Mixing oral supplements with existing medicine

by | Jan 17, 2023 | Patient Safety

Combining supplements with physician-prescribed medication is widely practised but this practice is neither medically approved nor are its benefits research-backed. This mixture of medications can lead to unpredictable drug interactions, which are usually unfavourable for the user. It is best to not mix drugs without the advice of a board-certified physician.

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Traditional medicine is also known as unconventional medicine or homeopathic medicine. While conventional medicine is established after years of research, traditional medicine involves the use of naturally derived remedies with little scientific evidence but has been in use for centuries.

The concept of mixing modern and traditional medication is well established in Asia and has of late also gained some footing in the West. More than one-third of people in the United States use traditional forms of medicine in addition to other over-the-counter or prescription medications.

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Benefits of mixing oral supplements with existing medication

There are many divided opinions on the benefits of traditional medicine. Physicians usually refrain from prescribing or even recommending supplements to their patients. But recent findings suggest that some supplements may actually be beneficial when taken in combination with physician-prescribed medications.

For instance, studies show that the combination of Traditional Chinese Medicine with conventional treatment is better than conventional treatment alone for cancer care. This includes the treatment of stomach cancer, breast cancer, and lung cancer.

Several herbal preparations are found to be safe to use and beneficial when used alone or in combination with other drugs. For example, chamomile, a herbal tea has been found to be safe and effective in the treatment of diarrhoea and stomach pain secondary to inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, especially when combined with conventional antispasmodic medication for symptomatic relief.


Disadvantages of mixing oral supplements with existing medication

However, this only holds true for some supplements. Some herbal medications should not be combined with other medications. They can have mild to severe drug interactions. Furthermore, they may be ineffective or even have some dangerous effects on the human body.

For instance, though effective in the cure of mild to moderate depression, Hypericum Perforatum (Saint John’s wort) should not be combined with other antidepressants as it increases the risk of adverse effects due to a buildup of serotonin in the body.

Some widely used herbs such as ginseng, hawthorn, and Yohimbe when combined with other stimulant drugs can cause palpitations, chest pain, and hypertension. The potential risk of herbal medicines should not be ignored. Some adjunctive herbs can even cause cancer.

Urothelial carcinoma is associated with the use of a Chinese herb (Aristolochia fangchi). Many herbs can be hepatotoxic or even cause allergic reactions.

Advice from a physician on mixing oral supplements with existing medicine

Many oral supplements are safe to use and may even be beneficial when taken alone or in combination with your existing medications. But, this can vary depending on the type of supplements, your health status, and the medicines that you have been prescribed. It is best to consult your prescribing doctor before combining traditional medicine or supplements with your existing medication.