Are Your Supplements Safe? Or Are They Messing With Your Med's?

Are Your Supplements Safe? Or Are They Messing With Your Med’s?

Nearly 70% of Americans are on drugs – prescription drugs, that is – according to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic and the Olmsted Medical Center.  And over half of Americans take dietary supplements.  That means there’s a significant number of people who take both.

So, you are proactive and take charge of your health.  You get regular check-ups, try to follow your doctor’s advice, and take your prescription medications as directed.  You also read health related articles, like this one!  Maybe you recently read that Omega-3’s are the latest thing, and everyone should be taking them.  Fish oil supplements are an excellent source of these essential fatty acids, so you run out and buy fish oil capsules to ensure you’re all set on Omega-3’s.

But wait!!!  You take Warfarin (Coumadin), a prescription blood thinner.  That means that taking Omega-3-rich fish oil, which also has a blood thinning effect, could actually harm you!

This is what health care providers refer to as a “negative drug-nutrient interaction.”  That means that some nutrients or supplements don’t work well with certain medications.  It also means that if you take prescription medications, it is extremely important to check with your doctor, pharmacist, or nutritionist before adding new supplements to your health care program.

The following are some common negative interactions between drugs and supplements:

  • Warfarin (Coumadin) and Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Fish oil and other Omega-3 supplements may increase blood thinning to dangerous levels when taken with prescription blood thinners.
  • Oral Contraceptives and St. John’s Wort – This botanical supplement may decrease the effectiveness of birth control pills.
  • Antibiotics (Cipro, Doxycycline, Tetracycline, etc.) and Mineral Supplements – Mineral supplements can bind with some antibiotics, reducing their effectiveness.  If you regularly take a mineral supplement (like Calcium, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Copper, or Manganese), be sure to ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nutritionist if you need to stop taking your mineral supplements while on the antibiotics.
  • Prozac (Fluoxetine) and L-Tryptophan – This amino acid supplement may a cause undesirable side effects when taken along with the antidepressant, Prozac.

On the flip side, some supplements can actually work with your prescription med’s to increase their effectiveness, decrease side effects, or replace nutrients that the drugs may deplete in your body.  This is, of course, referred to as a “positive drug-nutrient interaction.”  Check out the examples below:

  • Zinc/Copper with AZT – These minerals may decrease the risk of pneumonia and candida infections in people taking AZT by replacing lost mineral stores.
  • Milk Thistle with Percocet – This botanical supplement may decrease the side effects of the opioid pain medication, Percocet (Oxycodone-Acetaminophen).
  • Fish Oil with Citalopram – The Omega-3 Fatty Acids in fish oil (and other EPA/DHA supplements) may enhance the antidepressant effects of this common SSRI.

Vitamins, minerals, and botanical supplements can be a great pathway to optimum health if taken responsibly.  Always tell your doctor about the supplements you’re taking, so he/she can take that into consideration when prescribing your medications.  Take your list of supplements with you to your next doctor’s appointment, and discuss it with him/her.  And if in doubt, ask your pharmacist or a nutritionist about specific drug-nutrient interactions.

So don’t rule out the Omega-3 supplements you’ve been reading about.  These essential fatty acids are great for decreasing chronic inflammation, promoting healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and supporting the health of your cardiovascular and nervous systems.  But if you take prescription medications, please check with your doctor, pharmacist, or nutritionist before adding Omega-3’s (and other dietary supplements) to your daily routine.


  1. Gahche, J. e. (2011, April). NCHS Data Brief:   Dietary Supplement Use Among U. S. Adults Has Increased Since NHANES III.   Retrieved from CDC Publications and Information Products:
  2. Mayo Clinic . (2013, June 19). Nearly 7 in 10   Americans Take Prescription Drugs, Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center Find.   Retrieved from Mayo Clinic News Network:
  3. Health Notes
  4. Rx List


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This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Do not use the information from this article for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this article.

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