Why Nigerians should stop taking supplements without prescription —Pharmacists

Pharmacists have cautioned Nigerians against taking dietary supplements without the prescription of a health expert, noting that self-medicating on supplements could be dangerous to health.

According to the drug experts, unknown to many people, some dietary supplements should not be taken by persons who are taking certain medications for some health conditions. 

Certain dietary supplements, they added, should also not be taken by some people living with or managing some health conditions, because the interactions of the supplements with the medications for those health conditions could be lethal and injurious to health.

Speaking with our correspondent, the pharmacists, a Nigerian-American, practising in the United States, Dr. Patience Abeeb, and Unoaku Ifudu, Territory Lead with Field Intelligence  a pharmaceutical supply chain company based in Abuja, urged Nigerians to seek and get prescriptions before deciding to purchase dietary supplements.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, Dr. Abeeb explained that a dietary supplement basically contains ingredients intended to add further nutritional value to supplement a regular diet. 

Dietary supplements, she said, could be a vitamin, herb, mineral, botanical or amino acid.

The Philadelphia-based pharmacist said, “Before you take any dietary supplement, it is important you discuss it with your healthcare professional. You must inform your healthcare provider about all the dietary supplements and medications you are currently taking. You should also include the dosages and how many times a day you take them. This is important.

“If you are thinking of adding any dietary supplement to your daily routine, call your healthcare professional first, and let him/her know what other supplements and medications you are taking. 

“Also, tell your healthcare professional if your health status has changed, particularly if you are breastfeeding, or have had recent illnesses or surgery”.

She warned that combining dietary supplements and medications could have dangerous or even life-threatening effects. 

“For example, some drugs for heart diseases, depression, treatments for organ transplants, and birth control are less effective when taken with some herbal supplements. The results of such combinations can be serious.

“In addition, warfarin (a prescription blood thinner), and gingko biloba (a herbal supplement) can thin the blood. Taking these products together may increase the potential for bleeding. 

“Don’t assume natural means safe. It is not”.

She also cautioned parents against giving their children dietary supplements without first talking to health experts.

She said, “Children, in particular, could be harmed by taking supplements and medicines at the same time. Children’s metabolisms are unique, and at different ages, they metabolise substances at different rates. 

“Therefore, for children, ingesting dietary supplements together with other medications makes adverse effects a real possibility”.

The pharmacist also urges caution in the use of dietary supplements while pregnant and breastfeeding.

She said, “If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is advisable to first discuss any dietary supplements you intend to take with your health care professional”.

Also speaking with our correspondent, Unoaku Ifudu corroborated Dr. Abeeb’s admonition on the need for Nigerians to seek a doctor’s prescription before taking dietary supplements.

She said: “I wouldn’t even advise anyone to take supplements without a doctor’s prescription. There are various classes of supplements but then generally, the ones I am talking about are the ones sold in pharmacies. They are often purchased based on the recommendations of friends or colleagues who have suffered health challenges that are claimed the supplement can heal. There is no consideration for the fact that not all body systems are the same. 

“You might actually be harming yourself while taking the supplement your friend told you about. Some dietary supplements contain neurotoxins and substances that could harm certain organs in your body. Most of them are meant to be taken in moderation, yet some people may take an overdose of it.”

She also stressed the need for Nigerians to know that supplements can interact with food and other drugs.

She said, “There are certain medications that shouldn’t be taken with supplements and some foods as there is what we call food-drug interaction and drug-drug interaction. Supplements can interact with food and other drugs to cause adverse effects in the body. 

“For instance, if someone is hypertensive, he or she isn’t advised to take a dietary supplement that has sodium. It is not advisable. 

“In pharmacy school, I studied pharmacognosy which made me understand that some of these natural products came from the source without its being synthesised. Some of them actually have medicinal value but the challenge is with the dosage which may make the patients take an overdose and worsen their heart health”.

She stressed further that Nigerians who are desirous of taking dietary supplements should discuss first with their physician or pharmacist who will counsel them on the appropriate ones as well as the right dosage.

According to a recent study published by Premier Health  an online health information platform, dietary supplements may interfere with prescription medications. 

The chemical interactions of dietary supplements may be dangerous or minor, but they can weaken medications and make them less potent, the article said.

In another study published by Single Care  another online health information platform, the authors said medications could interact with dietary supplements and worsen the efficacy or the side effects of the medications. The authors of the study advised that dietary supplements should be taken with a doctor’s prescription.


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