Nearly half of American adults take at least one prescription drug every day.
But what you might not know is that 20% of us take three or more. And the truth is, we’re a pill-popping society.
For every diagnosis, the pharmaceutical industry has come up with a drug. Nearly all of these drugs have benefits and risks. And in general, the stronger the drug, the greater the side effects. But one thing no one ever mentions is the impact these drugs have on the nutrients we need to stay healthy.
You see, every medication, including over-the-counter drugs, drains the body of nutrients. And I see that as a problem since most Americans are already suffering from nutrient depletion.
So how do these drugs rob you of vital nutrients?
There are several ways. Some medications can suppress your appetite. This means you may not be getting all the nutrients you need simply because you aren’t eating enough. Other drugs like neuroleptics (antipsychotic drugs) and antidepressants may increase your desire for refined carbohydrates like pastries and pasta. Over time, this can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance.
Certain medications can also interfere with the absorption of nutrients:
- The antibiotic tetracycline, for example, can bind with minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc and block their absorption in the gastrointestinal tract.(1)
- Weight-loss drugs and cholesterol-lowering medicines, on the other hand, bind to fats—including the good fats—and prevent them from being absorbed.
- Drugs that treat acid reflux or heartburn lower the acidity of the upper GI tract, which also reduces the absorption of much needed vitamins and minerals like B12, calcium and magnesium. That’s especially problematic if you’re over 65 since you’re likely already low in stomach acid.
Some drugs deplete nutrients by speeding up your metabolic rate. While a fast metabolism might be a good thing if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s not good for keeping key nutrients in your blood stream. The worst offenders include antibiotics and steroids such as prednisone, as well as the gout medication colchicine.
Other drugs block nutrients at the cellular level, or may influence enzymes or receptors that help process needed nutrients. For instance, the widely prescribed statin drugs block the activity of an enzyme required to manufacture cholesterol in the body. The problem is, this blocking action also depletes your CoQ10 levels.2 This can cause all sorts of muscle and heart problems.
Drugs can also increase the loss of nutrients through your urine. This is especaily true for water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C, the B vitamins, magnesium and potassium. The major offenders here are medications used to treat hypertension, particularly the diuretics that reduce blood pressure by increasing the volume of water flushed out of the body.
It’s easy to see why drug-induced nutrient depletion is a lot more common than most doctors or patients think. You’ve probably taken one or more of these drugs without a clue that you were undermining your nutrient levels. But there are some simple ways you can protect yourself.
- Only take medication if you really need it. Remember, antiobiotics won’t cure the common cold and you really might be able to reign in your cholesterol levels with diet, exercise and lipid-lowering supplements.
- Take a high quality multivitamin every day. This will give you baseline coverage for the essential nutrients.
- Recent studies show that everyone needs more vitamin D.3 For overall protection, take 2,000 IU daily.
- Even if you eat fish, it’s smart to take 3,000 mg of fish oil daily for brain and heart health.
- Probiotics not only aid digestion, they help your intestinal tract better absorb nutrients from the foods you eat. Take a probiotic providing at least 5 billion live organisms three times a day.
- If you must take a statin drug or are over 50, add in 100 mg of CoQ10.
While there are times when prescription drugs are the best option, just be aware that they might also be sabotaging your health by depleting your nutritional stores.
Fortifying your nutritional needs with a healthy diet and these basic supplements before you need medication is the best way to prevent their depletion. It might even help you stay healthy so you don’t need medication in the first place!
Related articles of interest:
1. Del Rosso JQ. Oral antibiotic drug interactions of clinical significance to dermatologists. Dermatologic Clinics. 2009;27:91-94.
2. Littarru GP. Coenzyme Q10 and statins: biochemical and clinical implications. Mitrochondrion. 2007;7:S168-S174.
3. Cherniack EP. The response of elderly veterans to daily vitamin D3 supplementation of 2,000 IU: a pilot efficacy study. Journal of the American Geriatric Society. 2011;59:286-290.
Dr. David J. Blyweiss began his medical career as a clinical pharmacist in South Florida prior to earning his medical degree from St. George's University School of Medicine in 1982.
His dual background allowed him to appreciate the relevance of conventional pharmaceutical/surgical based treatments in acute medical conditions, and recognize where these approaches fell short in treating the majority of patients who suffered from the chronic degenerative diseases of "western civilization origin."
Over the last twenty years, with the nutritional medical knowledge base expanding in the fields of nutrigenomics, protemics, and other related "orthomolecular" disciplines directed towards patients' biochemical individuality, Dr. Blyweiss became an early adherent and experienced practitioner of what would become known as "functional medicine." This knowledge allows him to effectively manage and alleviate the symptoms related to the most "difficult-to-treat" conditions by addressing the underlying causes, allowing the body to heal itself.
Dr. Blyweiss was one of the initial researchers doing the early work on chlorhexidine (Phisohex) while earning his first post graduate degree at Temple University School of Pharmacy. During medical school he worked with the WHO (World Health Organization) in vaccinating children in the islands of the Carribbean. He has traveled much of the world, most recently to Belize, Central America, Gabon, Africa, and Zagreb, Croatia working closely with teams of specialists to identify new plant life and natural products for possible human benefit as well as researchers and their stem cell transplantation teams. He has consulted for and created state-of-the-art nutritional supplements for multiple nutritional companies since 1999. He is currently in private practice in South Florida where he resides with his family.