Vitamins and supplements safety FAQ


Vitamins and supplements can be quite confusing. Do they work? Are they safe? What should you take? With so many options available in stores and online, we met with CenterWell Pharmacy® pharmacist Adam M. Bell for a question-and-answer session about vitamin safety.

1. If I take a prescription, is it alright to also take over-the-counter vitamins?

Over-the-counter (OTC) vitamins can be a great addition to a well-balanced diet, but they may not always be appropriate for you and your prescription. That’s why it’s important to talk to your prescriber before starting a vitamin or supplement. You can also ask your pharmacist about any drug interactions. At CenterWell Pharmacy, we double-check every order for potential drug interactions to help keep you safe.

2. I read that vitamin C can actually block the absorption of my prescription medicine. Is this true?

Some medications can be negatively affected by vitamin C, including some cancer medications. That’s why you should always review your vitamins and supplements with your prescriber before starting them and whenever adding a new medication.

3. If I eat 3 meals a day, do I need to take vitamins or supplements after the age of 65?

A well-balanced diet is always the first step to good health. However, as our bodies change over time, we may not absorb some nutrients as well, or our medications may impact our supplement needs. As a result, your prescriber or pharmacist may recommend a vitamin or supplement to complement a healthy diet.

4. My doctor suggested I take vitamin D to maintain bone health, but I have never broken a bone. Do I really need it?

Remember that vitamins and supplements can be prescribed to help prevent complications. If your prescriber has identified a vitamin D deficiency or bone loss, not taking the supplement could increase your risk for a future fracture.

5. I noticed a senior multivitamin at my local pharmacy. How is this different from a regular multivitamin?

Senior multivitamins are designed to meet specific needs often found in the senior population. As we age, we may need more of some things and less of others. Often, you’ll see differences in the amount of iron, vitamin B-12 and vitamin E in senior multivitamins.

6. Could OTC vitamins or supplements harm me if they are naturally derived?

Yes, even if naturally derived, an OTC vitamin or supplement has the potential to do harm. That’s why you should always review your OTC products with your prescriber.

7. Is it better to take a multivitamin or to take vitamins individually?

Some people experience side effects or harm when taking many supplements in combination. Remember that a lot of foods are already nutrient-enriched. Talk to your prescriber before starting a vitamin routine as you may only need to supplement 1 nutrient, or maybe a larger range like those found in a multivitamin, or possibly none at all.

8. My doctor suggested I have 1 nutritional smoothie per day. How will that help me?

A nutritional smoothie can often help make up for a lack of nutrients in your regular diet. A lack of nutrition may be due to a medical condition affecting your appetite or ability to absorb nutrients through your regular meals. Again, a balanced diet is the best solution, but having a smoothie can help your body continue to work to its peak potential.

If you use smoothies to improve your diet, find recipes that match your needs. For example,“green” smoothies made with kale and spinach can help if you have difficulty eating enough vegetables. Also, smoothies with fruit high in certain vitamins can help you make up for some deficiencies. Talk to your prescriber or a nutritionist for further guidance.

9. How can I tell which brands are the best when shopping for vitamins and supplements?

Vitamins and supplements do not require approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which can create confusion. Several independent organizations offer seals of approval, which you can look for. These include the U.S. Pharmacopeia, and NSF International. Ask your pharmacist if you need help selecting a product.

10. My doctor suggested I add a B-12 supplement to help with my fatigue. Why is this?

Vitamin B-12 can affect our energy levels because it helps our bodies make healthy blood cells, which carry oxygen to our muscles and organs. It’s estimated that up to 15% of individuals may have some kind of B-12 deficiency.

11. I read that vitamin supplements aren’t effective. Is this true?

Vitamin supplements may not be approved by the FDA, but a lot of data supports their effectiveness when used appropriately. Not all supplements are the same, so it’s important to ask your prescriber if your vitamin supplement meets your specific needs.

How CenterWell Pharmacy helps you get the supplements you need

If you and your prescriber decide you would benefit from a vitamin supplement, you can find a wide variety in the OTC store or CenterWell Pharmacy mobile app. All OTC items ship free and are delivered to you in 10 to 14 days after your order has been processed.

If you’re a member of a Humana Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan (MAPD), you can use your OTC allowance to order. If you’re a member of a Medicare prescription drug plan (PDP), you won’t have an allowance, but you’ll get 20% off all items in our OTC store each time you shop.

If you have any questions about your OTC benefits, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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