Previously written for The Natural Nutmeg
These days, it is not uncommon for individuals to be on several prescription medications. Though physicians and pharmacists are trained in known drug interactions and common side effects, there are some interactions with the body that patients are seldom made aware of. Every prescription drug or any drug affects the amount of nutrients in the body.
The Body’s Nutrient Pool
At any point, the human body has stores of most nutrients to help drive its biochemical pathways. Some of these nutrients are produced within the body; others must be acquired from our environment, including our diet. This pool of nutrients is essential for healthy vitality and optimal function. Many of these vitamins can be assessed with simple blood tests, including Vitamin C, D, E as well as Magnesium, Selenium, Iron and Zinc. Deficiencies in these nutrients can cause many different symptoms and even conditions, from muscle cramps and weakness to moodiness and irritability.
The government acknowledges the need for certain nutrient levels, first devising the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) in 1941. Over the years, these have been revised and refined, though it is important to know that these values represent the amount of a specific nutrient needed to avoid deficiency. These values do not take the individual into account, especially if an individual is taking medications. A person’s stores of nutrients and specific needs should be addressed with assessment of their medications as well as their diet, lifestyle and health conditions.
How Drugs Deplete us of Nutrients
Everything that enters the body interacts with the internal biochemistry and requires nutrients to help break it down, process it and clear waste byproducts. These substances also influence the function of enzymes, immune function, neurotransmitter production and even gene expression, which can in turn affect the nutrient needs of the body.
Nutrient synthesis can be influenced by medications. Certain nutrients are primarily acquired from the body’s production of them; an example is the powerful antioxidant, Coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 is also known as ubiquinone, and is a fat soluble vitamin known for supporting energy and cardiovascular health. Medications like the Statin drug class can, while serving their purpose of inhibiting cholesterol production, inhibit the production of Coenzyme Q10 in the liver. The average adult produces 10 mg of Coenzyme Q10 daily, but the average adult on a Statin drug produces far less if any, which could have a negative impact on the body over time. Nutrient synthesis occurs throughout the body, and many medications influence vitamins in this regard.
If the body does not produce a nutrient, it must acquire it from the environment, which typically is the diet. Many medications can inhibit or reduce the absorption of medication. Prilosec is a medication of acid reflux and heartburn, which has been shown to reduce the absorption of Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is important for nerve health, red blood cell production and DNA synthesis. Though the body is good at storing B12 and it takes years to develop a deficiency, looking at B12 levels in the blood and accessing red blood cells for signs of anemia is often advisable.
Other medications require an increase in vitamins and minerals in order to be detoxified and cleared out of the body. Oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies require the liver to package up and clear an increased amount of hormones, and therefore require more B vitamins and other nutrients to process the extra amounts out of the body. These increased needs associated with specific medications, prescription or over the counter, are often identified by the pharmaceutical companies at the time when the drugs are first being studied.
The average patient takes several prescriptions or over the counter supplements on a daily basis, in many cases indefinitely. The impact of these on the body’s nutrient pool is well understood, but often not the focus or concern of the conventional physician. Identifying increased needs for nutrients may be able to be addressed with nutrition alone; otherwise dietary supplements may be necessary to maintain an optimal nutrition level. There are many chemicals that people are exposed to every day that affect our nutrient needs. Toxic exposure to pesticides, plastics, solvents and stress can create an increased need for specific nutrients as well, but are less predictable than daily medications. In many cases, prescription drugs may be necessary for health conditions, but by addressing the drug nutrient depletions, an individual may reduce harmful effects or even allow the drug to be more effective.