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Medicines and Supplements: The Importance of Letting Your Pharmacist Know Everything That You’re Taking

Once you’re feeling poorly enough that you finally go to the doctor, the next stop may very well be at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. I know that every time I pick one up, the pharmacist is always careful to ask if I have any questions. Usually the answer is a simple “no,” but maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to just move on and take advantage of this opportunity.

Here’s why.

First, it’s not because we shouldn’t trust our doctor(s). But did you know that pharmacists actually know more about the drugs you’ve been prescribed than most doctors? When you think about it, it makes sense.

As part of their training, pharmacists not only learn how medications are made – including the inactive ingredients that could affect those with allergies – but they also understand how medications are absorbed into the body and produce the desired effect. They can also advise you on when to take your meds, whether they should be taken with or without food and even if it should be taken with water. These might seem like trivial details, but in fact can make a big difference in the efficiency of a medication and how it works for you.

Many of us start to develop chronic conditions as we age, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, arthritis, etc. Because of this, you may be going not only to a general practitioner but also a specialist or two for different ailments. That’s one reason your family doctor wants to know all the mediations that you’re taking. But it also is in your best interest to provide a list of medications to your pharmacist to review and check for any problems with drug interaction.

Finally, one issue that most of us don’t even consider – but one that can potentially cause huge effects on your health – is the interaction between prescriptions drugs and “natural” supplements.

Let’s look at the general state of herbal supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t devote nearly the time or resources to inspect these supplements like they do with prescription medications. Although the FDA will act to remove supplements from the market, that usually doesn’t occur until there has already been an issue. For the most part, these “natural” products get to market without any type of FDA review at all.

Just because a supplement has done wonders for a neighbor or friend, and it’s labeled as completely natural, doesn’t mean it still doesn’t contain potent chemicals that could harm you. These chemicals can interact in a detrimental way with your prescriptions – or even with food and alcohol – to have a damaging impact on your body.

Here’s just one example: Everyone has probably heard of St. John’s Wort, a natural herbal supplement that has been touted to help with symptoms of depression. But did you know that it can cause serious problems if it interacts with many drugs? It’s a wide-ranging list that includes everything from birth control pills to warfarin, migraine pills to certain HIV medications and more.  

If you get anything from this post, I hope it’s that just because you can buy a supplement without a prescription doesn’t mean you should decide to take one on your own. If you’re looking at these supplements at a pharmacy, just take one up to the counter and ask the pharmacist on duty about its benefits, if it works as promised and if you should even try it.  They’ll be happy to advise you and may even have a different recommendation or solution for what ails you. Be sure to mention if you’re also taking any other medications when you ask about the supplement.

There’s a lot to contemplate when considering any supplement, so it’s in the best interest of your health to be cautious and get as much information as possible before introducing any into your system.

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