Are Your Prescriptions Affecting Your Nutrients?

Your prescriptions and nutritional supplements could be interfering with your good health

by Terese Dudarewicz, MD

When you’re ill, have a chronic medical condition or need medication for another health issue, prescription drugs can be a valuable and important part of your care.

However, some medications may deplete your body of important nutrients over time, creating a nutrient deficiency that may have an adverse effect on your health. Replacing depleted nutrients may be beneficial to you.

Common medications and nutritional supplements

Here’s an overview of some of the most common prescription medications, their potential effect on various vitamins and nutrients, and what it can mean to your health. If you take these medications and have concerns or questions, talk to your physician.

  • Antacids/ulcer medications: May reduce your levels of vitamins B12 and D, calcium, folic acid, iron and zinc.
  • Anti-inflammatory/steroid drugs: May deplete vitamins C, D, B6 and B12, as well as calcium, folic acid, magnesium, selenium and zinc.
  • Cardiovascular drugs: Anti-hypertensive medications may diminish your vitamin B6, Beta blockers are known to decrease coenzyme Q10, and ACE inhibitors also may affect zinc.
  • Cholesterol drugs: Some cholesterol medications may reduce coenzyme Q10.
  • Contraceptives/hormone replacement drugs: Oral contraceptives, estrogen and hormone replacement medications may deplete B vitamins, as well as folic acid and magnesium.
  • Diuretics: May affect coenzyme Q10, calcium, magnesium and potassium levels.

Potential health effects of nutrient deficiencies

What are the potential health effects of nutrient deficiencies? Here’s an overview.

  • Vitamin B6: Low levels may cause depression, insomnia, irritability and hyperactivity.
  • Vitamin B12: Lack of B12 may cause pernicious anemia, may lead to confusion, depression, fatigue and weakness.
  • Vitamin C: If you’re low on vitamin C, you may have a weakened immune system and bruise more easily. It may also increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.
  • Vitamin D: Lack of the “sunshine vitamin” may increase your risk of osteoporosis and other bone disorders. Recent research also suggests that vitamin D may provide protection from cancer and other immune diseases.
  • Calcium: Insufficient calcium may lead to osteoporosis, it is also important for cardiovascular health.
  • Coenzyme Q10: Essential in energy production, powerful antioxidant. Low levels of coenzyme Q10 may contribute to fatigue and weakness, including muscle weakness.
  • Folic acid: Adequate folic acid is especially important to women of childbearing age, as too little of this vitamin may cause birth defects. Deficiency in folic acid can also contribute to depression, and insomnia.
  • Iron: Iron deficiency may result in anemia, fatigue, hair loss and brittle nails. (However, too much iron can be dangerous, so never take iron supplements without your physician’s approval.)
  • Magnesium: Too little magnesium may contribute to decreased hair and nail growth or impaired coordination, may also cause muscle spasms and tremors.
  • Potassium: Low potassium levels may cause irregular heartbeat, muscle weakness, and fatigue.
  • Selenium: When selenium levels are low, immunity protection may be compromised.
  • Zinc: Diminished zinc stores may contribute to weakened immunity and slow wound healing. It may also contribute to acne, arthritis, dandruff, fatigue and hair loss.

Talk with your doctor

In most cases, these deficiencies are minor and can be offset with vitamin or mineral supplements, but always check with your physician before taking supplements to ensure you’re making the right choices. In some cases, supplements can interfere with the effectiveness of your prescription medications or cause other problems.

This Scripps Health and Wellness information was provided by Teresa Dudarewicz, MD, family practitioner with Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla.

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