2 posts tagged “medication regimen”

Supplement safety smarts

Posted January 24th, 2019 by

It’s easy to see the temptation of taking dietary supplements. Getting vitamins, minerals and herbs or other “health foods” in pill form sounds simple. And some of the products’ claims — “Live longer!” or “Have more energy!” — may seem enticing. But even though most supplements don’t require a prescription, it’s best to check with your doctor before taking them because they may come with risks — read on to learn more.

Healthy intentions

The BBC recently highlighted the potential risks in a piece called “The food supplement that ruined my liver.” As Texas resident Jim McCants recalls, he was hitting age 50 and hoping to prevent the heart problems that his father died from, so he sought to make some lifestyle changes. These included taking a green tea supplement, which wound up damaging the Texas resident’s liver so badly that he needed a transplant. Years later, McCants still struggles with kidney disease and abdominal pain — all because of a product he thought would make him healthier.

McCants isn’t alone. More than 50% of U.S. adults take a dietary supplement, often in the form of multivitamins, calcium, folic acid or vitamin D. And supplements are nothing new. The Chinese have been using herbal medicines for thousands of years, and you can even find some of them on drugstore shelves to this day.

It is possible to have a vitamin or mineral deficiency or imbalance, and to need some types of supplements because of this or for other health reasons (like needing folic acid during pregnancy). Take supplements as recommended by your doctor or licensed healthcare provider — but be sure to discuss any questions, concerns or adverse effects.

Risky business

How can products that are seemingly healthy be potentially hazardous? A lot of supplements contain ingredients that can actually harm rather than help your body. This is especially true if you have a health condition or take prescription or over-the-counter medication. Here are some common supplement pitfalls:

  • Medication mix-ups. Vitamins B-6, C and E can make certain kinds of chemotherapy less effective. Vitamin K can prevent warfarin (a common blood thinner) from working correctly. Vitamin B-6 may also hinder how other drugs work, such as anticonvulsants and Levodopa (a Parkinson’s disease treatment). St. John’s wort can make birth control pills and antidepressants less potent. (Keep reading for resources on possible supplement/treatment interactions.)
  • Surgery hazards. If you’re scheduled for surgery, taking some supplements can make anesthetics less powerful or lead to high blood pressure or bleeding. Give your doctor a heads-up about any supplements when he or she first mentions that you’ll need an operation.
  • Pint-sized dangers. If you’re pregnant or nursing, certain supplements — as well as prescription and over-the-counter medications — can harm your baby. Be sure to check with your doctor before taking anything.
  • Age effects. Supplements are geared primarily for adults. Dosage recommendations haven’t really been created for children. And supplements may work differently in people older than age 65.

Other risky supplement behaviors include:

  • Mixing different supplements
  • Using supplements instead of drugs that your doctor prescribed
  • Overdoing it with supplements — just to name a few examples: Taking too much iron can lead to vomiting and liver damage. Excess amounts of vitamin A (hypervitaminosis A) can result in headaches and weaker bones. Too much B-6 (called B-6 toxicity) may lead to lack of muscle control (ataxia), numbness, gastrointestinal issues and other symptoms.

Less oversight

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate dietary supplements in the same way that it does with prescription and over-the-counter medications. What a label says about a product’s effects and ingredients may not be entirely accurate. However, if it turns out that a supplement is dangerous or that the makers made false claims, the FDA can issue warnings or take it off the market.

Doctor-pharmacist tag team

Ask your physician what he or she recommends in terms of taking — or not taking — dietary supplements and what’s best for you. And tell your doctor right away about adverse effects you’ve experienced while taking a vitamin or supplement, just as you would with prescription drugs.

Another great resource is right around the corner — your local pharmacist. Make it a habit to swing by the drugstore’s pharmacy counter, even if you’re just buying an over-the-counter treatment. As a medication specialist, your pharmacist knows how drugs affect the body and will be able to help you determine if a specific product has the potential to interact with any of your prescription medications. Try to use one pharmacy for all your prescriptions so your record will be complete and easy to access.

Do your research

Besides talking with your doctor and pharmacist about dietary supplements, vitamins, minerals, herbs and over-the-counter treatments, here are some resources that may be useful:

  • Supplement specifics. For more information on individual supplements, how they work and what common dosages are, check out the handy list on MedlinePlus.
  • Drug interaction checkers. Are your medications safe to take together? Try checking one of these sites (although they’re not exhaustive, so a doctor or pharmacist is still your best resource): RxISK and Drugs.com
  • Vital vitamin and mineral info. What amount of vitamins and minerals do you need each day? Find out with this chart from the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines. Helpful hint: Click “Next column” or “Previous column” in the upper right to find the relevant gender and age range.
  • Medication record charts. Keep track of all your treatments (prescription and over-the-counter) and your supplements on your PatientsLikeMe profile and with this smart chart from the FDA. Give an up-to-date copy to your doctor and pharmacist at each visit.

It’s worth a little extra work up front to do your research and keep your doctor and pharmacist in the loop.

“Your local pharmacist is an excellent resource to help you decide if supplements might be right for you,” says Maria Lowe, Pharm.D., from the PatientsLikeMe Health Data Integrity Team (our group of in-house healthcare professionals). “As pharmacists, we are not only trained to be experts in drug therapy but also in various methods of self-care. It’s our job to help our patients find the optimal way to combine those treatment modalities whenever we can.”

What steps do you take (or will you take now) when it comes to supplement safety? Join PatientsLikeMe or log in to talk about this topic with others who are living with health conditions.

Getting back in the groove — 5 hacks + hints for routines that work

Posted September 4th, 2018 by

Even if you haven’t been a student for several years, back-to-school season feels like the time to get back into a routine. What’s involved in a good routine? And what are the potential health perks of a basic regimen? See what the research shows, and join PatientsLikeMe to swap ideas with other members in this forum chat.

How can routines help?

In the business world, countless books and blog posts have touted the importance of routines when you want to succeed.

Many PatientsLikeMe members have talked about the value of routines in coping with a health condition (log in and check out thousands of mentions of “routines” in the forums).

“For me, having a routine with a chronic condition is a must,” says one member with fibromyalgia. “I don’t have to think what I have to do, it is already in my routine.”

Health-wise, having a regimen can help people of all ages. Studies of preschoolers have shown that family routines (with regulated meals, bedtime and screen time) may improve kids’ emotional health and reduce the risk of obesity.

Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that healthy habits and routines help older people, as well. See their seven-year study of people ages 44 to 84 who significantly reduced their heart-health risks by adopting and sticking with certain healthy behaviors (like being physically active for 30+ minutes most days of the week). HMHB highlights the best cannabidiol oil for weight loss for adults looking to shed those few extra founds.

What’s involved in a good routine?

Humans are creatures of habit, so routines offer the structure we crave and can help relieve stress. So what goes into a (generally) healthy routine? And what can you get out of it in return?

  • A solid sleep schedule — with the same bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends — helps regulate your body’s internal clock and sleep more soundly at night, according to the National Sleep Foundation (learn more in our recent write-ups on circadian rhythm and bedtime routines).
  • Healthy, regular meals (home-cooked, if at all possible) mean you’ll have the energy you need and won’t reach for fast food or junky snacks too often. Some people swear by a weekly meal prep day. Research also shows that when we eat (not just what we eat) can impact our circadian rhythm and longterm health. For example, eating over the course of a 15-hour window each day (rather than an 8- to 10-hour span) may throw off your metabolism.
  • Building in time for physical activity and self-care can help boost both mental and physical health. Studies have found that even light exercise is beneficial. Calming activities, like guided meditation and affirmations, or writing or sketching in a journal, are a nice way to start or end the day.
  • Embedding your medication regimen into your daily routine may also help you stick with your treatment plan. One study found that an activity- or cue-based system, such as taking medications while your coffee is brewing or during the weather report on the morning news, works well for some people, rather than just relying on the clock.

Check with your health care providers for personalized advice, of course.

5 hacks and hints for routines that stick

Have you struggled to stick with routines in the past? Consider these fresh ideas and approaches:

  • Stock up on supplies to help keep you on track (just like students do!), such as a daily planner, or colorful sticky notes and pens to jot down reminders and keep tabs on taking medications. You can find lots of nifty gear these days to help you store medshit your hydration goals and more.
  • Turn to technology, such as smartphone alarms and smart home devices to give you a nudge. From wearable activity trackers to apps that remind you it’s bedtime and alarm clocks that mimic the sunrise, there are more and more products geared toward healthy habits.
  • Try weekly routines with catchy names, like “Meatless Mondays,” if you’re trying to cut back on meat, “Takeout Tuesdays,” if you want to limit restaurant meals to just one day a week; “Long Walk Wednesdays,” and so on. Having an achievable motto for each day can keep things fun.
  • Set up cues and mini-rewards for yourself when you’re trying to weave a healthy habit into your routine. For example, if you’re forgetful about taking your meds but you love wearing jewelry every day, put a note in your jewelry box that says, “meds before bling.”
  • Tap into the PatientsLikeMe community! Join the site or sign in to access the following links. In the Mental Health forum, members have been tracking their daily goals together as a community for years. Consider adding to that thread, starting a similar one in your own condition forum or simply posting daily updates on the site to spell out what you’re hoping to accomplish today.

The “best” routine varies from person to person, but ultimately it involves a series of actions that have the potential to become automatic and (ideally) help you live better today. Think: autopilot.

What’s in your daily routine? Have you had success or trouble with getting into good routines? In this forum discussion (psst — join us or log in!), members are swapping ideas and offering support.

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