Medical Misconception: Over-the Counter Medications and Supplements

Each month, we set the facts straight on a health and wellness myth.

This month’s myth: All over-the-counter medications and supplements are safe.

It is a common assumption that over-the-counter medicines and supplements aren’t true medications and, since they can be purchased without a prescription, that they are safe. However, that is a dangerous and incorrect assumption.

Do you read all of the ingredients in your over-the-counter medications? Not being aware of all of the ingredients could have serious consequences. For instance, an individual might take acetaminophen for body aches related to the flu, a dose of Theraflu® for other flu symptoms and then a Vicodin® for chronic pain relief, not realizing that each medication contains acetaminophen, which, in high levels, could damage the liver.

The same goes for vitamins and supplements. Many may not realize that they could be ingesting toxic levels of vitamins because they are taking multiple items with similar ingredients. They also may not realize that supplements aren’t required to be proven safe to the Food and Drug Administration’s satisfaction before they are marketed. 

According to the National Institutes of Health website, “dietary supplements are not required by federal law to be tested for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed, so the amount of scientific evidence available for various supplement ingredients varies widely.” Supplements also can contain many fillers, such as artificial colors or hydrogenated oils, that could cause an allergic reaction. And certain supplements can interact with prescribed medications, such as blood thinners, putting folks at risk.

So before you reach for a supplement or over-the-counter medication, be sure check with your health care provider to make sure you are not doing more harm than good. Remember, just because something is natural does mean it can’t be harmful.

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