Many people with pulmonary fibrosis consider taking dietary supplements to improve their health. Quite a few supplements are known to have beneficial effects and are regularly recommended by doctors, such as multivitamins and calcium. There is even some evidence that zinc, vitamin D, and other supplements are correlated with lung health. While some supplements offer benefits, it’s important to know of the potential risks. This article will outline six things that you should consider when choosing to take supplements. By being informed, you can get the best outcome.
Learn the facts from qualified, medical resources
When it comes to your health, accurate knowledge is power. Research the supplements you’re considering, but take care where you get your information. Reputable sources such as scientific studies, government health websites, and trusted health professionals are your best source of facts. Look not only for the potential benefits but also for the potential side effects. I am wary of sellers who make claims that are not substantiated by the medical or scientific community. Being well-informed empowers you to make the best choice for your specific needs.
Herbal remedies are plants used as medicine. But herbals and pharmaceutical medicines are not the same. Most supplements and herbal remedies have to build in your system before you notice results. Taking herbal remedies is not like taking a pain reliever for a headache. Herbals have a very slow and gradual effect on the body.
Know the potential side effects
We all know too well that prescription medications have side effects. But, it’s easy to overlook the fact that dietary supplements can also have side effects. Natural does not always mean safe. Natural supplements can have serious side effects. Examples include ephedra (dizziness, dry mouth), ginkgo biloba (heart palpitations), and certain essential oils (rash). Side effects of supplements can include things pulmonary fibrosis patients want to avoid, including shortness of breath or diarrhea. Sometimes side effects are a nuisance; sometimes they can send you to the emergency room.
Supplements, particularly herbal or botanical preparations, may contain ingredients that can irritate the lungs or cause allergic reactions. Pulmonary fibrosis already causes inflammation and scarring in the lungs, so introducing potential irritants can exacerbate symptoms.
Supplements marketed for enhancing energy or promoting weight loss may contain stimulants or ingredients that increase heart rate and blood pressure. If you have pulmonary fibrosis, you are at risk of developing pulmonary hypertension, a condition characterized by increased pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs. Stimulant-containing supplements, like ephedrine or high-caffeine products, can worsen pulmonary hypertension symptoms and put additional strain on your heart and lungs.
Be mindful of interactions
Supplements may interact with prescription medications or other supplements you’re taking. Supplements can interact with these medications, potentially reducing their effectiveness. For example, St. John’s wort or echinacea may interfere with immunosuppressant drugs, transplant drugs, or anti-inflammatory medication. Always tell your healthcare providers about all supplements you are taking. It is a good practice to list all the supplements you take on your medication lists and health records, such as My Chart.
Choose quality supplements
The US Food and Drug Administration does not determine whether supplements are effective before they are put on the market. They are regulated like food, not medicine. Generally, the medical benefit of a supplement will not have been as rigorously tested as a drug would be. Further, the quality of supplements varies widely from manufacturer to manufacturer. There have been cases where supplements contain ingredients that are not included on the label or where the amount of an ingredient is not as labeled.
To minimize the chance of buying a supplement that doesn’t contain what it should, choose from reputable brands that follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and undergo third-party testing for quality and purity. Look for certifications or seals of approval from regulatory bodies such as the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), ConsumerLab.com, or NSF International. These certifications ensure that the products you choose at least meet basic safety and quality standards. Certification also lowers the risk that a supplement contains potentially hazardous contaminants.
Start with low doses and don’t exceed the recommended dose
When starting a supplement, it’s advisable to start with a low dose and gradually increase it to see how you react. This way, you can monitor your response and identify any negative changes.
Avoid the temptation to exceed the recommended dose, thinking it will provide better results. High amounts of certain nutrients can be toxic or interfere with the absorption of other essential nutrients. For example, too much Vitamin A may cause liver damage; too much zinc is likely to cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea and can negatively impact cholesterol.
Antioxidant supplements, such as vitamins C and E, are often promoted for their potential protective effects against lung damage caused by oxidative stress. However, recent research suggests that high-dose antioxidants could even be harmful in some cases. Studies have shown that excessive antioxidant intake may interfere with the body’s natural defense mechanisms and promote lung inflammation.
When considering the amount of a supplement to take each day, be sure to check how much of the substance you are already getting from your daily diet or other sources, such as a multivitamin. This is important because you can easily consume an excessive, possibly harmful amount if you do not add up all sources.
Talk with your doctor before starting supplements.
Before starting any new nutritional supplement, discuss the specifics with your healthcare providers. Your doctors will know your medical history, condition, and other medications. This background allows them to guide you in the use of supplements and dosages. Your healthcare providers can also assess potential interactions between the supplements and any medications you’re taking. While they may not know whether a supplement will improve or protect your health, they can at least tell you which supplements are unlikely to cause harm.
Supplements can be beneficial for people with pulmonary fibrosis, but it is best to approach them with caution. There are potential risks with supplements, especially if you take many prescriptions and have a complex illness such as pulmonary fibrosis. Interactions with medications, lung irritation, allergic reactions, and the risk of exacerbating pulmonary hypertension should be taken seriously. Always consult with your pulmonologist or other healthcare professional before introducing any new supplement into your routine. Your doctor can guide you on potential risks and appropriate amounts.
Dietary supplements: What you need to know (National Institutes of Health)