For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been warned not to ingest pills or medicines on an empty stomach. In fact, more often than not, the warning is placed right on the label of whatever it is I’m taking. So why — seemingly out of nowhere — is the opposite all of a sudden being stressed?
According to research posted by www.familydoctor.org, many foods can actually reduce the effectiveness of the medicine you take. This is called a “drug-food interaction.” Drug-food interactions can happen with prescription medicines and with over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, including antacids, vitamins, iron pills and others.
Sometimes the food you eat affects the ingredients in a medicine you’re taking and prevents the medicine from working the way it should. Obviously, this can be dangerous. Other times, combining drugs with certain foods or drinks can make side effects worse. For example, taking certain Over-the-counter antihistamines while drinking alcohol can increase the side effect of drowsiness. In older adults, this type of drug-food interaction can increase the risk of falling.
So what to take and what to avoid? You’d be surprised at some of the foods.
Take for instance grapefruit juice. Long a staple of diets and those who want to live a healthier life, grapefruit juice can actually can actually interfere with the metabolism of many medicines. In one sense this is not necessarily news — the effects of grapefruit juice on medicine has been discussed for about 20 years or so. But it’s only been recently that the molecules that inhibit some medicine (the enzyme CYP3A4) have been identified.
Likewise, milk products and their derivatives can inhibit the ability of antibiotics to be absorbed into the body — the fault of calcium above all.
Too much roughage — in particular spinach, green beans and lettuce and other greens rich in Vitamin K — can interfere with the anti-coagulant properties of many medicines.
Anti-inhibitors which combat hyper-tension and other cardiovascular maladies can be rendered useless when taken with products which are high in potassium like bananas, oranges or some vegetables. The combination of one with the other can cause damage to the circulatory and nervous systems.
The big issue here, according to the National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov) is that the precise combination of food and medicine – and which can offset the medicinal effects – is not exactly known. The best form of caution at this point say medical professionals is to block out the time you take your medicines: follow directions and stay clear of extraneous food other than what is recommended.
An excellent chart-breakdown culled from information provided by University of Florida, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Food/Drug and Drug/Nutrient Interactions: What You Should Know about Your Medications.” (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/HE776) sheds light on ssome other pharmo-food combinations to avoid:
Anticoagulant (blood thinner)
Vitamin K is a nutrient in the body that helps blood to clot. Vitamin K is present in foods such as green, leafy vegetables and fish. It will interfere with a blood thinner like coumadin.
Vitamin D and folic acid levels in the body are decreased by the taking of these types of drugs.
Antihypertensive (for high blood pressure)
Consuming foods high in sodium (i.e., licorice, processed meats, canned foods) will decrease the effectiveness of the drug.
Taking large amounts of these drugs will cause a loss of Vitamin C in the body.
Birth control pills
Women who take these drugs often have low levels of folic acid and Vitamin B6 in the blood.
Taking diuretics often leads to a loss of potassium in the body.
Calcium may interact with the effectiveness of the antibiotic. Avoid dairy products for two to three hours before and after taking the medicine.
Statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs)
Antioxidants (Vitamin A, C, E, B, folic acid) may interact with the drug by reversing its effect.
The drug may increase appetite thus increasing nutrient intake.
The drug may decrease appetite thus decreasing nutrient intake.
When you’re taking any medicine, it’s important to be aware of changes in your body and how you feel. If you have any concerns, call your doctor.
It may be hard to know whether a certain symptom is caused by your illness or by an adverse effect from your medicine. Tell your doctor when the symptom started and if it is different from other symptoms you have had. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the medicines and herbal health products you’re taking.
There are ways to avoid placing the body at risk of an unwanted nutrient-drug interaction. The following are tips to remember about taking medications and will help avoid interactions:
Always take medications with a full glass of water.
A drug may not work correctly if a medicine is taken improperly; do not stir medication into food or take apart capsules (unless told to do so).
Take vitamin and mineral supplements before or after medicine, as they may interact with certain drugs.
Avoid stirring drugs into hot drinks such as coffee because the drug’s effectiveness can be destroyed by the hot temperature.
Do not drink alcohol when taking any medicine.
A balanced diet is essential for everyday living, but the same fuel we put into our bodies can render medicines obsolete. Likewise the medicine you’re taking can impact the nutritional content of the food we eat as well. Nutritional status may also be impacted by a drug’s effect on the three main nutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. A drug may speed up or slow down the breakdown of these three nutrients, which are essential to the body’s functioning. When a drug affects the absorption of nutrients from food into the body, less energy is available to be used by the body.
Staying healthy doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Remember — read the directions on the medicines you take and bridge any questions with your care-provider.