Wednesday, 19 September 2012

You Should Try It! Really?

Basic supplements I take, on doctor's recommendation.
In 2003, Australians suddenly started talking to their doctors about the over-the counter vitamins and supplements they were taking.

That happened as a result of a major health crisis: a major manufacturer of vitamins and supplements was found to be producing tablets which had unreliable strength - some above the stated strength and some weaker than stated.  At least one person died as a result of poisoning from a supplement.

Almost a decade later, with the reassurance that the Therapeutic Drugs Administration is watching the production of supplements far more closely,  I wonder if we are still as aware of what we're swallowing, and if we are still all discussing what we're taking with our doctors and why.

I've lost track of how many times people, trying to be helpful, have told me about some supplement or over-the-counter drug they've heard about that they're sure will really help me. There's some sort of belief that something that is "natural" or at least non-prescription must be safer or healthier than our prescribed drugs.

This isn't necessarily true.  Vitamin supplements are helpful for people who actually have vitamin deficiencies, but they're not especially helpful otherwise. Lots of supplements, if not needed by the body, will simply be excreted, leading to that famous statement about how expensive Australians' urine is.  But some vitamins will stay in the body, and can become toxic if too high a dose is taken.  (It's virtually impossible to overdose on vitamins from just eating fresh fruit and vegetables.)

Another risk is that supplements and over-the-counter medications could have adverse interactions with the prescription medicines we take.

For those of us with chronic illnesses, talking with our doctor about the over-the-counter pills we take is even more important than everyone. We take a lot more prescription medications, so we have a much greater risk of adverse interactions. Our bodies can also be very sensitive to all kinds of things, and we need to be very careful of what we put in them.

That being said, there are a number of supplements I do take - because my doctors have told me to.  They are probably ones that most people with lupus would also take.  My rheumatologist has me taking large amounts of fish oil, as well as daily glucosamine.  He also has me take Vitamin D - because it's a vitamin the body makes as a result of sun exposure, and I don't get sun exposure.  Unless I take the supplement, my blood tests will always show I am deficient in Vitamin D. The other supplement my rheumatologist tells me to take is folate because I take methotrexate, which depletes the body's store of folate.

Beyond that, if my blood tests indicate a need, my GP will sometimes get me to take magnesium, or give me a Vitamin B12 injection.

References (Value and Risks of Taking Vitamins):

Catalyst: Dietary Supplements

Catalyst: The Truth About Dietary Supplements

Sunshine Coast Daily: Vitamins Ineffective

Wikipaedia: Vitamin Poisoning

References (Pan Pharmaceutical Recalls 2003):

Lateline: Investigating Pan Pharmaceuticals

Sydney Morning Herald: Pan Pharmaceuticals Recall

Therapeutic Drugs Administration Medida Release

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