From multivitamins to supplements that are purported to help with everything from depression to treating athlete’s foot, whole stores are filled with these alternative medications. With so many options out there, it can be difficult for patients to know what is beneficial and what might cause harm. This is especially true for amputees who might have additional health complications that require multiple prescription or over-the-counter medications, which could interact with these supplements.
“Today more than ever, it’s important for patients to work with their physician or nutritionist when considering supplements. Some are beneficial, but others can be dangerous, especially when it comes to interacting with other supplements or medications,” said Aaron Michelfelder, MD, family and integrative medicine physician at Loyola University Health System. “In general there is no benefit from taking a supplement just for the sake of supplementing. So, talk to your doctor about what would be beneficial for you.”
For instance, Michelfelder said that many people don’t know that calcium supplements can interfere with thyroid absorption. If a patient is on a thyroid medicine, taking a calcium supplement at the same time could cause side effects.
“There are so many interactions that many patients aren’t aware of, but if you work with your physician, you can find the best and safest combination for you based on your health history and needs,” Michelfelder said. “Even if your own primary care physician isn’t willing to try supplements, you should still consult a medical professional. There are many integrative and functional medicine physicians who would be happy to provide a consult.”
Vitamin C is another common supplement that people may take for the wrong reasons. According to Michelfelder, there is no evidence that it helps ward off colds, but it does help with iron absorption and can be helpful for people who are anemic.
“There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. People shouldn’t take more than 2,000 mg of vitamin C a day as it can lead to kidney problems. It’s also extremely acid, making it a bad choice for someone with stomach issues,” Michelfelder said.
Michelfelder has prescribed supplements to patients when there is a nutrient deficiency or if together they feel it might be beneficial.
“In general, it’s inexpensive, and if it’s not likely to cause harm, I think it’s great for patients to give it a try. Everyone is different, everyone’s body is different. For some people it really can make a difference in their health,” Michelfelder said.
He said if a person has mildly high blood pressure, he might recommend trying a supplement and lifestyle change for six months and then evaluate if a medication is necessary. There also are instances, such as sleep problems, when Michelfelder prefers to prescribe supplements rather than prescription medication.
“Sleep medications can be habit-forming and leave people impaired the next day. I would much prefer my patients to try melatonin or just better sleep hygiene, such as limiting screen time and increasing exercise,” Michelfelder said.
Because there is little research on the effects of supplements on a fetus, Michelfelder suggests pregnant women stay away from all supplements with the exception of a prenatal vitamin.
“There are not as many regulations or as much research done on supplements as there is for medications, so the most important thing is to make sure you talk to your doctor,” Michelfelder said.
This article was adapted from information provided by Loyola University Health System.
This article is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional for your specific situation.