Medication can do much to alleviate the symptoms that make your life miserable. But in most cases they don’t actually tackle the cause. There is also the risk of side-effects.
And as a new book suggests, they might be adding to your health woes by ‘stealing nutrients from your system or preventing their absorption’. As a result, you could end up feeling worse, or even being diagnosed with another condition.
The book, Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body Of Essential Nutrients, has been written by leading U.S. pharmacist Suzy Cohen.
‘If you run low on even one vital nutrient, you can experience a cascade of uncomfortable side effects,’ she claims.
These side effects — which she’s labelled ‘drug mugging symptoms’ — may not show up right away; some can occur months to years after taking a drug.
So could we counteract this nutrient loss by eating more healthily?
‘Even if you eat fresh fruits and vegetables every hour, you still get only a fraction of the essential nutrients you need from these foods — and if your medication is depleting them, you’ll need even more,’ says Cohen.
She suggests the solution is supplements, though you should take care.
‘Some can interact with your medication, other can interact with each other and some shouldn’t be taken at all, if you have kidney disease, for instance.
‘You must ask your doctor which nutrients are right for you. But when you’re given the go-ahead, it takes only a few weeks or months to replenish depleted nutrients.’
She advises that initially, supplements should be taken one at a time and, as far as dosages go, start low and go slow. ‘Then, if everything goes well, after a week or two bring in the next nutrient.’
Here, Cohen sets out the most common culprits, with supplements to counteract them….
Statins do their work in the liver, suppressing the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase, which produces cholesterol.
But when you block that enzyme, you also block the production of CoQ10, say studies at Renmin Hospital in China. This is a nutrient involved in all aspects of energy production — including in the muscles. It’s also a powerful antioxidant which can penetrate every cell, including brain cells.
Cholesterol is also required to synthesise vitamin D, which protects against cancer and helps keep bones strong. It also helps boost the immune system.
RISK: Fatigue, weakness, memory loss, shortness of breath, leg cramps, frequent infections.
PROTECTION PLAN: CoQ10 or its active form ubiquinol, 50mg to 200mg once or twice daily; vitamin D, 2,000 IU (international units) to 5,000 IU a day.
These kill bad bacteria; some interrupt the chemical processes used to make bacterial cell walls, others stop them multiplying.
But they also kill good bacteria that produce B vitamins. These are involved in maintaining muscles, bones and heart, as well as helping keep the nervous system healthy.
RISK: Heart disease, increased risk of cancer, leg cramps, low thyroid, bone loss.
PROTECTION PLAN: Vitamin B7 (Biotin), 1,000 mcg to 5,000 mcg a day; probiotics, 10 billion CFU (Colony Forming Units) to 40 billion CFU, one to three times a day, four hours before or after taking the antibiotics.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) include ibuprofen and aspirin and work by tackling prostaglandins, chemicals in the body that trigger inflammation, pain and fever.
Prostaglandins also protect the lining of the stomach from damaging effects of acid. They raise the risk of stomach ulcers and bleeding — leading to a loss of iron.
Another risk, says research by the University of Zagreb in Croatia, is that some NSAIDs (particularly ketoprofen, available as Orudis) latch on to and bind iron, rendering it useless.
Iron is essential in the making of haemoglobin, a protein that carries oxygen over the body.
These painkillers have been shown to reduce the activity of folic acid, needed to reduce homocysteine, an inflammatory compound linked to heart disease.
RISK: Heart disease, depression, diarrhoea, mouth sores, anaemia.
PROTECTION PLAN: Folic acid, 400 mcg to 800 mcg, once or twice daily; iron, 20mg to 30mg iron daily for up to three months (no longer as it could have a toxic effect).
BLOOD PRESSURE PILLS
One treatment for high blood pressure is ACE inhibitors, drugs that dilate the blood vessels. Some of them — captopril (brand name, Capoten), enalapril, lisinopril (Zestril), quinapril (Accupro), ramipril (Tritace), fosinopril — attach themselves to the mineral zinc.
But zinc in this ‘bound’ form is unable to replace the zinc the body needs for cell growth, utilising protein — important for hair growth — and boosting the immune system.
It’s also essential in the manufacture of testosterone and has a protective effect on the prostate gland.
RISK: Loss of sex drive, prostate problems, hair loss and slow wound healing.
PROTECTION PLAN: Zinc, 15mg to 25mg a day.
The most common treatment is with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), thought to work by boosting levels of brain chemicals linked to mood.
But these, such as paroxetine and fluoxetine (Prozac), may also lower the level of thyroid hormones vital for regulating metabolic rate, digestive functions and muscle control. They also help in mood and overall immune function.
As hormone levels drop, the body needs more iodine, essential to their production.
RISK: Hypothyroidism, depression, weight gain, lowered immunity.
PROTECTION PLAN: Iodine, 12.5mg to 25mg a day.
Often used for treating hypertension, heart failure and oedema (swelling) by increasing the amount of urine the kidneys produce. But you also lose plenty of minerals and nutrients.
One important vitamin is vitamin C, which boosts immunity and is essential for the healing of wounds. There’s also a loss of calcium which, along with being important for bones and teeth, helps you to burn fat more efficiently.
RISK: Slow wound healing, depression, leg cramps, weight gain, brittle bones.
PROTECTION PLAN: Vitamin C, 300mg to 2,000 mg (divided into two or three doses); calcium, 600mg a day with food.
THE PILL AND HRT
These work on hormone levels, but also indirectly, to destroy good bacteria in the gut that synthesises nutrients such as vitamin B6. Those taking oral contraceptives lack this nutrients, studies have shown.
Vitamin B6 plays an integral role in heart health, sleep and mood. Zinc is also depleted.
RISK: Insomnia, memory loss, irritability, heart disease, increased risk of cancer.
PROTECTION PLAN: Probiotics, 10 billion CFU to 40 billion CFU, one to three times a day on an empty stomach, four hours before or after antibiotics; zinc, 15mg to 25mg a day; vitamin B6, 50mg, once or twice a day.
This reduces the amount of glucose produced by the liver, limits the amount of sugar absorbed from diet and makes insulin receptors more sensitive.
But some types of medication — metformin (Glucophage), metformin and sitagliptin (Janumet), glipizide (Glibenese, Minodiab) — also reduce levels of haemoglobin, which can lead to low levels of vitamin B12, says one study. The drugs also appear to reduce levels of succinate dehydrogenase, and in turn, CoQ10.
RISK: Anaemia, muscle cramps, fatigue, memory loss, irregular heartbeat.
PROTECTION PLAN: CoQ10, 50mg to 200mg once or twice a day; Vitamin B12, 500 mcg to 1,000 mcg a day.