How to Talk to Your Doctor about Supplements

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More than half of all U.S. adults take supplements daily, yet it seems many of us don’t tell our doctors about the supplements we’re taking. Maybe we don’t feel it’s necessary, since nutritional supplements are technically considered food. Or maybe we’re worried that our doctor won’t support our decision to take nutritional supplements at all. Whatever the case, it’s important to tell your doctor about ALL the supplements and medications you’re taking, so he or she can get an accurate and complete picture of your health and help support you in meeting your wellness goals. Here are a few suggestions for how to talk to your doctor about the supplements you’re taking.

Don’t be intimidated

Physicians have different methods for treating their patients. Some rely heavily on prescribing pharmaceutical remedies while others take approaches that lean toward nutrition and alternative therapies. Whatever the case may be with your own doctor, it can be a little intimidating to share about the supplements you’re taking, especially if you feel your practitioner may not be fully on board.

There’s a tremendous amount of scientific research supporting the safety and efficacy of nutritional supplements, but not all doctors are familiar with this research. They may discourage you from taking supplements simply to err on the side of caution, and because the scientific standard of proof is very high.

Another reason for the lack of conversation surrounding supplements is that many doctors simply don’t ask about them. According to a study published in 2015, around 60% of patients were consistently taking one or more dietary supplements. The research found, however, that upon admission into a hospital setting, only 20% reported being asked by their health care team if they were taking supplements. Regardless, it’s important to bring up the topic of supplements, even if your doctor doesn’t ask.

While supplements are not classified as prescription drugs, they can sometimes contain ingredients that interact with medical treatment plans. For example, some curcumin supplements contain piperine, a substance that facilitates the absorption of curcumin, but that may also affect the metabolism of other compounds, including prescription drugs. (Tip: Choose piperine-free curcumin products.) So, it’s extremely important to tell your doctor about the supplements you’re taking to prevent any potentially adverse interactions, especially if you have a known health condition for which you’re being treated. Patients with pre-existing conditions may be at a higher risk for detrimental effects on their health if taking supplements that counteract prescription medications. But with all this in mind, there are still common supplements, like fish oil, that have a long history of use among a wide population, and generally do not interfere with medications.

Another key reason to share your dietary supplement usage with your doctor is to provide him or her with a complete picture of your dietary and wellness routine. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised to discover that not only is your practitioner supportive, he or she may even have suggestions for specific brands or amounts you should be taking for optimal health. Ultimately, it’s about trust. The trust that exists between a doctor and patient is vitally important—so much so that it’s even protected by law.

Starting the Conversation

Summoning the courage to talk about your personal health habits can be intimidating, but being honest about your supplements is a relatively safe first step in having a comprehensive discussion with your doctor. Your healthcare team, from the administrators, nurses, and physician’s assistants, all the way to your doctor, are there to provide healing, kindness, and understanding. These individuals are there to support you even if their beliefs don’t fully align with your own.

Come prepared to your next appointment with a list of all the supplements you are taking. (Better yet, bring your supplements with you.) Depending on your daily routine, you may have quite a few to remember, and it’s essential to share the correct names and dosages. Most likely, your practitioner will note these in your medical chart, factoring them in any treatment plans he or she develops for your care. Having this information handy can also help YOU gain a better picture of your overall nutrient intake as well.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, keep an open mind when discussing your health practices with your doctor. If you find that your doctor disagrees with your reasons for supplementing with a particular nutrient, listen to their reasoning and ask questions. Learn more about their perspective and do your own research to better understand their particular advice. Seeking a second opinion if you’re skeptical is also completely appropriate and often encouraged by physicians.

No one practitioner has all the answers, but without being totally transparent about your nutrition and dietary habits it’s hard to make the best decisions about your health. It’s your body, your health, and your life. It’s up to you to take care of yourself in the best way possible.

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