Dietary supplements are products designed to augment your daily intake of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals. Many offer significant health benefits, but some pose health risks. Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes, probiotics, and botanicals. They are commonly sold in tablets, capsules, powders, and liquids.
Supplementing may help you by providing nutrients you can’t get from your diet, increasing your levels of nutrients if you have deficiencies, supporting overall and specific wellness goals, complementing mainstream medical treatment plans or offering alternative therapeutic options. Also, it promotes healthy aging, reduces anxiety and stress, supports your immune system, improves your eyesight, keeps your bones strong and promotes healthier skin and hair.
On the other hand, dietary supplements may have some risk factors. They can interact with other medications, worsen existing health conditions, or cause side effects or allergic reactions. While most dietary supplements are safe as long as you follow the product instructions, large doses of certain nutrients can have adverse effects. You can even overdose on specific supplements, risking severe harm and death. Among some of the harmful interactions or dosing concerns:
- Vitamin K can reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners like Coumadin.
- Vitamin E can increase the action of blood thinners, leading to easy bruising and nosebleeds.
- St. John’s wort can accelerate the breakdown of many drugs, including antidepressants and birth control pills, thereby reducing their effectiveness.
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), when used for a year or more at high doses, can cause severe nerve damage. Vitamin B6 can also reduce the effectiveness of the anti-seizure drug Dilantin (phenytoin) and levodopa (used to treat Parkinson’s disease).
- Vitamin A, used with retinoid acne medications such as isotretinoin and acitretin, can cause vitamin A toxicity.
- Iron and calcium supplements can reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics, namely tetracyclines and fluoroquinolones, by as much as 40%.
- Vitamin C can cause diarrhea when taken in doses higher than the gut can absorb.
- Selenium, boron, and iron supplements can be toxic if taken in large amounts.
Advise your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and any medications you are currently taking, whether they be pharmaceutical, over-the-counter, herbal, traditional, or homeopathic.