Are Supplements Safe to Take with Your Medications?

Dietary supplements are herbs, minerals, and vitamins that generally give you the nutrients present in food. Some supplements are recommended for certain health problems like high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Supplements cannot be called medications as they are not meant to prevent or cure diseases. 

These herbal supplements are considered beneficial for your health and are not meant to cause any harm. However, if you are taking supplements along with your prescription medications, you may experience certain side effects due to their interaction. 

Supplements, when taken with other medications, can change the metabolism and absorption of the drug. Combining dietary supplements can also lead to life-threatening effects. Let us understand more about these interactions and how you can combine medications with supplements safely. 

What Happens When You Combine Supplements with Medicines

The interaction with supplements can make the medication less effective or can trigger the action of certain ingredients. Even alcohol and food can worsen such interactions leading to harmful effects. It is critical to learn about these interactions and be aware of their harmful effects.

Unfortunately, there is little information available on these interactions, and more research is needed in this regard. Here is a list of some essential herbs that may cause potential drug interactions;

1. St. John’s wort

This supplement is believed to help relieve depression, ADHD, menopausal symptoms, etc. St. John’s wort increases the metabolism of medications in your body, resulting in its reduced effectiveness. It can interact with some essential medications like;

  • Cyclosporine
  • Birth control pills 
  • Antidepressants
  • Blood thinners
  • Cancer medications

It is believed that St. John’s wort can reduce the effectiveness of your prescription medication by 70%. Reducing the effect of some life-saving medicines can result in dangerous side effects.

2. Ginkgo Biloba

Ginkgo biloba is a popular herbal supplement recommended for conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, tinnitus, peripheral arterial disease, and vertigo. But this supplement can interact with anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs. Experts advise stopping this supplement weeks before any surgery to avoid bleeding complications. Vitamin E and aspirin are also believed to interact with anticoagulants, and combining these can lead to fatal effects like internal bleeding and stroke. 

3. Asian Ginseng

Asian ginseng or red ginseng is commonly recommended for various health benefits like, to improve physical stamina, focus, and memory. It is also believed to strengthen your immune function, delay the aging process, and improve overall health. This supplement can interact with calcium channel blockers, blood pressure medications, statin medications, and also with various antidepressants.

4. Garlic 

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a dietary supplement recommended for improving conditions related to heart and blood pressure. This supplement changes the metabolism of paracetamol in your body, decreases blood concentrations of warfarin, and can lead to hypoglycemia when taken with chlorpropamide. It also increases the risk of bleeding when taken with anticoagulants. Health experts advise stopping this supplement before and after surgery. 

5. Goldenseal

Goldenseal is considered as a supplemental remedy for common conditions like wounds, digestive disorders, skin and eye ailments, ulcers, and even cancer. In recent years it has become a popular diet supplement in the USA and in various other regions. This supplement can change the way your body processes prescription medications. 


According to a study, goldenseal reduced the effectiveness of metformin, a common drug for diabetes, by 25%. Hence if you have type2 diabetes, you should consult your doctor before taking this supplement. 

6. Green Tea

Green tea is a popular beverage, and its extract is used as a herbal supplement. Its ingredients are believed to have antioxidant properties and health-restoring effects. It improves your focus, digestion issues, headaches and promotes weight loss. According to studies, green tea can interfere with cardiovascular drugs reducing its bioavailability and effect. By interfering with its mechanism of action, green tea increases drug toxicity. 

Green tea, when consumed in excess, can reduce the effectiveness of medications taken for high blood pressure and cardiac disorders. 

7. Valerian Root

Valerian is a herbal supplement used for its anxiolytic and sedative effects. Generally, it is used for relieving insomnia and anxiety. Research studies have revealed that valerian may intensify the sedative effects of anesthetics and other medications. When used in presurgical conditions, it may result in valerian-anesthetic interaction, which can be harmful. This supplement should be stopped two weeks before any scheduled surgery. 

Unknowingly you can overuse the supplements with sedative properties, which can cause such harmful effects. Always read labels and consult your doctor before taking any such supplements. 

Tips to Follow While Taking Supplements with Medicines

Though supplements can bring various health benefits, some may cause harmful effects. It is essential to read the labels of even natural supplements to understand the occurrence of potential interaction. Discuss with your healthcare provider to avoid such adverse effects. 

To avoid any negative drug interactions, follow these simple tips;

  • Keep a list of every medicine and supplement you are taking and discuss with your doctor.
  • When you are prescribed any new medication, ask your doctor if you can take it with other medications and supplements. Discuss about the possible drug interactions.
  • To check drug interactions, you can use online tools like epillo.com, drugs.com, or medscape.com.
  • Read labels and guidelines for all the medications and supplements you take.
  • If there are any changes in your health status like pregnancy, illness, or a scheduled surgery, discuss with your doctor about your medications and supplements.

Though the FDA oversees the supplement industry, its safety mainly depends on its manufactures and distributors. FDA reviews the safety of the ingredients of all the supplements but does not check their effectiveness. Preparation and distribution can significantly affect the quality of a herbal supplement. 

Final Words

Dietary supplements and prescription medication can interact, resulting in adverse health effects. Whether you take vitamins and minerals or herbal supplements, you may experience unpleasant side effects. Physicians and pharmacists are aware of such interactions, and discussing with them can help you avoid these side effects. 

Understanding your health needs and having the right knowledge about the supplements you take, can benefit your health greatly.