Health Blog

The Problem with Prescriptions

By Angie Best
Jul 22, 2010

What's in your medicine cabinet? If you're like most Americans, then you probably have at least a few bottles of prescription medicine. In fact, over 3 billion prescriptions were written last year and the average American filled 12 prescriptions last year. And for many people, prescription drugs are life savers and treat thousands of conditions- from diabetes, mental illness, and high blood pressure - even cancer.

It's Complicated

But that doesn't mean taking prescription drugs are like popping candy, either. Besides the sometimes astronomic cost, sometimes the side effects can be costly. Business Week recently reported on the 4th leading cause of hospitalizations and the answer was surprising - damage from FDA-approved drugs.

Potential complications from prescription drugs can vary widely from mild allergic reactions like hives or nausea or serious illness or even death. One problem not often discussed with patients taking new medications is that many of them can deplete certain important nutrients.

Nutrient Depleting Drugs

The damage takes place slowly, over time, and it can be addressed, but only if you know about it. Here is a partial list of medications that can deplete your body of essential nutrients:

  • ACE inhibitors deplete zinc.
  • Acid reducers deplete B12 and calcium.
  • Antibiotics deplete Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacteria bifidum, and other good bacteria; vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, and K; biotin; and inositol.
  • Aspirin depletes folic acid, iron, potassium, and vitamin C.
  • Benzodiazepines deplete vitamin B12 and CoQ10.
  • Beta-blockers deplete CoQ10.
  • Corticosteroids deplete calcium, folic acid, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc.
  • Estrogens deplete magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B1, and zinc.
  • Famotidine and other H2-blocking drugs deplete calcium, folic acid, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and zinc.
  • Glucophage depletes vitamin B12.
  • NSAIDS deplete folic acid.
  • Oral contraceptives deplete vitamin C, vitamin B2, folic acid, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and zinc.

For more information, see Ross Pelton et al., Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook, 1999-2000 (Hudson, Ohio: Lexi Comp, 1999).

Do your homework. If you take any of these medications, or any others, do some research and figure out what effects they might have on essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. You may need to supplement to provide your body with the tools it needs to function optimally.

Side Effects

Your medication may not affect your vitamins and mineral levels, but it may cause other side effects you're not even aware of. Sometimes medication side effects can be minor and patients do not make the connection between what they are experiencing and what they are taking. Jot down any symptoms you have experienced, when the symptoms occurred (date, time of day, after using which medications?), and a description of the symptom. Symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, light headedness, falls, diarrhea, confusion, sleepiness, changes in urinary frequency, constipation, and dizziness may be related to a medication you are taking

Other Options

First of all, remember that medications aren't the only way to manage your health. For many people, making lifestyle changes would be enough to avoid having to take prescription medications.

Quick tip:

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