Do you take medication along with vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements? If so, you should inform yourself about the danger in mixing medications and dietary supplements.

Dietary supplements can be powerful, with certain ones changing the absorption, metabolism, or excretion of specific medications.

If this occurs, the efficacy of your medication can be affected, meaning you may get either too much or too little of the medication that has been prescribed for you.

Dangers of Mixing Medications and Dietary Supplements

Over 45% of Canadians take at least one nutritional supplement daily, including vitamins, minerals, and other substances such as amino acids and and botanicals. And with two-thirds (67%) of Canadians taking prescription medication, the potential to combine supplements and medications with dangerous and even life-threatening results is very real.

For example, medication for HIV/AIDS, heart disease, depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth control pills are less effective when taken with St. John’s wort. And depending on which medication you take, the results can be serious.

Other examples are warfarin, ginkgo biloba, aspirin, vitamin E, high doses of fish oils, and turmeric. They all thin the blood and taken together, they may increase the potential for internal bleeding or stroke.

Blood Pressure Medications

With 23% of Canadians taking medication to control high blood pressure, it’s important to know that quite a few herbal supplements may affect the efficacy of your blood pressure medication.

These include:

  • St. John ‘s wort: This powerful herb speeds up the metabolization of the blood pressure medication simvastatin (Zocor, Flolipid) so quickly that it loses effectiveness, which could result in increased blood pressure.
  • Echinacea: Over 400 drug interactions have been reported with echinacea, most of which are not serious. It is taken by many to reduce cold and flu symptoms, however for people taking blood pressure medication, it may reduce efficacy, so before you hop on that bandwagon, make sure you know if it’s a supplement you should avoid.
  • Ephedra: More than 800 dangerous reactions have been reported with use of Ephedra. These include heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and sudden deaths. This risky supplement is often found in weight-loss products; however, it is only authorized in Canada in nasal decongestants. Ephedra is thought to interact with beta-blockers and blood pressure medicine, particularly clonidine, and can cause high blood pressure due to its amphetamine-like effect.
  • Ginseng: ginseng may interact with ACE inhibitor medications used to lower high blood pressure, and should be avoided by people with either high or low blood pressure.
  • Arnica: Arnica has over 150 bioactive components and can interact with blood pressure or blood thinner medications, making medication less effective.
  • Vitamin D: Taking vitamin D with  verapamil, diltiazem, and thiazide diuretics may reduce their effectiveness or increase the risk of hypercalcemia, which can lead to kidney stones, weakened bones, constipation, nausea, and vomiting.

Cholesterol Medications

Statins are a class of medications that are prescribed to help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. They are one of the most widely studied medications and are an essential component of cardiovascular disease prevention.

Red Yeast Rice is the product of yeast grown on white rice. It’s a dietary staple in Asia and with naturally occurring statins, it’s a natural product that is used to lower cholesterol, improve blood circulation, and improve digestion. However, taking red yeast rice with statin medication might increase the risk of harmful side effects, so speak with your pharmacist or doctor before using this supplement.

While not a supplement, it’s important to know that grapefruit juice impairs the body’s breakdown of certain statins, allowing them to build up to potentially excessive levels in the blood. The effects of grapefruit juice may last as long as 3 days.

Grapefruit should be avoided if you are taking atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor, Altoprev) or simvastatin (Zocor). However, some other statins do not seem to be affected by grapefruit juice, including pravastatin (Pravachol), fluvastatin (Lescol) and rosuvastatin (Crestor) so check your prescription label before digging into that delicious pink grapefruit for breakfast.

Consult Your Health Care Professional Before Using Supplements

This is not a comprehensive list so before you take any dietary supplement, it is important to discuss with your health care professional and pharmacist to be sure you are not risking your health.

Here are some handy Insider Tips to help you stay safe while trying to remain healthy.

  • Keep a list of all the medications and dietary supplements you are currently taking on your phone in your handy downloadable My Health Matters File. This way, you have this important information handy, no matter the circumstances. Include the dosages and how many times a day you take them.
  • If you’re thinking of adding a dietary supplement to your daily routine, do some research before spending your hard-earned cash. Ask your pharmacist or healthcare professional with experience in using and recommending supplements about any contraindications before you buy.
  • Tell your health care professional if your health status has changed while you’re discussing supplements, particularly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have had any recent illnesses or surgery.
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