May 27, 2004 - Supplements and Prescription Drugs: Are They Safe to Take Together?

Certain dietary supplements may interact with prescription drugs-however, the risk that interactions are serious and harmful is quite low, according to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

About 50% of Americans take one or more dietary supplements including vitamins, minerals, herbal preparations, and homeopathic remedies. In 1997, 15 million Americans took prescription medications at the same time that they were taking herbal remedies or high-dose vitamins. Many of these people did not tell their healthcare providers about their supplement use, raising questions about the safety of using nutritional supplements and prescription drugs at the same time.

In the new study, 458 military veterans taking prescription medications were surveyed about their use of dietary supplements. Most of the participants averaged 61 years of age and were men. Almost half of the participants took one or more dietary supplements per day; vitamins, minerals, garlic, saw palmetto, and ginseng were the most commonly used.

Potential interactions between prescription drugs and dietary supplements were found in 45% of those who were taking prescription drugs and supplements at the same time. Most interactions happened while taking prescription drugs and ginseng, garlic, gingko, and coenzyme Q10. The side effects were minor, and there have been few cases documented of their occurrence. Only 2.5% of the participants were actually at high risk for having a severe supplement-drug interaction. This is comparable to the incidence of severe drug-drug interactions.

Though the study shows taking prescription drugs with dietary supplements are generally safe, the potential for harm is there. Those taking prescription drugs should consult a knowledgeable practitioner to learn which dietary supplements can safely be taken with their medicines.


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