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Mixing an Rx With Your Dietary Supplements, Is This Deadly?

Are you taking over the counter medications or prescription drugs alongside other dietary supplements like herbal, vitamins, and minerals supplements? Is mixing dietary supplements and OTC or prescription medication really safe and risk-free? What are the most common dietary supplements and herbs that should not be taken with medications? Let us find out here. 

Are you taking over the counter medications or prescription drugs alongside other dietary supplements like herbal, vitamins, and minerals supplements? Have you ever wonder if the mixture of supplements and Rx can put your health in great risk?

Mixing an Rx

Today, we are going to:

  1. Talk about OTC medications or prescription drugs and dietary supplements.
  2. Answer the question about whether drugs and supplements combination can harm you or not.
  3. What the studies say about the safety or danger of combining OTC medications or prescription drugs and dietary supplements.
  4. Common medications and herbal ingredients you should not take together.
  5. Things to remember before taking dietary supplements.

Many people are now turning to dietary supplements to attain their needed daily vitamins and minerals intake. They are gentler and are more easily accessible, too. Dietary supplements come in various types. There are these so-called amino acids supplements, enzymes dietary supplements, botanicals or herbal supplements, and many more. Herbal supplements are among the dietary supplements that are listed under the dietary supplements category.

These dietary supplements are often regarded as generally safe since most of them, especially the herbal supplements, are made with only natural herbs and spices and without any added complex chemical based ingredients or substances you often see in prescription medications.

Many manufacturers also claim that their products are safe to use even when taken in large dosage or alongside any prescription medication. You may be surprised to know that this claim is just half true. Because herbal dietary supplements are made with all natural ingredients and are marked as “generally safe” does not automatically mean that you can take them as you please. Caution should still be observed especially if you are taking maintenance drugs or prescription medications.

Why? Well, according to medical officer Robert Mozersky of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are some dietary supplements that can affect the effectiveness of your medication. Some can increase its effect, some can decrease it. They can alter the process of absorption and/or excretion of the drugs you are taking, affecting its potency.

While dietary supplements may be safe to use under any circumstances, they can as well potentially interact with over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs in unwanted and harmful ways. Not only will the ingredients of the dietary supplements affect the effectiveness of your medication, they may as well produce serious and life-threatening side effects. The side effects vary greatly depending on the type of medication and the supplement.

So, is mixing dietary supplements and OTC or prescription medication safe and risk-free? Let us see what the studies have to say...

Mixing an Rx


The number of research and studies regarding the possible interactions of dietary supplements and drugs has increased over the years. However, researchers still need to do more studies and gather more pieces of evidence to prove and to identify the possible dangerous interactions between dietary supplements and drugs.

It was highlighted in one of the latest studies the possible dangerous interactions between prescription medications and dietary supplements. And it was found out that patients who are taking prescription medication for disorders like cancer, high blood pressure, depression, and diabetes alongside dietary supplements suffer from various side effects. The effectiveness of the medications was also affected.

Researchers came up with the said conclusion based on different factors. One is the theoretical understandings of how compounds work and how the properties of the herbal supplements and the medications interact. Second is according to human studies and laboratory works. It was seen that certain herbs actively interact with some drugs, thus affecting their potency. Certain herbs can either blunt or intensify the action of the drugs or worst, produce undesirable and even serious side effects.

In an interview conducted by CBS News on their program "CBS This Morning", medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula stated that herbal supplements are pharmacologically and biologically active. Over half of Americans are taking herbal and dietary supplements thinking that they are safe and can help enhance their health. Among the common supplements that are pharmacologically active are those containing ingredients like ginseng, gingko biloba, St. John's Wort, fish oils, and licorice.

Though herbal supplements offer some benefits, people need to also consider the risks before even thinking to try any. Supplements (or even raw herbs) that offer the same action or side effects produce a stronger effect when combined together or when taken with medication. For instance,  sedative and antianxiety drugs should not be taken with herbs like valerian and gotu kola which are both known for their sedative effects.

Don’t take these herbal supplements and prescription medications together

Despite being all natural and organic (assuming all ingredients are completely natural), dietary supplements still contain active or interactive ingredients. Otherwise, they can’t be effective, right?

Let us take a look at some common herbal ingredients that can’t be taken with prescription medications or OTC drugs.

  1. Blood-thinning drugs

There are many dietary supplements that may interact (in a dangerous way) with blood thinning drugs or anticoagulants like warfarin, rivaroxaban, heparin, dabigatran, and apixaban. Herbs and supplements like ginkgo biloba, vitamin E, garlic, white willow bark, feverfew, fish oils, ginger, and pau d’arco can intensify the effect of blood thinning drugs and make their levels higher in your system. These herbs are also known to thin the blood.

When there is so much blood thinning drug on your system, you will likely experience excessive bleeding. Taking both anticoagulants and the said herbs at the same time may also increase risks of stroke or internal bleeding.

Another dietary supplement that should not be taken with blood thinning drugs is those with vitamin K. This vitamin counteracts the effects of the anticoagulant medication. And if taken with anticoagulant drugs, especially beyond the knowledge of your doctor, may lower the level of the medication in your system. If this happens, you may be more likely to clot.

  1. Blood pressure and heart prescription drugs

Many people take herbs and dietary supplements thinking that they can help improve heart health and regulate blood pressure. Though this is partially true (when taken alone and without any apparent heart-related disorder or blood pressure problems), taking these types of dietary supplements with medication can further exacerbate your condition.

Mixing an Rx


If you are taking prescription drugs for cardiac and antihypertensive, better stay away from dietary supplements that contain the following:

  • Licorice
  • Ginseng
  • Phosphorus
  • Juice form of aloe vera
  • Supplement form of garlic
  • Slippery elm
  • Guarana
  • Potassium
  • Hawthorn
  • John’s Wort
  • Bioflavonoids
  • Vitamin D

These supplements offer notable side effects or potentially serious interactions when taken with cardiac and antihypertensive medication. If you are thinking about using dietary supplements as complementary medicines, it is best to consult your physician first. The same is true when taking any form of beta-blocker, nitrate medication, calcium channel blocker, digitalis drug, and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor.

  1. Drugs for HIV/AIDS

If you are maintaining any medication intended for treating HIV/AIDS infection, medical professionals highly recommend that you avoid consuming dietary and herbal supplements that contain herbs like St. John’s Wort, garlic, aloe vera, and kava. The said supplements can either make the HIV/AIDS drugs less effective or increase the likelihood for serious side effects.

  1. Psychiatric medications

If you are currently taking any psychiatric medication like anti-mania, antipsychotic, and anti-anxiety drugs, you are not allowed to take dietary supplements that contain St. John’s Wort, Panax ginseng, iodine, evening primrose oil, and kava. Again, these herbs can interfere with how the psychiatric medication works. And can also possibly put you in greater risks.

  1. Antibiotic drugs

The active antimicrobial substance of antibiotic drugs is helpful in killing the bacteria or in inhibiting their growth. Because it is one of the most effective and strongest drugs in treating bacterial infections, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic drug whenever you have any sort of bacterial infections.

You might think that it is safe to drink oral antibiotic drugs like doxycycline, tetracycline, and minocycline, and at the same time continue to take the dietary supplement that you have been using. Honestly, it depends on the kind of supplement you are taking. If you are taking zinc, iron, psyllium, calcium, or magnesium supplement, you need to be extra careful as these supplements may interact adversely with your medication and may lessen the drug's effectiveness.

If you really have to take these supplements, do it at least 2 to 3 hours before or after taking the antibiotic drug. Or better yet, refrain from taking them while you are still under medication.

  1. Medication for diabetes

Dietary or herbal supplements should be taken with extra caution when taken with insulin and medications used for treating diabetes.

Mixing an Rx

There are some supplements and herbs that may pose risks of adverse effects. Some of these adverse effects are alterations in the effectiveness and in how diabetes drugs and insulin work, and increased blood sugar lowering actions.

Among the herbs and supplements, you should not take together with diabetes drugs and insulin are Panax and Siberian ginseng, chromium, alpha-lipoic acid, dandelion, and cat’s claw.

  1. Opioid pain relievers

Opioid or narcotic analgesics or painkillers like codeine, methadone, fentanyl, hydromorphone, hydrocodone, and meperidine should not be mixed together with oral supplements containing valerian, kava, and melatonin. All these oral supplements are known to be beneficial for insomnia and other sleep disorders. If you take any of these supplements with opioid pain relievers you may experience excessive drowsiness and other serious complications.

In addition, these types of medications should not be taken with goldenseal supplements. The chief component of goldenseal, known as berberine, can increase bilirubin levels and can also cause uterine contractions. It is not advisable to use goldenseal supplements together with OTC drugs or prescription medications, in general, and individuals with high blood pressure should also avoid this supplement.

  1. Antidepressants

Those who are taking any type of antidepressants should steer away from dietary supplements with St. John’s Wort or melatonin. Also, do not consume any form of ginseng, St. John’s Wort, green tea, and valerian 14 days after taking antidepressants.  Otherwise, you are putting yourself in great risks of serious dangerous interactions including but not limited to excessive sedation, confusion, and anxiety. 

Important things to remember when planning to take herbal and dietary supplements

Mixing an Rx

If you are one of the millions of people who are taking dietary supplements to ensure that their body receives an adequate amount of essential vitamins and minerals, consider these suggestions:

  • Do not use dietary supplements in lieu of your regular meal. The dietary supplement, as its name suggests, is designed only to supplement whatever essential nutrients your body needs but can’t be fully supplied by the food you eat. Even if you are religiously taking the recommended dosage of dietary supplements, you still have to eat a variety of healthy foods, fruits, and vegetables and continue to maintain a balanced and healthy diet.
  • Do your research first before taking any particular dietary supplements. Research should include but not limited to reading reviews, checking information regarding the ingredients, and carefully reading the labels. Check the nutritional facts and ingredients, too.
  • Don’t assume that dietary supplements with an organic or all-natural label are good for you, are safe, and/or comes without any side effects. Try to investigate first. Remember, you will be putting these supplements inside your body and can either be good or harmful. Natural does not always mean it is safe and gentle.
  • Never ever mix dietary supplements with any prescription drugs. Stay on the safe side.
  • When in doubt, seek advice from health professionals, or even from the pharmacists.
  • Stay out of those supplements claiming their products offer a quick fix or perhaps delivers unrealistic benefits. Always remember, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. There is no such thing as “insanely dramatic breakthrough” when it comes to dietary supplements. So, beware.
  • Talk to your doctor before taking any dietary supplement especially if you are under any medication program. Also, if you are breastfeeding or pregnant, make sure to seek advice from a health professional first even if the dietary supplement label says it is safe for you. Remember, better safe than sorry.

So, there you go. We hope that this post can help you avoid health complications due to mixing dietary supplements and medications.

Always remember, when visiting your doctor, have that open dialog and inform him/her of whatever dietary supplement you are taking. Don’t just wait for your doctor to ask and don’t ever try to hide it from him/her. This is the only way you will learn more about the pros and cons (from a physician’s point of view) and save yourself from possible side effects.

Our blog post is a collaborative effort by the founders of More Natural Healing in conjunction with Editors of Renewed Health Alliance, and our board of advisors including doctors, herbalists, and experts in using natural herbs and supplements to enhance our daily lives. We only provide information that has been researched, validated, and vetted for our posts and includes validation from experts in the herbal community.  A person of interest on our team is:
Cindy Burrows, B.S., M.T., Herbalist, and Nutritional Health Consultant. Cindy helps individuals start health programs to improve their life, wellness, and happiness. She is a speaker, writer, and entrepreneur of several businesses. Cindy is a contributing writer and blogger for More Natural Healing & Renewed Health Alliance

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