DEAR DR. BLONZ: These days, many of us who are getting up there in age are taking several prescription drugs, as well as dietary supplements. What's the total effect of all these substances? I have not been able to locate a resource where one can input all that he is taking to see how it may interact. Neither of my medical doctors have a clue, but they would also like to know about such a tool. Pharmacies can process this type of information, but only as it relates to prescription drugs. Throw in glucosamine, calcium, MSM, chondroitin and others, and it seems like no one knows! What are your thoughts? -- V.S., via email
DEAR V.S.: When prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications come to the marketplace, they have to go through FDA-mandated screening for potential interactions. Such is not the case with dietary supplements. In today's regulatory environment, what we have is a host of ongoing laboratory experiments where we are the guinea pigs. To be sure, not every combination is going to cause problems, but the risk is certainly there.
Consider that medications and dietary supplements -- even "natural" ones -- need to be metabolized and eliminated from the body. When multiple items are in the queue for processing, it can affect the way the body does its job, which can result in abnormal blood levels of medications that need to be tightly controlled. This, in turn, can lead to unexpected -- and possibly dangerous -- effects. Matters become even more complicated when multiple prescription medications, pre-existing health conditions, alcohol and who knows what else are also on the scene.
I am not saying that all supplements should be avoided, but the time has come when responsibility falls upon us, the consumers. My advice is to learn as much as you can. The Interactions Checker on drugs.com includes prescription medications and many dietary supplement ingredients. You can add your profile of products, and it will tell you where the red flags are. This is a good place to check before adding anything else to your regimen. Don't forget pharmacists, as they have the latest resources to help answer questions. Whenever you start a new medication, take the time to consult with your pharmacist to see if there are any issues with what you are already taking.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: My husband and I just turned 80 and we try to watch what we eat. After dinner, while we read or watch TV, we enjoy a small dish of ice cream. Is there anything wrong with this? -- H.L., Pleasanton, Calif.
DEAR H.L.: It is tough to provide specific dietary advice not knowing anything about the rest of your diet or health histories. With this as a qualifier, and making the assumption that you are in good health with a good lifestyle, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having ice cream; the key is the sum total of what we have for the entire day. With few exceptions, it doesn't pay to get worked up about individual foods. You are in the eighth decade of life, so you must have been doing something right. I encourage you to enjoy each other and enjoy your lives.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.