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Mixing Supplements & Prescription Drugs Could be a Dangerous Idea

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A recent article on the CNN website points out a growing danger that could be affecting someone in your family – or maybe you.

Researchers have pointed out that a growing number of older adults are combining dietary supplements with prescription drugs in ways that could be dangerous to their health. Click here to read the CNN article which summarizes a recent report in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

According to the article, two-thirds of all older American adults are taking five or more medications and supplements. This number has risen dramatically in recent years, from just over half of all adults in 2006. But along with this rise in consumption come new hazards as seniors unknowingly combine drugs and supplements in ways that were never intended.

One common example is the blood thinner warfarin. Many seniors are taking this often-prescribed drug. But combining warfarin with omega-3 fish oils, which have soared in popularity, can dramatically increase bleeding risk among some patients. The researchers in the study looked at 20 of the most common drugs and supplements and found 16 different combinations of drugs and supplements that together increased the risk of adverse reaction, most commonly bleeding.

The researchers discovered one more sobering statistic: the number of adults presently taking one of these potentially dangerous combinations is estimated at one in six.

So what’s the solution? Researchers say that pharmacists can be one line of defense, alerting seniors to potential interaction between the prescription drugs pharmacists dispense and the supplements a senior might be taking. Unfortunately, this will not solve the problem, since some seniors get prescriptions from multiple pharmacies, and many don’t tell their pharmacists about all the supplements they may be taking.

Doctors also need to alert their senior patients of potentially dangerous effects of drug combinations. But another study revealed that about one-quarter of all U.S. adults do not tell their physicians about all the supplements and herbs they’re taking. The most common reason for this nondisclosure, says the study, is that the doctor didn’t ask about supplements, so the patient didn’t consider the information important.

We have two recommendations to help you and your loved ones avoid this hidden danger. First, practice full disclosure. Make sure you know everything that your Mom or Dad may be taking, or talk about your own drugs and supplements with your adult children and your physician. Don’t assume! You may not know what combinations could be endangering your health.

Second, make a geriatrician part of your health care team. A geriatrician is a physician who specializes in health issues involving seniors. With a geriatrician assisting with your care, we think you’re more likely to get the kind of medical advice that’s tailored specifically for you, including a review of supplements and drugs that could cause you problems. We can recommend a geriatrician in your area if you’ll contact our office.

For all aspects of retirement – your health, your finances, your housing choices, your legal affairs and your family relationships – you need a plan. We call it a LifePlan, your blueprint to help you build the secure, fruitful retirement you’ve always hoped to have. To get started in developing your LifePlan, come to one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. Click on the Upcoming Events tab to register for a LifePlanning Seminar near you.

(originally reported at

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