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May 3rd, 2019

Prescription Medication and Vitamins Don’t Always Mix

by Hedieh Davanloo, MD

Not all old habits are good habits—especially as we age. If you’ve been taking a prescription medication for a long time or a combination of vitamins for a long time “just because you always have,” it’s time to get guidance from your primary-care doctor. And this means a thorough review of all the prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements you are taking.

“Prescription medications can be a very effective part of good medical management for many conditions,” says Hedieh Davanloo, M.D., a board-certified physician in internal and geriatric medicine with USMD Arlington Clinic. “A lot of studies have shown that with good medical management and good medication people often do better than people who have too many procedures or aggressive surgeries. But many times, I find patients are taking medications they no longer need. You should only be taking medications that make a real difference.

“For example, medications that prevent heart disease or stroke, reduce the progression of a disease, or prevent disease should be continued. Yet, if I see you may also be on a medication that can slow brain function, cause sedation or other problems, then those medications should be discontinued.”

Of course, Dr. Davanloo warns that you should never stop taking a prescription medication without first talking with your doctor.

“That’s why it’s important to regularly review all the medications you’re taking with your primary-care physician,” she adds. “That way we can weed out the ones that are no longer needed, or causing adverse side effects or problem interactions with other prescription medications and vitamins.”

YES, vitamins.

With the annual sale of vitamins and nutritional supplements hovering around 36 billion dollars in 2017, plenty of seniors and senior-to-be take one or more each day.

“We see so many on store shelves and their makers target seniors with advertising to entice them to buy a lot of expensive vitamins and supplements,” notes Dr. Davanloo.

With bold claims promising everything from preventing dementia and prostate cancer to boosting your libido, enhancing your vision and a lot more, the ads often work. But keep this in mind: You should always choose vitamins and supplements with the guidance of your physician, and only after a good physical evaluation.

“I’ve had patients tell me, ‘I don’t take any medication,’ but then list 20 different vitamins and supplements,” says Dr. Davanloo. “Both are like medications. They need to be used with a goal in mind.”

Regular physical exams and bloodwork can identify deficiencies and determine which vitamins and supplements will be beneficial to your body.

“Otherwise, if your body doesn’t need a particular vitamin or supplement, they will simply be excreted through your urine—which means you’ll just have expensive urine,” Dr. Davanloo ads. “But when we use them to address specific deficiencies, we can see a lot of good benefits. I’ve had patients with balance and gait issues and started them on certain supplements and they improved. So, their use needs to be evaluated. Individuals shouldn’t just blindly take every vitamin on the shelf.”

This kind of informative discussion is exactly why Dr. Davanloo says it is important to have a good relationship with your primary care physician.

“Together, we can discuss everything related to helping keep you as healthy as possible—including ways to improve your lifestyle, age better, which prescription medications you may or may not need, and what vitamins and supplement might be good a good addition to your health routine,” she adds. “Aging well means help staying as independent as long as possible. We do this, in part, with optimal medication management to prevent disease as much as possible, and control when there is disease.”

Hedieh Davanloo, M.D., is Board Certified in internal medicine by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She graduated from Friedrich-Schiller University Medical School in Germany, and completed an internal medicine residency at Newark Beth Israel Medicine Center in New Jersey and a fellowship in geriatric medicine at New York University Medical School.