When you get a new prescription, most doctors don't talk about dietary supplements. If a conversation does take place, it probably focuses on the potentially dangerous interactions that can occur when people take a prescription medication and a supplement.*

The other side of the story: While some supplements can cause dangerous interactions with certain drugs, the reverse is also true-certain supplements can actually boost the effectiveness of a prescription drug and/or reduce its side effects. In some cases, this beneficial effect may allow you to take a lower dose of the drug... or even discontinue it at some point.

Drug-Boosting Supplements

If you are interested in using a supplement as part of a medication regimen, always discuss this with your doctor. Medical supervision is necessary to ensure that you are using the combination safely.

Medication-supplement pairings that often work well...

Diabetes medication and alpha-lipoic acid. Alpha-lipoic acid is an endogenous (made in the body) antioxidant that helps transform blood sugar (glucose) into energy. It is found in foods such as red meat and liver, though it is difficult to get enough from food to work effectively with your medication for type 2 diabetes.

When taken in the larger doses that are found in supplements, alpha-lipoic acid lowers blood sugar and may reduce pain, itching and other symptoms caused by diabetes-related nerve damage (neuropathy). For diabetic neuropathy, I typically recommend 400 milligrams (mg) to 500 mg of alpha-lipoic acid, twice daily. For general antioxidant benefit, 100 mg to 300 mg daily is usually sufficient.

If you're taking a diabetes medication that lowers blood sugar, such as metformin (Glucophage) or glyburide (DiaBeta), the addition of alpha-lipoic acid may allow you to use a smaller drug dose. If your glucose levels are stabilized through diet and regular exercise (without medication), you may want to take alpha-lipoic acid indefinitely.

Caution: Taking too much alpha-lipoic acid with a diabetes drug could lead to excessively low blood sugar, which can cause anxiety, sweating, shakiness and/or confusion. Alpha-lipoic acid also may interact with chemotherapy drugs and thyroid medication such as levothyroxine (Synthroid). Talk to your doctor before taking alpha-lipoic acid with any prescription medication.

"To see if a drug you have been prescribed may interact with a supplement you are taking, ask your doctor. You can also go to www.nlm.nib.gov/medlineplus, and click on "Drugs & Supplements."

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