I don't hate drugs. Drugs can be great (she says as every pot head giggles...) but even a tiny tylenol doesn't work without consequence in your body. Over 70% of Americans are on prescription drugs (even kids on prescriptions are on the rise), and over half of people 65+ take 3 medications a day (at least). Let me fill you in on how the top 5 prescription medications affect your body, and how to stay healthy while you take them.
So, for fun, let's pretend we're in a land before medications. People still got sick, and (sorry to spoil it for you) not everyone died. Why? Because bodies are pretty dang good at healing on their own, and also plants, herbs, and oils were used to help people fight illness. Even the drugs we use now started as herbs. Aspirin actually originated from willow tree bark, and common heart medications came from plant roots. Skip ahead a few thousand years and scientists figured out that if they went in a lab and changed those herbs to target specific cells, they could patent a new drug and make some bank. Making money is a good thing, but the specificity of medications can lead to a horse with blinders on scenario. Scientists are laser focused on how drugs affect one specific cell. This is good, because they're making the drug effective for the disease. This is bad, because they aren't looking at the effect on the rest of the body.
And gosh darnit, we live with our entire body every day and not just parts of it at a time.
Doctors are pretty good at deciding which medication will help you. The part that most doctors leave out, is how to support your body while you take medication. I've lost count of how many patients have said "why didn't my doctor tell me that?!" after I explained the importance of nutrition and medications. I had that same "A HA!" moment myself when I used birth control for several years. Not a single doctor or pharmacist mentioned that the unpleasant side effects I felt (fatigue, low sex drive, difficult digestion) could be resolved by replacing the B Vitamins that my birth control was stealing from my body (sound like you? click here). I wanted the birth control because an unplanned tiny human would've made grad school difficult, but I wasn't crazy about the toll it was taking on my body. After years of birth control I dug deeper and ran labs to evaluate my vitamin levels.
Guess what was in the tank: B12, B9, B1, B2... the vitamins responsible for balancing hormones (sex drive), creating energy (ahem, fatigue!), and good gut health (difficult digestion).
You've heard the dreaded part of a TV commercial where they list side effects really fast, right? "This magic drug will turn all of your days into butterflies and rainbows!" ... and then very quickly they say "may cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, constipation, explosive diarrhea, broken bones, or death. Please contact your physician if you can't feel your hands or have suicidal thoughts." Listen close next time, that list gets scary! Many of these side effects are due to nutrient depletion, and might be preventable.
Your body runs because you put food (fats, carbs, proteins, vitamins) into it, which get broken down to tiny bits that your body can use to make energy and regulate every process. So, yes, nutrition makes it possible for you to breathe, walk, daydream, watch Netflix, feel happy, blink, cry, etc. You can't even text "bae" without nutrients. Poke around our blog if you need to know more specifically why B vitamins, Vitamin D, Gut Flora, and others are so important. Medications need to use some (sometimes a lot) of your nutrients to do their job as well. When drugs use up your nutrient storage instead of your body using it for regular jobs, your body throws a fit and... here come side effects. This SUPER LOW storage, or robbery of vitamins and minerals is called "nutrient depletion."
How does this even happen?
Simply, we add a variable without making changes to balance it out. It's like if your eyesight changed, but you never got new glasses, and now you're left with the unpleasant side effect of blurry vision. Often times we make make nutrient depletion worse by adding multiple medications on top of each other. For example:
-- You have heartburn, so your doctor prescribes or suggests an antacid (something like Maalox, Mylanta, or Gaviscon)...
-- Antacids rob your storage of magnesium. With low magnesium you develop muscle cramps and headaches, so you take aspirin regularly...
-- Aspirin depletes Iron and B vitamins, which leaves you exhausted ... See the cycle?
Imagine these symptoms as a check engine light. A good decision would be popping the hood to see what's causing the problem (why is that symptom happening???), but many people, even doctors, don't pop the theoretical hood. Instead they find something to cover up the light, and keep going.
Here's the low-down on what the most common Rx Meds are taking from your body. The good news is knowledge is power, and you can absolutely do something about it! Note: I'm giving you food AND supplement options to fill your nutrient storage. It can be really hard to get enough vitamins in your food (especially if you have allergies or sensitivities) which is why I recommend supplements, but if you're a champion foodie then go for it!
What do they do?: Proton Pump inhibitors are meant to relieve short term discomfort from heartburn and acid reflux, but most people stay on antacids for more than 9 years! PPIs tell the stomach to produce less acid. However, stomach acid is one of the things that helps us digest our food, fight illness, and absorb nutrients which is why long term use goes haywire.
What do they steal?: Vitamin B12, B9, Calcium, Zinc, Vitamin A, and Iron
What do they do?: Fight bacteria. If you have a nasty bacterial illness, by all means kick that thing in the face with some antibiotics. Just make sure you aren't using antibiotics to treat a virus because then you're wreaking havoc for no reason (antibiotics don't work on viral infections).
What do they steal?: Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B7, and B12, as well as zinc, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and your healthy gut bacteria (which is VERY vital).
How do we fix it?: Methyl B's, Probiotic Complete, and Power Minerals OR seriously increasing foods like meat, nuts, green veggies, unprocessed whole grains, cabbage, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, organ meats, and fish.
What do they do?: Birth control pill have a combination of hormones that throw off your normal hormone levels in order to prevent ovulation (release of an egg) which means there is nothing for the sperm to fertilize = not pregnant!
What do they steal?: B vitamins are the biggie, but also vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
What do they do?: They work by blocking signal transmissions in the brain, which leaves more chemicals (neurotransmitters) available for use.
What do they steal?: CoQ10 and Vitamin B2
What do they do?: They act on the brain to block the production of enzymes that cause make us sensitive to pain.
What do they steal?: Vitamin B9 and Vitamin C
How do we fix it?: Power Multi or seriously increasing your intake of foods like broccoli, citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes, beans, and lentils.
So if you need a medication, or a have a round of antibiotics, be sure to replenish what you lost. Preventing side effects, rather than covering them up, is key for long term health.
Do you know a pharmacist or doctor interested in making medications safer? We'd love to hook up! Let's just say that medication chart gets much fancier and detailed for our doctor friends. Send them our way!