There are things that make master herbalists cringe. One of them is the idea that all supplements are safe for everyone. That isn’t true and never has been. The elderly fall into a particularly critical area when it comes to supplements.
Why is it a problem? There are several problems. First up are side effects. There is no such thing as a supplement that has no side effects. Some may not be noticeable but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there and it doesn’t mean that the side effects are good. If the side effect is drowsiness, it can make the patient taking it at a greater risk for falls.
There are interactions between supplements and medications. These interactions can be mild, but they can also be dangerous. Taking St. John’s Wort with prescription antidepressants or some types of high blood pressure medication are good examples.
Some medical conditions can be made worse by supplements. If the patient has any sort of immune problem, taking Echinacea could be a serious threat. Echinacea is believed to act on the immune system.
The last reason it’s a problem is overdose. Many have the idea that if one is good three is better. That doesn’t work with supplements just as it doesn’t work with medications. If the patient is going to take a supplement, it’s best to stick to the directions unless a doctor approves.
Who can I talk to about this? The first person to talk to is the patient’s doctor. The doctor knows the medical history and can tell if something is going to create problems. The pharmacist is another good choice. If the patient has been using the same pharmacy, the pharmacist can be very helpful in finding which supplements are safe and which aren’t.
When it comes to herbs, it is a good idea to consult a qualified herbal practitioner. The practitioner cannot prescribe or diagnose, but most do have knowledge about how herbs work, the possible side effects and interactions as well as which medical conditions might make the situation worse.
How do I ask? While doctors are now beginning to educate themselves on the role of supplements and herbs in particular, not all of them are going to know how safe they will be. Find a reputable site such as the University School of Complementary Medicine or any of the PubMed/Medline sites. Print the information about the herb and bring it with you. This information can help the doctor recognize what is good and what isn’t.
It isn’t that senior citizens can’t take supplements. The important thing is to make sure the supplements are safe in each individual case.