“Don’t forget to take your vitamins” is a reminder that moms, grandmothers, spouses, and other concerned loved ones and caregivers have been sharing for generations. Likewise, just about every home has jars of vitamins and other important minerals that many households require or recommend on a daily basis.
As a general practice, this isn’t a bad idea. Some medical conditions, diets, or activities can decrease certain minerals from the body, which should be replenished. Plus many supplements are designed to boost our immune system or parts of our body, which is a good thing, right?
The team at Accredited Home Care knows that is a good rule in many households but the answer to that question is a little more complicated than “we should all take them every day.”
Supplements are currently popular – a 2017 study in the Journal of Nutrition of 3,500 adults over age 60 and over shows that more than 70 percent use at least a multivitamin, a mineral, or an individual vitamin, 29 percent take four or more and 54 take one of two.
Plus, supplements are big business. There are more than 90,000 products that bring in more than $30 billion in the U.S. annually.
Globally, it’s even larger and predicted to grow. Financial reporting showed that the market could reach $8.9 billion by 2026, an increase from $7.3 billion in 2020.
While supplements certainly sell well, there’s some uncertainty about their ingredients. In the U.S., every brand its own different standard of quality. While prescription pharmaceutical brands must pass a formal application and multiple years of testing and research through the Food and Drug Administration, herbal supplements, by and large, don’t.
Supplement companies can be investigated, fined, and even shut down for things like promoting health claims that aren’t true. This could include statements like saying a specific vitamin cures cancer or COVID without official evidence.
But because herbal supplements aren’t technically classified as a medicine, they don’t receive full scrutiny of their ingredients. This could mean that different additives could be included, such as natural or artificial stabilizers (gelatin is common.) It also could mean that the stated quality of a particular nutrient may not be what’s stated on the label.
This could mean that you’re getting less than you think in your vitamins or getting more, which actually could be dangerous since some minerals can hurt the body in large amounts.
Beyond the possibilities of having too much of a certain ingredient or other ingredients, there are other concerns about health supplements, especially if a provider wants you to take a certain medication.
Because prescription medication has been so thoroughly evaluated, researchers know about possible negative interactions with other prescriptions or natural ingredients.
Some providers may specifically tell you not to take certain supplements that are known to react poorly with other medications. If they are trying to help you with a certain medical condition, adding supplements could make your medication less effective, not work at all, or even cause an opposite reaction.
Plus, there could be items in unregulated supplements that cause allergies or sensitivities, further complicating a precise prescription.
Or some supplements aren’t designed for certain age groups – seniors may metabolize certain ingredients differently than adults.
Herbal supplements also could combine badly with some over-the-counter medications. For instance, aspirin and other pain relievers may interact poorly with herbal products that affect blood flow and blood pressure.
One herbal ingredient that receives some warnings is St. John’s Wort – in small doses, it can help your mood and blood flow. But even large amounts by themselves could harm the body.
Medical experts caution against combining St. John’s Wort with antidepressants, immunosuppressants, blood thinners, and anesthetics. It also is believed to make other medications less effective.
Caregivers trying to help their clients with their medical needs should make sure they talk to the client’s provider about any supplements. The client may want to take them out of habit or general belief that they can help. Or they may want to use certain supplements for other health needs unrelated to whatever condition prescription medicine is trying to help.
A provider may request a list of what they are currently taking and approve or recommend against their use. Or they may suggest stopping certain ones temporarily or even taking other ones for a certain amount of time.
If a client is approved to continue taking supplements, caregivers could still monitor for possible reactions, everything from nausea to allergic symptoms.
It will also give new caregivers an opportunity to learn more about their clients, such as why they like certain types of supplements or how long they’ve taken them.
Providers and pharmacists will also be happy to answer questions about future supplements clients might be interested in taking.
July is also Herbal/Prescription Interaction Awareness Month, which can be a chance to learn more about how certain supplements.