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Drugs + Supplements = Bad Idea?

Americans are popping pills more than ever these days. In fact, most adult Americans take at least one drug, prescription or over-the-counter, once a week. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports.

Poor nutritional habits means many people aren't getting the nutrients they need, and they are compensating for their diets with dietary and herbal supplements.

According to a study that was published in the January issue of the Journal Of The American Medical Association, one in six patients who take prescription drugs is concurrently taking one or more supplement, which poses a potential risk of bad interactions. We are also learning more about how food interacts with over-the-counter and prescription drugs.

Senay offers information on how we can avoid some dangerous drug interactions with food and supplements.

Research says that mixing dietary and herbal supplements with drugs may…

  1. Render the drug less effective
  2. Make the drug more effective
  3. Or cause unexpected side effects

Medications that are used to treat HIV infection, epilepsy, and heart disease may be particularly influenced by dietary or herbal supplements. Als,o medicines and supplements that work on the same organ system or disorder could be harmful. For example, if someone is taking a mood-enhancing drug for depression, supplementing that with St. John's Wort may add to the effects of this drug, which could be harmful.

There is new science surrounding the study of food and drug interactions, because so much of our food is fortified with vitamins and minerals. For example, a recent study concluded that drinking calcium-enriched orange juice may interfere with the effectiveness of certain antibiotics. There is definitely a lot to learn about the effects of fortified foods and how they interact with prescription and over-the-counter medications.

However, we do know that you should avoid drinking alcohol with most medications, specifically antiemetics (drugs that treat nausea, vomiting or dizziness) and antihistamines.

Grapefruit juice should be avoided if you are taking medication to control blood pressure, painkillers, antihistamines, steroids and drugs for asthma. Drinking grapefruit juice can increase blood levels of the drug to harmful levels, according to the Journal Nature Medicine.

Before you take any medication, you should consult with your doctor. The best way to avoid potentially dangerous interactions with food, supplements and medications is to arm yourself with information.

Know what you are taking. Research the dietary or herbal supplement. Read the "other information" section on the medication insert, which highlights certain ingredients, dietary restrictions and allergies. Also, ask your doctor or pharmacist which supplement would be right for you.

Second, tell your doctor anything and everything you are taking -- that includes all medications, supplements and foods, including fortified foods.

The bottom line is, know how to take drugs and supplements safely and responsibly.

Also, remember, you can't compensate for a poor diet by taking supplements.