking a supplement containing black cohosh while prescribed a statin medication could increase the likelihood of suffering from liver disease.
When taking a statin medication, speak with your doctor about whether you should take supplements that contain the following:
- CoQ10 – levels of this antioxidant that your body produces naturally can be reduced through the use of statin medications. CoQ10 can benefit people experiencing muscle damage caused by the use of statin medications, as well as promote overall heart health.
- Omega-3 fatty acids – a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are important for a number of functions in the body and can support a person’s cardiovascular health.
Beta blockers, also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents, are a group of prescription medications that can help lower a person’s blood pressure.
When taking a beta blocker medication, you should not take supplements that contain the following:
- Ginseng – marketed for a variety of reasons including to improve physical stamina and concentration, stimulate immune function, and support healthy respiratory and cardiovascular function. Taking a supplement containing ginseng while prescribed a beta blocker could affect how well your body absorbs the medication.
- Kava – marketed to help sustain a sense of calm and relaxation and support a healthy response to stress. Taking a supplement containing kava, which can trigger a relaxed response in your body, while prescribed a beta blocker, could interfere with how the body reacts to the medication.
When taking a beta blocker medication, speak with your doctor about whether you should take supplements that contain the following:
- CoQ10 – an antioxidant that your body produces naturally is important for a number of functions in the body. Levels of this nutrient can be low in people with certain diseases or those using cardiovascular medications, such as beta blockers.
- Melatonin – a hormone that your brain produces in response to darkness that helps with sleep. Many medications, including beta blockers, can result in lower levels of melatonin created in the body and can result in poor sleep.
Antidepressants are a group of prescription medications that are used to manage mood states and depression.
When taking an antidepressant medication, you should not take supplements that contain the following:
- 5-HTP – marketed to support emotional well-being and help maintain a balanced mood. Taking a supplement containing 5-HTP while prescribed an antidepressant medication can increase your body’s serotonin levels too much and cause serious side effects, including heart problems, shivering, and anxiety.
- S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine (SAMe) – marketed to help maintain a balanced mood and alleviate mild symptoms of joint discomfort. Taking a supplement containing SAMe while prescribed an antidepressant medication could cause high levels of serotonin to build up in your body.
- St. John’s Wort – marketed to promote a positive mood. Taking a supplement containing St. John’s Wort can weaken the effects of many medications, including antidepressants, as well as lead to increased serotonin-related side effects.
- Valerian – marketed to promote a healthy response to stress and a natural transition to sleep. Taking a supplement containing Valerian while prescribed an antidepressant can increase the sedative effect of the medication.
When taking an antidepressant medication, speak with your doctor about whether you should take supplements that contain the following:
- B Vitamins – a set of vitamins that help the process your body uses to get or make energy from the food you eat. Vitamins in this family have been found to enhance and sustain antidepressant response.
- Folic Acid – a B vitamin that helps the body make healthy new cells. Those with depression often have a folate deficiency, which correlates with severity of depression and poor response to treatment.
Bronchodilators are a type of prescription medication that relieve asthma symptoms by relaxing the muscle bands that can tighten around the airways, and clear mucus from the lungs.
When taking a bronchodilator medication, you should not take supplements containing the following:
- Caffeine or caffeine-like ingredients (such as guarana, yohimbine, and kava) – marketed to boost performance and energy. Taking a supplement containing caffeine or a caffeine-like ingredient while prescribed a bronchodilator can impact the effectiveness of this type of medication.
- Adaptogens (such as Rhodiola, ginseng, Eleuthro, and schisandra) – marketed to promote energy and stamina. Taking a supplement containing an adaptogen while prescribed a bronchodilator medication can have a stimulating effect which can impact the effectiveness of this type of medication.
When taking a bronchodilator medication, speak with your doctor about whether you should take supplements that contain the following:
- Magnesium – a nutrient that is important for many processes in the body, including regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure.
- Calcium – a mineral needed to maintain strong bones and to carry out many important functions. Taking a bronchodilator medication may deplete or lower the amount of available calcium in the body.
Antibiotics are prescription medications that fight bacterial infections by killing the bacteria or by making it hard for the bacteria to grow and multiply in the body.
When taking an antibiotic medication, speak with your doctor about whether you should take supplements that contain the following nutrients as antibiotics can reduce some vitamins and mineral levels:
- B Vitamins – a set of vitamins that help your body process food into energy.
- Vitamin K – a nutrient that is important for blood clotting, healthy bones, and other functions in the body.
- Calcium – a mineral needed to maintain strong bones and to carry out many important functions.
- Probiotics – live microorganisms that can help your body maintain a healthy bacterial community and influence your body’s immune response.