Many Americans take dietary supplements, from multivitamins and melatonin to fish oil and fiber. The industry is worth an estimated $30 billion per year and continues to grow rapidly, along with the wellness movement. But what are the differences between a supplement and a medicine, and what should you know about their interactions with prescription drugs?
A medicine is a pharmaceutical substance that has undergone a rigorous evaluation process and is FDA-approved, meaning it has been proven safe and effective. Medications are sold through doctors’ offices and hospitals and can be prescribed or bought over-the-counter (OTC). Pharmaceutical medicines treat specific diseases or health conditions and help you achieve certain goals, like decreasing inflammation, that can improve your overall health.
Medications are also regulated by the FDA, which requires them to list all ingredients on the Drug Facts label and undergo quality control analysis. This is important because it helps prevent people from taking dangerous ingredients or too much of a nutrient. In contrast, supplements are not regulated by the FDA and do not have to prove their safety or effectiveness before they can be sold to consumers. The FDA only steps in if the FDA thinks that a supplement has caused a problem, which is often too late, according to a recent study.
A Supplements vs Medications is an oral dietary substance that contains minerals, vitamins or other natural biological substances that are not considered to be food. These can be taken in powders, liquids, extracts, tablets or capsules. Supplements do not need to be tested for safety and are largely self-regulated by the manufacturer under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act. The law allows the FDA to take action against a supplement after it is on the market, but only if the company fails to identify prohibited ingredients or makes false claims about their product’s efficacy.
The distinction between a nutraceutical and a supplement is that nutraceuticals are derived from whole foods, while supplements contain isolated nutrients that have been known to provide health benefits. The reason these two things work differently is because the whole food provides a complex mix of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that all interact together to have a beneficial effect on your body, while the vitamin or mineral in a pill works in isolation.
It is best to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements and always check the % Daily Value on the label for each nutrient to make sure you’re not getting too much or too little of each. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you should also avoid combining supplements and medicines. This is especially important because several common herbs and vitamins can interfere with the way some medications work, including acetaminophen, aspirin, antibiotics, birth control pills and blood thinners. A combination of ginkgo biloba and coumadin can reduce the potency of blood thinners and could lead to internal bleeding or stroke. For this reason, it’s also a good idea to discuss any new medications with your doctor or pharmacist.