Unless you have been under a rock for the last 6 months you have seen many articles about the dangers of nutrition supplements including a very popular article put out by the New York Times titled “Older Americans are Hooked on Vitamins”. But how dangerous are they really?
To put this into perspective consider that drug overdoses currently kill over 85,000 Americans each year. Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications like aspirin and ibuprofen routinely kill over 7,000 people every year. Opioids along account for 50,000 deaths and are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50 years of age!
Now what about deaths from nutritional supplements?
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, which has been tracking supplement and drug issues for over three decades, there have been 13 alleged deaths from vitamins in 31 years! Let that sink in 13 years less than 1 death per year compared to over 85,000 deaths from pharmaceuticals. However, according to Dr. Andrew Saul, the editor in chief of the Orthomolecular Medicine News, “My team looked into this and we could not find substantiation, documentation, proof or convincing evidence of one single death.” In most of these alleged cases people were taking both medications AND nutrition supplements.
Considerations When Taking Nutrition Supplements
Although nutrition supplements have a great safety record there are supplements that can be toxic in high doses, supplements that interactive with medications, and supplements that should not be used by certain populations.
Blood Thinning Supplements
Many nutrition supplements thin the blood slightly including all types of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and many herbs and spices. This is usually not an issue unless you have a blood clotting disorder or are taking prescription medications such as Warfarin or Coumadin which are very strong blood thinning agents. In this case it is critical to avoid any and all supplements which thin the blood because it can push you over the edge and you can develop internal bleeding!
Other Drug/Nutrient Interactions
There are literally hundreds of drug/nutrient interactions and even drug/food interactions some of which are quite serious and acute, and others which can create a problem over the long haul.
For example, grapefruit is a BIG no/no when taking many drugs including Calcium Channel Blockers, Erectile Dysfunction Drugs, and Statins (most common cholesterol lowering drug class) to name a few.
Preventing Drug Interactions
ALWAYS check online to see any and all interactions for any medication you are taking INCLUDING over the counter medications. For example acetaminophen (Tylenol) and alcohol can be deadly and is one of the most common causes of liver failure. Google drug interactions for any drug you are taking and also google drug/nutrient interactions, and drug/food interactions. Do NOT assume your physician or pharmacist will always know or inform you of all of these – be proactive and know these interactions for any medication you are taking.
There are numerous excellent medical websites for drug interactions where you can enter your medications to see if there is any possible interaction between different medications such as Webmd. Read the entire product label for any medication or nutrition supplement and ask for the drug wrapper from your pharmacist for prescription drugs. The FDA has a great site for common interactions with different classes of drugs here: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/resources-you/drug-interactions-what-you-should-know A great site for drug/nutrient interactions is https://www.integrativepro.com/Resources/Drug-Nutrient-Interaction-Checker or https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements
Also check for drug/nutrient depletions because many drugs deplete or prevent absorption of important nutrients. For example, proton pump inhibitors (like Nexium and Prilosec) can prevent proper absorption of key minerals like magnesium which can cause serious issues over the long haul including cardiac arrhythmias. Here is a good list of common drug/nutrient depletions and interactions: http://www.naturemade.com/~/media/Images/NatureMade/PDF/Health%20Care%20Professionals/HCP%20Updates%20042315/Common%20Drug%20Classes%20and%20Nutrient%20Interactions%20Chart%20FNL.ashx and also this one: http://www.nutritional-solutions.net/images/phocadownload/Rx_DepleteInteractions.pdf
A little checking can prevent any potential issue with drug/nutrient interactions; drug to drug interactions, and drug/food interactions.