I have an 80+ year old relative who sees her doctor (MD) twice per week.  One of her adult children accompanies her every time.  Her doctor recommended knee surgery but she has chosen to avoid the surgery, so she was given a bag of supplements instead.

This bag of about 6 supplements was given to her without any instructions.

Let me say this in a little bit more detail: this bag of about 6 supplements was given to an 80+ yo patient who has health challenges and also on medications, without any instructions.

This is a NO NO.

Her son had some concerns.  I told him that I could come look at the supplements, but also mentioned that there is some responsibility that needs to be placed back on the doctor who suggested them.  I told him the questions to ask that any doctor should be able to answer for their patients in a situation like this:

  • “Do these supplements interact with my medications?” – If they provide a response like, “It shouldn’t be a problem,” that is not a direct answer and may mean they didn’t check.  Then ask them, “Did you check?”
    • Or, you can ask it in this way: “Did you check to make sure these supplements do not interact with my medications?
    • As a Naturopathic doctor who has researched medication to supplement interactions multiple times, the one caveat here is that there ARE likely interactions between your medications and supplements.  However, there are Minor, Moderate, and Major interactions.  From my experience, minor and moderate interactions are typically not a problem, meaning they do not present as a symptom, are more theoretical in nature, and do not tend to cause any changes in the effectiveness of a person’s medications.  However, when I find MAJOR interactions between a supplement and a medication, I avoid using that supplement.  Therefore, the other way you can ask the question is, “Did you check to make sure there are no MAJOR interactions between the supplements and my medications?”
  • “Can I take the supplements with my meds?  If not, how many hours separate from the meds?”
    • I tend to initially instruct my clients to take their supplements at least 3 hours away from their meds.  Different healthcare professionals may have different approaches, and that can also depend on the supplement.
  • “How am I supposed to take each supplement?”
    • Quantity – the number of capsules/tablets, a scoop, a teaspoon, half a teaspoon, etc.
    • How many times per day
    • When – morning, afternoon, evening, before bedtime; before, during or after a meal, in between meals, on an empty stomach, with lots of water, etc.
  • “Any side effect I should be aware of?  If not, can I call you if I experience one, and are you able to help guide me from there on what to do?  Or do I need to wait until the next appointment to ask you?”
    • There are many times where my clients do not experience any type of discomfort from supplements, but sometimes that is not the case.  I tell my new clients during the first appointment the type of questions/comments they can contact me with in between appointments.  I do not want my clients to stop taking something without me knowing and then we have lost a month of progress.  I do not want my more sensitive clients struggling with a discomfort for a whole month that they did not have to endure.  Some things are simple fixes, and I WANT to fix them so that my clients can have a smooth month of progress.  Thus, one simple way that a doctor may be able to help in between appointments is in a situation where something you are taking has made you feel uncomfortable, and they may tell you to reduce the dose.
  • “What is each supplement supposed to do?” OR “Why am I taking this supplement?”
    • There have been cases where clients were unaware of the answer to this question for their medications as well, so please be sure to know find out.  If you think you may forget, write or type it somewhere that you can easily reference.
    • Different medications and supplements may have multiple uses.  Therefore, it is important to find out why someone has suggested certain ones for YOU.  These questions are also helpful to know so that you can determine when it may be time for you to stop taking something as well.  Before you stop anything, please discuss this with the health professional who gave it to you (or whichever health professional agreed to keep you on it if you started working with someone new), especially if it is a medication.
  • “How long does each supplement take to work?  If it varies, can you give me a minimum to maximum range of time?”
    • I have asked the second part of this question multiple times myself, because too often the response to the first question has been ‘it varies.’  Although that is true, it is usually too vague of a response for me, and if the person is experienced enough, they likely know the answer to the second question.

Even if your doctor just wants you to take a supplement as instructed on the label, they should tell you that too.

I encourage you to record these questions in your phone so that you can reference them at your next doctor visits.  If you have found this article helpful, please share with 3 people you know could use this information.