Taking vitamins, herbs, supplements for older adults can be dangerous

Vitamins, herbal products, and supplements can also affect the body in ways that can lead to serious complications.

Research states that African Americans rank high when it comes to relying on alternative remedies like vitamins, herbal treatments, and supplements. Many of these remedies are typically used in place of conventional medicines prescribed by a healthcare provider. Many folks are under the impression that going the alternative meds route is safer because the offerings are natural.


Not all vitamins, herbal treatments, and supplements are created equal

Vitamins, herbal products, and supplements can also affect the body in ways that can lead to serious complications. The side effects can significantly harm older folks because of how the human body changes with age.

Taking large doses of alternative meds is not safe, especially if your doctor is unaware of your dosing antics! For example, taking too much vitamin, A can harm bone health. Taking too much vitamin B6 can result in a painful nerve condition called peripheral neuropathy.

Some alternative meds manufacture high-quality products, but then you have others that have poor quality control. If a company fails to maintain high-quality standards and clean conditions, they will crank out products that will be harmful to your system.

What you should know

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate vitamins, herbal products, or supplements the same way it does prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) meds. FDA regulations only assure that a natural product meets good production practices and can be removed from the market if unsafe. These rules do not ensure that herbal remedies are safe for everyone to use. In addition, the companies that make herbal products in the U.S. are not regulated. This means that products with the same name may not have the same amount of ingredients or even the exact ingredients.

You should also know that unlike prescription drugs, supplements are NOT permitted to be marketed for the purpose of treating, diagnosing, preventing, or curing diseases. That means supplements should not make disease claims, such as “lowers high cholesterol” or “treats heart disease.” Claims like these cannot be legitimately made for supplements.

Let your doctor and pharmacist know!

NEVER keep your doctor in the dark about what alternative or OTC meds you are taking because many can interact with prescription drugs and cause severe or even life-threatening side effects. Your doctor can inform you about the workings of alternative and OTC drugs and whether they can safely be incorporated into your prescription regimen.

A pharmacist can tell you whether a particular alternative therapy is manufactured by a reputable company and can also check on a prescription drug’s interaction with it. For example, Ginkgo biloba, St. John’s wort, and fish oil all interact with blood-thinning (anticoagulant) medications. Echinacea interacts with medications that suppress the immune system.

Research is ongoing regarding alternative therapies, and some have been found to be effective in specific settings but again, let your healthcare provider be your guide.