Ask the Pharmacist

Answers to common vitamin questions

By Dr. Michael Sun, Potter’s House

Vitamins and dietary supplements, in combination with traditional medications, can serve as key components for maintaining good health. In my practice as a community pharmacist at Potter’s House Apothecary in Peoria, I get the opportunity to talk about vitamins and dietary supplements with my patients on a daily basis. Here are a few questions patients commonly ask me during these conversations.

How can I know that my supplement is reliable and authentic?

The Food and Drug Administration has the responsibility to monitor the production of dietary supplements in the United States. However, companies that make dietary supplements operate under a much different set of rules than those who make prescription and over-the-counter drugs. While drug manufacturers are required to follow strict rules and approval processes, this does not apply to dietary supplement manufacturers. Though the FDA has looser requirements for dietary supplements, organizations such as the NSF International and the U.S. Pharmacopeia provide certifications to ensure the package labeling on the products are accurate and do not contain harmful levels of contaminants. These certifications can help guarantee that the consumer is purchasing a quality product, instead of purchasing capsules filled with lawn clippings.


What kind of vitamins and dietary supplements should I be taking?

In combination with a healthy diet and lifestyle, vitamins and dietary supplements can be useful in optimizing your health. Here are a few examples of individuals that can benefit from vitamins and dietary supplements:

Pregnant females – It is generally recommended for women who are, or plan to become, pregnant to take a folic acid supplement. Folic acid has been found to lower the overall risk of birth defects. When selecting a folic acid supplement, it is recommended to choose a formulation that contains methylfolate, which is the active ingredient and is the most absorbable form of folic acid. Supplementing with folic acid is a quick and easy way to make sure your baby has a good start to life.

Individuals with low-calorie diets due to poor appetite or eating disorder – It is recommended for patients who are unable to consume a well-balanced diet to supplement with a daily multivitamin. Multivitamins can be helpful in establishing baseline nutrition and antioxidant support. Some vitamin manufacturers also add phytonutrients to their multivitamins, which are components of fruits and vegetables that have been found to help support the immune system. One multivitamin a day, keeps the doctor away!

Patients on medications for chronic conditions – Some medications used to treat chronic health conditions are associated with key nutritional deficiencies. For example, “statin” medications (like atorvastatin and simvastatin) are often used to treat cholesterol and heart disease. They have been associated with depleting our bodies of Coenzyme Q10, which is a key antioxidant in our body. Metformin, a common medication used to treat diabetes, has been associated with causing Vitamin B12 deficiencies as well, which is a crucial vitamin needed for important functions in our cardiovascular and nervous systems.


Are there any safety considerations I need to be aware of before starting a vitamin or dietary supplement?

Though vitamins and dietary supplements can be beneficial for your health, it is important to consult with a health care professional to ensure they are safe for you. This is true especially if you have any medical conditions, are currently taking medications, breast feeding or trying to become pregnant.

Where can I find information regarding the benefits of specific vitamins and dietary supplements?

Your doctor and pharmacist can serve as valuable resources in guiding you toward the proper vitamin and dietary supplement that suits your specific needs. If you are searching for medical literature, MedlinePlus ( can serve as great resource as well. As always, stay weary of the resources and information you find on the internet!  

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