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Tips for Side Effects

Dear Iris: Supplements: Natural or No Good?

Dear Iris, 

One of my coworkers recently traveled overseas. When she returned, she brought me a bag full of goodies to help lift my spirits. Yay! She mentioned she had also included some local supplements to help with my hair loss, support my liver, and even one her family member had used to “help fight the cancer.” I’ve read so much information about the use of supplements and I am conflicted. How can I decide what items are safe for me to take? 


Dear B,

That was so sweet of your coworker to bring you back some treats. While I am sure her gesture was well-intentioned, there are a couple of things to consider before taking any supplements.  

  1. Certain supplements can interact with your current treatment regimen and potentially cause additional side effects. It can also make it difficult for your care team to know whether your side effects are from your treatment or the supplement which can impact delays in care. 

  2. Supplements can also interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications, including chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapies, etc. 

  3. The FDA does not regulate supplements. Unfortunately, this means there could be ingredients not listed on the packaging or even incorrect dosages. Additionally, we often don't have clinical research that supports the efficacy of these supplements for the problems they are “targeting.” 

  4. Supplements (even if marketed as "natural" still pose a risk of allergic reactions) 

It’s important to communicate any changes to your medications, including OTC medications or herbal supplements, with your physician before changing your medication regimen. 

Missed last week? Dear Iris: Bills, Bills, Bills

Jessica Suarez, BSN, RN, OCN

Senior Oncology RN

Iris Oncology

After working in various specialties throughout her career as a nurse, oncology holds a dear place in Jessica Suarez’s heart. Having supported family members and friends through cancer care has greatly impacted her desire to serve this specific population. Jessica has significant clinical experience working with head and neck, esophageal, and lung cancers and is passionate about working with patients to identify barriers or gaps in care and empowering them with the tools necessary to overcome them.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.