I love it when a person or incident inspires me to write. Such is the case for my writing today which was inspired by a man I met at a local food event this past October. I was there to help patrons find credible nutrition resources on the web when I was approached by a gentleman who asked me about fish oil supplements. He went on to say, “I never knew that I needed to stop taking these supplements before surgery. ” He then shared with me the details of the complications he experienced after a surgical procedure, all of which could have been avoided had he stopped taking the supplements prior to surgery.
The complications described by the gentleman mentioned above were related to a couple of the potential side effects of consuming fish oil in amounts greater than 3 grams/day: decreased blood clotting and increased risk of bleeding. Both very serious complications, especially if you’re undergoing surgery. This real life story illustrates the potential negative impact supplements can have on the perioperative period.
Fish oil is a dietary supplement. Consumers should also be aware of the potential dangers of herbal supplements which are now perhaps the largest segment of the American supplement market. Dietary, nutritional and herbal supplements are all exempt from the safety and efficacy regulations that are required of prescription and over-the-counter medications. Manufacturers of these supplements do not need FDA approval before they market these products (except in the case of a new dietary ingredient). Consequently, these supplements have not been investigated in large clinical trials and the formulations are not standardized, but vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Although frequently marketed as “natural” the active ingredients in supplements interact with other medications, have drug-like effects and side effects all of which can be dangerous.
Deciding to undergo a surgical procedure is a big decision. Your goal is to have the BEST surgical outcome possible. It is prudent to discuss ALL supplements you are taking or are considering taking with your doctor (even those you believe to be “natural”). Many supplements thin the blood and increase the risk of bleeding which can lead to a host of complications including: hematoma, infection, possible need for blood transfusion, wound breakdown complications, cardiac effects, inability to begin rehabilitation immediately. Is that enough? There are plenty of variables to complicate surgery without the additional risk factors from supplements loosely marketed as “natural”.