Supplement Insurance: Is it really necessary? Dangerous?

Apr 19 07:25 2012 Ronda Behnke ND Print This Article

Supplement safety and herb-drug or supplement-herb interactions are very important.

There are those who believe everyone should take a multiple vitamin-mineral supplement and perhaps some fish oils or omega-3 fatty acids too.  Others believe you can get all the nutrients you need from your diet.  And still others believe no supplements of any kind are warranted for any reason.

What is to be believed?  Who has the answers when you are standing in front of the supplements shelf at your local grocer?

When I first began looking into natural medicines in nursing school,Guest Posting I received a lot of mixed messages from my classmates.  Although I believed in “medicine” at the time, I realized that something was missing from healing and sought answers outside of the medical field.  The medical field has many wonders, and many people have received relief with using medical drugs and procedures.  But I had learned, both professionally and personally, that medicine had its limits.  Looking outside of the medical profession surely would give me insights that I sought.

And I found them in nature’s medicines, vitamins, minerals and homeopathy.

But I also found a whole new world of dangers that could easily befall the unsuspecting consumer.  The idea that “Natural is Safe” no matter what and how much was not true.

Supplement Insurance

The first Naturopathic Doctor I saw was one who believed everyone needed “supplement insurance,” taking a multiple vitamin-mineral supplement daily no matter what ails you (or doesn’t ail you).  At first I had listened to her describe the nutrient-deficient foods on the market, even in fresh fruits and vegetables.  She had said that without a supplement daily, no one could ever be healthy based on the poor quality of foods of the day.  As time went on, I heard many more people with the same beliefs.

Then I went back to school myself—this time to become a Naturopathic Doctor.  And I learned the dangers of just arbitrarily taking a supplement without needing it, and even more so if the person took medical drugs.  Also, some supplements should not be taken with certain medical conditions, even if the person doesn’t take medical drugs for that condition.

In 2010, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have estimated that 67% of Americans take at least one medical drug daily (with most taking 7 or more).  It was also estimated that 72% of Americans take natural health supplements.  Based on those figures, someone was taking both medical drugs and natural supplements at the same time.

Drug-Supplement Interactions

How many medical drugs have interactions with natural health supplements:  100%!  Every medical drug on the market!

Granted, not every drug interacts with every vitamin or mineral, but every drug on the market interacts with at least 1 vitamin, mineral or herbal supplement—and some of those interactions can seriously harm the consumer.

An example is vitamin E.  Vitamin E has been in the news a lot because of its heart-health benefits.  But anyone taking aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin®) or another anticoagulant drug (i.e. blood thinner) should not take vitamin E as it greatly increases the risk of bleeding.  Also with these drugs, a person should not take garlic or vitamin C.  Yet, of those who have heart concerns that causes them to take the anticoagulant drugs, most reach for garlic and vitamin E because they believe these supplements are good for their heart and that they are natural so they are safe.

When working on the Cardiac Floor of a local hospital, a man was admitted because he was bleeding.  He had been on an anticoagulant drug AND was taking garlic and vitamin E.  He had to be admitted because he couldn’t stop the bleeding from a minor cut on his chin from shaving.  The anticoagulant effects of the vitamin E and the garlic intensified the anticoagulant effect of the warfarin (Coumadin®) leading to blood that would not clot.

Granted not all the reactions can be life-threatening if you combine natural supplements with medical drugs.  But sometimes the reaction could be that the drug does not work as effectively, or that it does not get flushed from the body as fast as expected, leading to elevated drug levels, or it increases the risk of photosensitivity or skin rashes.

Supplement-Supplement Interactions

Yes, sometimes supplements interact with each other.  For the most part, the reactions are not as dangerous as mixing drugs and supplements, but over time, the side effects can be of concern.  Herbal supplements can deplete vitamins or minerals as well, such as Horsetail depleting vitamin B-1 (Thiamin) or Kava depleting Niacin.

Also, combining supplements that have the same healing properties can cause an additive effect, such as the above-mentioned Vitamin E and Garlic.  Combining the two in high amounts can increase the risk of bleeding substantially.

Food-Drug Interactions

Most people do not think of food as having healing properties aside from being able to settle the symptom of hunger.  But all foods have nutrients and such that can impact a person’s health beyond just providing energy.  For example, eating a diet rich in iron can help a person with anemia, and to alleviate the symptoms of anemia (fatigue, headache, pallor, shortness of breath). 

Several spices used in daily cooking have medicinal value as well.  As such, they can interact with medical drugs.  Raw, fresh garlic, as mentioned earlier as interacting with anticoagulant drugs, has the same anticoagulant properties as the encapsulated form in the health food stores.  Eating garlic while taking aspirin or another anticoagulant drug can increase the risk of bleeding.

Also, some drugs are better absorbed on an empty stomach than with food, whereas others require food to be absorbed best.  Always check with your prescribing physician or pharmacist to learn which of your drugs need to be taken with food, or without food.

And then there’s grapefruit juice.  Very healthy for a person to drink, and loaded with Vitamin C, but if you are taking a medical drug, do not take the drugs with grapefruit juice as this juice interferes with the absorption of almost all medical drugs.

Food-Supplement Interactions

Some nutrients are better absorbed on an empty stomach whereas others definitely need food.  If all your nutrients are taken once daily with breakfast, only some will be utilized and absorbed. 

Also, vitamins are better absorbed in the morning, while minerals are best absorbed in the evening. 

Nutrient Depletion by Drugs

Most drugs consumed by people decrease levels of some nutrients in the body, such as the vitamin B-1 (Thiamin) depletion by antidepressant drugs.  Unfortunately for those taking antidepressant drugs, they usually are not told to supplement with Thiamin to prevent deficiency.  Many of the side effects of these drugs can be alleviated with a simple supplement of Thiamin or by eating a Thiamin-rich diet.


Taking supplements just to take something to ensure health does not ensure health.  Mega-dosing can lead to health compromises, taking the wrong combination of supplements can be dangerous, and taking a supplement just for insurance can cause health problems to occur.  I see hundreds of people each year whose health deteriorated after taking too many supplements; they all had thought they needed to take the supplements to stay healthy and never had thought to look at the supplements as the cause of their current health problems.

And remember:  just because they are considered natural does not make them automatically safe.  Work with someone knowledgeable in both natural medicines and medical drugs if you want to safely mix the two for your optimal health—to do otherwise would be unwise.

Be Safe in Health

Sign up for Homeopathic Center of America’s Be Safe in Health Series.  Receive three (3) comprehensive vitamin, mineral, herb and/or drug reports monthly detailing their interactions, safety, and depletion information.  These reports are a must for anyone working with others in health, and for the family who wants to optimize their health using natural means.

Best wishes,

Dr. Ronda

Disclaimer:  The information provided by Dr. Ronda Behnke Theys is for educational purposes only.  It is important that you not make health decisions or stop any medication without first consulting your personal physician or health care provider.

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About Article Author

Ronda Behnke ND
Ronda Behnke ND

Dr. Ronda Behnke Theys is a distinguished practitioner of Classical Homeopathy and other Natural Healing methods.  As co-founder of The Homeopathic Centers of America, Dr. Ronda passes on what she has learned through her seminars, articles, books and when working with individuals.  You can contact Dr. Ronda via the website or by calling 920-558-9806.  "When it’s time to heal, call me…I will listen to you."  For a FREE guide to help you along your healing path, visit the HCA website as noted above.

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