How Should I Talk to My Doctor About Taking Nutritional Supplements?
Sixty-nine percent of adults in the U.S. take some form of dietary supplement. I’m one of them. In combination with a balanced diet, there’s a large and growing body of research showing the incredible support nutritional supplements can have on overall wellness—and especially heart health.
Yet with all the benefits of supplements, there is good reason to involve your doctor. Especially if you are taking medications, have specific concerns or have a health condition, a doctor’s guidance is important. Here is some advice for talking to your doctor about taking supplements:
1. Be in control of your own health
In the past, doctors were viewed as “dictators” of health. When a health care provider handed a patient an order, it was expected to be followed, no questions asked. Today, patients are taking more ownership of their health.
Know what you want out of the visit and what you’re hoping your doctor can help you with. Understand how supplements are benefitting you and why you want to include them in your diet. Not all physicians are educated in nutritional supplements, so you’ll need to be clear on what you want and why you’re seeking guidance. By taking ownership of your own health, you’ll be more likely to get the help you need from your doctor.
2. Call ahead
If you scheduled an appointment for a separate reason, call a week or more ahead and let the office know you’d like additional time to talk with your physician about nutritional supplements. When you arrive for your appointment, remind the staff that you need more time with the doctor. Doing so will help the staff and doctor prepare for your visit—and you’ll feel less rushed during your appointment.
3. Bring a complete list of what you’re taking
Prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals, herbals—write down any and everything you take or add to food with some regularity. If you are taking a supplement with multiple ingredients, bring the bottle to your visit. Preparing this list will provide your doctor with a complete picture of what you’re taking.
4. Write down your questions
Before your appointment, do research beforehand and prepare specific, targeted questions, such as:
- “Will this supplement interfere with my medication?”
- “Are there any other nutritional supplements you would recommend to support my specific needs as an endurance athlete?”
- “Since I’m pregnant, is this supplement safe? What about during breastfeeding?”
- “I read that adults over 65 metabolize supplements differently. Do you have any advice on how I can make sure I’m getting the right supplement dosage?”
Being specific with your questions helps your doctor give you the best answer possible. During your visit, check off or cross out questions as they’re answered to make sure you don’t overlook anything.
5. Listen carefully and consider your options
Remember that not all physicians are experts in nutrition. Listen to how your doctor responds. Does she let you finish talking before responding? Is she thoughtful in her answers? Does she have the attitude of a teacher and health partner?
If you believe supplements are making a difference in your health and your doctor doesn’t agree, it may be time to seek a second opinion. You don’t want a health care provider who just says “yes,” but you do want someone who listens carefully, responds thoughtfully, and is willing to guide and educate you.
My main advice? Be proactive. Don’t expect your doctor to be a library of information about every nutritional supplement out there. Come prepared, ask targeted questions, listen carefully to what your doctor says, and then make the right decision for your health.
Have nutritional supplements made a difference in your life? What advice can you give others just getting started, especially when it comes to talking to a health care provider?