Is Supplementing for You?

June 24, 2010

There are various food combinations that enhance vitamin and mineral absorption, but it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge that some combinations of foods, nutritional supplements and medications counteract each other and may even be detrimental to our health

There are various food combinations that enhance vitamin and mineral absorption, but it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge that some combinations of foods, nutritional supplements and medications counteract each other and may even be detrimental to our health. The popularity of “exotic” vitamin supplements, boosters, enzymes and herbs, previously only found in health food shops and juice bars are increasingly popping up on supermarket shelves, and even more these “wonder ingredients” are more frequently found in our everyday foods.

Consumers assume (as they are entitled to!) that manufactures, retailers, servers, and even baristas understand exactly what these combinations will (and will not) accomplish for our health. This assumption is dangerous, and it is especially important for those consumers with medical conditions, or who are taking medications to do their research. And why after years of popularity is the FDA still deferring the responsibility of providing specific information about these ingredient and possible interactions? We know very well that this lack of disclosure may mean trouble.

The truth is that these ingredients and supplements could supply very real nutritional need. The average American consumes far less than the eight to ten servings of fruit and vegetables- a primary source of essential vitamins and minerals- recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It seems like preparing fruits and vegetables for our meals is too much trouble for many of us, so isn't it easier to just mix them up and drink them, or eat a nutrient packed meal replacement bar instead?

Supplement-Medication interactions, some combinations to avoid; we choose some of the most popular supplements - for a full list visit the NIH. As always, do not begin taking supplements without consulting your physician.

Calcium and heart medication, thiazide-type diuretics, and aluminum and magnesium-containing antacids- calcium can negate or cause adverse effects.

Magnesium and thiazide/ loop diuretics, some cancer drugs, and magnesium-containing antacids.

Vitamin K and blood thinners (vitamin K rich foods should also be avoided when taking blood thinners)

Grapefruit should not be consumed when taking anti-cholesterol drugs known as statins

St. John's Wort and birth control pills - compromises effect of birth control pills. Those prescribed antipsychotic drugs are also advised not to take St. John’s Wort.

Ginseng and anti-depressant drugs - this combination has been associated with insomnia and headaches. Ginseng also lessens the effects of antipsychotic drugs.

Here are some food combinations that should be avoided.
In general medical experts advise that a diet will only interact with medications when a person is consuming exceptionally large portions of certain foods- there are a variety of factors that can affect how medications and nutrients are absorbed in the body, including age, weight, and gender- either increasing or reducing the effect.
Coffee or Black Tea with Breakfast Cereals: The majority of breakfast cereals are fortified with iron (check labels!) and when combined with your morning coffee or black tea (peppermint and chamomile as well) can have a negative effect on the body’s ability to absorb iron. The problem is the antioxidant polyphenol, (associated with various health benefits when consumed alone) found in coffee and some teas, which can actually reduce iron absorption by about 90%. So drink your coffee or tea at least 30 minutes before or after enjoying your breakfast cereal to obtain the greatest benefits of each.

Alcohol and Energy drinks: Vodka shaken or stirred with an energy drink might be the way to kick off your night out on the town, but this combo can lead to an early end to your evening. The stimulants in the energy drinks, most commonly a high dose of caffeine, combined with alcohol, a known depressant and a diuretic, puts tremendous stress on the central nervous system and heart, causing heart-beat irregularities, difficulty breathing and in severe cases heart attack or stroke.

More and more Americans are taking medications for heart disease, diabetes, cancers, obesity and depression, as well as supplementing, juicing and consuming meal replacement bars, thus a greater potential for adverse interactions. had said this years ago and we’re still waiting- the FDA must establish a program that will inform consumers of potentially life threatening adverse reactions; just as there currently exists for drugs. A systematic evaluation of products marketed as dietary supplements is in order.

All retailers who sell nutritional supplements, or the products that contain them, should provide a complete list of ingredients and precautions in each store. Quality training of employees who “dispense” these products is necessary; and at the same time, employees should be cautioned not to “play doctor or nutritionist and diagnose” customers conditions or imply that a dietary supplement will be a cure or replace conventional medical therapy.

We at can not stress enough the fact that if you are currently taking prescription drugs, do not begin taking supplements or make any significant dietary changes until you have consulted your health care provider. Keep in mind that you must always read ingredient labels carefully, always check for food or drug interactions and be sure to ask retailers to have the information available.

An excellent source of information can be your pharmacist, who has a complete resource of drug and supplement interactions available.  Web sites like those of the FDAUSDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, National Institutes of Health, and resource guides like The Natural Pharmacy and Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements are also good sources for more information.  Another good source is the Vitamin and Herb University