Dietary Supplements: Talking to Your Health Care Provider

Despite the risks, people generally don’t tell their health care providers that they take dietary supplements.

Be Honest and Open

You may not consider these products “drugs” or you may just forget to mention them during your doctor’s visits. You may also think your health care providers will disapprove of your choices.

But not discussing supplement use can lead to dangerous circumstances. For example, you may experience a side effect of a dietary supplement that your doctor then attributes to another medication.

Your pharmacist, doctor, or diabetes educator is the most reliable source for information about the safety and effectiveness of dietary supplements.

Pharmacists are the most accessible of all health care providers. While retailers in health food stores may seem knowledgeable, they probably don’t have the medical background or familiarity with your personal health to recommend products. The same is true for retailers on the Internet.

Tips for Discussing Supplements

Following are some tips for talking with your doctor, pharmacist or diabetes educator:

  • Always tell your doctor about any supplements you’re taking, including multivitamins. List them as medications in your written records.
  • Tell your doctor why you are taking that supplement.
  • Don’t wait for your doctor to ask you about your supplement use. Many health care providers forget to ask about these products.
  • Conversely, tell your doctor if you intend to stop or have already stopped taking a supplement.
  • If you’re planning to take a new supplement, ask whether it has any side effects or interactions with other medications or supplements, or whether it may interact with another one of your medical conditions.
  • Also, ask how the supplement might affect your health—including your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, or other medical conditions.
  • Your doctor might recommend that you take one product at a time to evaluate how your body reacts. He or she may recommend that you monitor your blood glucose more closely when you start taking a new supplement.
  • Make a list of the supplements you take before your appointment or put the bottles in a brown bag and bring them with you. Also list in what dose, how often, and for how long you’ve been taking the supplement.
  • Never stop taking your prescribed diabetes medications without telling your health care provider.
  • Continue to be forthright about the supplements you’re taking, even if your doctor has discouraged their use.

Next: Stay Educated, Make Smart Decisions

This material is adapted from The American Diabetes Association Guide to Herbs & Nutritional Supplements, written by Laura Shane-McWhorter, PharmD, BCPS, FASCP, BC-ADM, CDE, and published by the American Diabetes Association, ©2009.

  • Last Reviewed: February 20, 2014
  • Last Edited: May 14, 2014

Articles from Diabetes Forecast® magazine:

Diabetes Forecast