Dietary supplements including vitamins and herbal products are more popular than ever. A recent study shows that 56.7% of adults in the US take dietary supplements1. A common myth is that because these products are “natural”, they are always safer than prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Many prescription and OTC medicines also come from natural sources. Since the FDA does not regulate dietary supplements with the same strict rules as they do OTC and prescription medicines, the label on supplements may not show what is actually in the product2. This can be especially dangerous when supplements have the same ingredients as prescription and OTC drugs. Not all dietary supplements have been fully researched for benefits or for risks. Thus, harmful effects are possible when taking any dietary supplement. It is also important to note that if you are taking supplements along with OTC and prescription medicines, you could have unwanted interactions that cause side effects. Here are some common problems that can happen when taking supplements:
- Using more than one supplement.
- Taking supplements with OTC or prescription medicines.
- Using supplements instead of taking medicines prescribed by your doctor.
- Taking too much of certain supplements, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, or iron3.
Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before beginning any dietary supplement to see if it is safe for you. Follow these safety tips to prevent problems:
- Tell your doctor if you are taking dietary supplements.
- Follow the directions on the label and read all warnings.
- Do not stop your regular medication without talking about it with your doctor.
- When looking for information about supplements online, visit websites with URL addresses that end in .gov or .edu rather than websites from sellers that usually end in .com.
- If claims about supplements sound too good to be true, they probably are. Be cautious of product claims such as “works better than a prescription drug,” “totally safe,” or has “no side effects3.”
If you have negative side effects or interactions from taking dietary supplements or medications, or have questions about them, call Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for free, expert and confidential help anytime day or night.
Additional information on Dietary Supplements can be found here.
- Mishra S, Stierman B, Gahche JJ, Potischman N. Dietary supplement use among adults: United States, 2017–2018. NCHS Data Brief, no 399. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2021. DOI: DOI: https://doi.org/10.15620/cdc:101131
- National Institutes of Health https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/using-dietary-supplements-wisely
- Federal Drug Administration https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/what-you-need-know-about-dietary-supplements
Author: Sherrie Pace, MS, MCHES® Health Educator, Outreach Coordinator, Utah Poison Control Center