Is Your Medication a Nutrient Thief?

Heart disease, high cholesterol, depression, HRT, the Pill, antibiotics. high blood pressure, arthritis – we all know someone taking drugs to help with these common conditions.  Is it possible that the prescribed drugs may be doing as much harm as they are good?

According to Clell Fowles, a pharmacist who specializes in the effects of nutrient depletions caused by common drugs, the answer surprisingly is: potentially yes!  And he is one of a growing number of professionals concerned about this problem.

Clell is the head pharmacist for Nature’s Sunshine, a leading herbal supplement company, who started researching the effects of drugs on the nutrient supplies in the body in response to customer queries.  The results startled him enough that he has continued to research and collate information as it becomes available – drug companies are not legally obliged to research these hidden side effects, so studies are slow to be undertaken.

Let’s start by looking at something we are all familiar with – friendly bacteria!  They don’t just make funny adverts, they are essential for good digestion, good immune function, help your body produce some vital vitamins, help regulate hormones, improve absorption of nutrients from your food and studies have even shown they can help reduce some risk factors for some cancers, and help prevent bone density loss.  Quite a lot for these little critters to undertake!  Many of you are aware that antibiotics wipe out these good guys along with the bad so, on completion of a course of antibiotics, taking a probiotic supplement to right the balance is essential (‘live’ yoghurt just doesn’t do the job, I’m afraid!).

But how many of you are aware that alongside the friendly bacteria are also depletions in a long list of essential vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin A?  A lack of which will all impact on your health.

Or that antidepressants can leave your body lacking in a wide range of B vitamins as well as the potent antioxidant co-enzyme Q10?  ‘So what?’ you might think.  Well, it becomes something of a Catch 22 as B vitamins are essential in the production of certain neurotransmitters which keep your mood stable, so a lack of B vitamins compromises your ability to get off antidepressants in the long term.  As Clell states ‘ Antidepressants are meant to be a short-term helping hand, not long-term medicine, but is it any wonder so many people can’t get off them?’

Co-enzyme Q10 levels in the body are affected by a significant number of common drugs.  The most worrying of these are the heart and cholesterol medications.  Why?  Because co-enzyme Q10 is essential for a healthy functioning heart and a depletion of this nutrient can increase risk of cardiomyopathy and heart failure – ironically, just what you’re trying to avoid!!

So what can you do if you are taking drugs regularly?  Well, if nothing else it’s a good idea to take a good quality multi-vitamin as a safety net, but even more important is that you take some responsibility for your own health.  Below are a few recommendations to ensure that the first drug you take doesn’t eventually lead you into taking another, and then another as the depletion issues start to bite.

First, and most obviously is to do what Clell calls ‘keeping yourself in a good nutritional stance’.  ie.  ensure you get an optimum daily intake of essential nutrients to offset any effects of your drugs (not easy with our depleted soils).  Next, you need to educate yourself fully on any medicines the doctor has put you on – understand what they will do, and what the side effects are likely to be.

‘You have a choice’  he reminds us.  ‘Pick your medications wisely – we know more about older medications and their effects.’  Drugs new to the market are still an unknown quantity – it can take up to 5 years for major side-effects to be recorded.  An older drug that does basically the same thing is less risky.  ‘Be a partner in your health with your doctor’ he counsels.

And last, but not least, find out what nutrient depletions your drugs cause and act on them.  Improving your knowledge now may prevent more problems occurring further down the line.

Click here for a table of common drugs and the nutrients they affect.

So, it’s a straightforward message really – by taking a few simple steps you can ensure that the drug you’re taking to improve your health doesn’t have exactly the opposite effect!


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