Teach Me

Are Vitamins Vital?

There are times when a grocery store looks more like a drug store. Countless shelves of Echinacea, St. John’s wort, vitamins in every letter of the alphabet - all promising to boost your immune system, help you sleep, lose weight or cure some sort of ailment.

What’s a person to do? The answer: Consult your health care provider.

“Even for people with chronic illness, supplementing vitamins and minerals is not recommended unless a doctor determines there is a medical need,” said Candyce Collins, Pharm.D., BCACP, a clinical pharmacist in population health management with Banner Pharmacy Services. “Some healthy individuals may elect to take vitamins or dietary supplements for disease prevention – they should be aware that there’s a lack of good medical evidence to show taking vitamins and supplements can prevent chronic illnesses.”

Taking vitamins or supplements without a health care provider’s consultation or approval is risky business, Collins said. There’s a potential for products to interact with other medications, prescriptions or your health conditions.

“There’s also a risk of developing side effects from over-the-counter (OTC) supplements even if the person is healthy and not taking any other medications,” she said. “There are potential unknown risks and side effects especially for some herbal and newer dietary supplements due to the lack of experience in persons using them with various health conditions or prescription medications.”

These vitamins and supplements are sold over the counter, so they must be safe, right? Not exactly.

Law does not require manufacturers of vitamins and dietary supplements sold over the counter to prove that their products are safe.  You can also overdose on vitamins or supplements.

“The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) holds the manufacturer responsible for selling safe products because the FDA can ban products from the OTC market if they later find out that a manufacturer has been selling an unsafe product,” Collins said. “The FDA relies on consumer and health professional reporting of adverse events related to an OTC supplement in order to investigate safety concerns.”

That’s different from manufacturers of prescription drugs. Those manufacturers must show scientific evidence of a drug’s safety and effectiveness in order to get FDA approval to sell their products.

Next time you’re shopping and think you’ll pick up something to boost your memory, rev up your metabolism or calm your fried nerves, check with your health care provider first. That supplement could cause more problems than it may ever solve.