Are the supplements you’re taking helping or harming your health? To know for sure, just ask your pharmacist

It’s impossible to keep up with the latest research on vitamins and other supplements, even if you’re online every day and know which sources are credible. But fortunately, you don't have to because pharmacists are the go-to experts on supplements as well as over-the-counter and prescription medicines.

Your pharmacist can help you avoid harmful interactions with your prescription medications, as well as make informed decisions about which supplements to take.

For example, while recent research seems to indicate that a healthy diet provides most of the nutrients we need, your pharmacist may recommend a vitamin D supplement, especially if you are over 50. Vitamin D develops naturally in the body when skin is exposed to sunlight and is essential for bone health and the absorption of calcium. It also plays a significant role in our immune and nervous systems. But in Canada, our bodies may not produce enough vitamin D, particularly between October and June due to the lack of sun exposure during the fall and winter months.

Vitamins and supplements myths and misunderstandings

One widespread misunderstanding involves omega 3 essential acids: after hearing about the benefits of omega 3, many Canadians began taking a supplement that contained omegas 3, 6 and 9. But most people eating a typical Western-style diet already have an excess of omega 6, and with the addition of the omegas 3, 6, 9 supplements, the benefits of taking the supplement are sidelined because now the body had an excess of omegas.

It is also common to take more calcium than required, which can potentially harm kidneys and arteries; or less than required, meaning that the desired benefit isn’t achieved.

With all supplements, taking the right amount for your body weight and personal requirements is the key to achieving optimal results. Before you purchase supplements or vitamins, speak with your pharmacist to help identify the right products for your needs.

Speak with your pharmacist

Without expert advice, many Canadians are at risk of taking their medication incorrectly. One of our pharmacists shared his own experience with he had with his mother as an example: he noticed that she was taking a calcium supplement at the same time she took her thyroid medication, making it impossible for the thyroid medication to properly absorb in her system. If he hadn’t noticed and had the expertise to help, she might have gone back to her specialist to report that the thyroid medication dose she was taking wasn’t working. As doctors may not have the time to do a full supplement and medication review with each of their patients, it is possible he would suggest increasing the dose, which could lead to unwelcome side effects.

At Express Scripts Canada’s Active Pharmacy, our pharmacists are available to do a full review of all the medicines and supplements a patient takes or is considering. While this can be done at any time (our pharmacists are available by telephone 24/7), it’s especially valuable when your doctor prescribes a new prescription medication or you have a concern about your health.

Read: A day in the life of an Express Scripts Canada pharmacist

If getting healthier is one of your resolutions, making an appointment with your pharmacist for a full medication and supplement review is a great way to get started.