Updated: Feb 2, 2020
Hello. My name is Alain Roy. I am the founder and President of Veeva.
As a former retailer and now as a supplier of supplements, I have come across this question thousands of times:
“Can I take this supplement with my prescription meds?”
Unfortunately, it's not a black and white answer.
In this article, I'll provide you with some guidelines to help you arrive at the right decision. But before doing that, I believe it's helpful to provide you with some more context and background on the regulation of natural health products in Canada.
An Overview of the Canadian Regulatory Market
Prior to natural products regulations, supplements were not regulated in any way. Most products were very safe and efficacious as they are now, but cautions were few and far between. When faced with the question of taking supplements with other medications (drugs), we heard every answer possible, from “oh don’t worry about that, it’s natural”, to “I don’t know”.
Only the best of retailers would refer to reference documents, or whatever
monographs were available at the time.
Since 2010, that has all changed.
Natural Health Products (NHPs, or supplements as you and I call them) are now subject to a licensing process. The process requires manufacturers to apply for a license. The Health Canada license application ranges from a simple 8-page document, to mountains of scientific support.
But in the end, it must result in three things:
Proof of safety
Proof of efficacy
Proof of quality
This process sometimes uncovers cautions, contraindications and adverse reactions, collectively called “condition of use”. This is a very good thing. Sadly, the USA does not have such licensing. (Hint hint: buy Canadian)!
The bottom line is that natural health products in Canada go through a very rigorous vetting process and are by and large, very safe to use.
Now, onto the matter of using it alongside medications.
6 Guidelines To Follow Before Taking a Supplement Alongside Medication
1) Do your basic homework
Consult your favourite health food store. Most staff are very well trained. If you’re shopping online, most responsible sites will feature the products’ “cautions”. Read those.
2) Do consider the nature of the supplement
If the supplement you are about to take, is really just “food” in a convenient pill or powder form, that would be considered a low risk situation, and you’re probably OK (but even then, read the cautions). Examples: superfood blends, protein shakes, bone broth powders.
If the supplement you are considering has a “therapeutic” effect, targeting a specific health condition, that and would be considered a “remedy” (like herbals and isolate nutrients). This is when you want to be more careful.
If the supplement in question works on the same systems as the prescription drug you’re taking, that will require extra caution. For instance, if you’re considering a product for mental wellness (e.g. Veeva Anxiety Formula), and you also take prescription medication for anxiety, that's two products that work on the same system (central nervous system). Extra caution is required and you should consult with an integrative healthcare practitioner.
3) Do read labels
In Canada, every supplement must be licensed. Look for a Natural Product Number (NPN) on the front of the product label.
In Canada, the law requires that ALL supplement labels feature conditions of use (cautions, contraindications and known adverse reactions), if any. If there are no cautions written on the label, you’re probably good to go. If there is, it will often be, “Consult a health care practitioner”.
When you see that, you might think to consult with your medical doctor (MD). Sadly, most MDs are not well-versed in this (although some are, we LOVE those)! Who then? In my view, there are two really solid options in Canada:
1) NDs (Naturopathic Doctors). Is there a licensed ND in your town?
2) Pharmacists. Particularly those who do know about natural products and drugs. We call these “Holistic Pharmacists”.
4) Don't take just one person’s opinion
Ask two or more people. You see, the problem is that it’s not an exact science. Most natural products are not tested against every imaginable drug. So it often comes down to a matter of opinion. In the end, your opinion matters most, so go ahead and gather all the info you need.
5) Don't ignore your intuition
Are your spider senses acting up? Good for you. Don’t ignore that. Get to the bottom of it. Because if you settle on a supplement, while you still have the slightest of hesitation, you’ll be stuck with that little worried voice, it won’t feel right and it might affect results.
6) Don't take your friend’s advice
Unfortunately, well-meaning friends who take supplements often become self-declared health experts. I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I’d hardly count myself as a health expert. At Veeva, we rely on a council of 8 health professionals. Make sure you turn to qualified people for advice, and even then get the opinion of more than just one person!