Prescription medications provide relief for various conditions and illnesses. For some people, they’re an important part of maintaining health and vitality. However, many come with the unwanted side effect of depleting your body of key nutrients.
Our bodies require sufficient vitamins and minerals to function properly– these micronutrients support healthy cell growth, immunity, and metabolism. In theory, we should get all the nutrients from the food that we eat. However, most North Americans don’t eat a balanced diet and despite advances in agricultural technology designed to enhance desirable traits such as size, growth rate and pest resistance, the nutritional quality of our food is diminishing. The unfortunate news is that certain prescription medications can exacerbate this nutrient deficiency even further.
Over time, nutrient deficiencies can cause unwanted symptoms, such as fatigue, brain fog and poor sleep. You may even develop another underlying condition caused by nutrient deficiency, resulting in more doctor’s visits than you’d probably like!
Thankfully, there are practical steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of nutrient depletion.
How Does Nutrient Depletion Happen?
Some medications simply suppress your appetite, such as adderall or vyvanse. Antidepressants, on the other hand, can make you crave more “junk” foods that contain scarce nutrients. Others impact the absorption of nutrients in the digestive tract, or accelerate their metabolism.
Medications can also increase urination and therefore flush nutrients from your body at a faster rate than normal.
Watch Out For These Symptoms Of Nutrient Deficiencies
Potential symptoms of nutrient deficiencies include, but are not limited to:
● Poor sleep
● Changes in appetite
● Dry brittle hair and nails
● Dandruff and hair loss
● Pale skin, dry eyes and dark eye circles
● Poor digestion - diarrhea, constipation, bloating
● Tingling or numbness
● Irritability/moodiness/brain fog
Many of these symptoms can be associated with other conditions, or can be dismissed as fatigue from our busy lifestyles. But if you notice any of the above symptoms, it may be time to review the medications you’re taking with a healthcare practitioner.
So, Which Drugs Deplete Nutrients?
More than 66% of US adults take at least one prescription medication, and this number is increasing.
Here are some commonly prescribed medications that often lead to nutrient depletion:
- Antacids. Often prescribed for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, antacids can be temporarily helpful for reducing uncomfortable heartburn by reducing stomach acid production. However, stomach acids also play a large role in your body’s absorption of nutrients. Research shows that long-term use of antacids depletes key vitamins like B12 and magnesium.
- Antibiotics. These tend to disrupt the gut flora, killing off “good” bacteria that are needed to absorb nutrients in food. It is common to see low levels of B vitamins, potassium, and biotin as a result of disruptions to the gut flora.
- Antidepressants. Prescribed to help with mood disorders, these medications can also cause changes to your appetite and food cravings. In turn, this will impact the quality of nutrients your body is getting. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have also been associated with folic acid depletion.
- Blood Pressure Medications. Prescriptions that lower blood pressure can also lower nutrients. For instance, beta blockers can disrupt the biological pathway of coenzyme Q10, which is essential for cellular processes. Diuretics are also commonly associated with deficiencies, as they increase urination, flushing out potassium, zinc, and magnesium at a higher rate than normal.
- Biguanides. These are used to improve glucose tolerance in patients with type 2 diabetes. They also tend to reduce the absorption of vitamin B12.
- Cholesterol lowering drugs. Often categorized as statins, these medications work by inhibiting an enzyme involved in the liver’s cholesterol production process. This enzyme is also crucial in the production of Coenzyme Q10, so deficiency is often an issue.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy. Certain hormonal prescriptions, especially those containing estrogen, have been found to deplete folic acid, magnesium, and B vitamins.
How To Prevent Nutrient Depletion From Prescription Medication
Now that we’ve covered some of the popular prescriptions associated with nutrient depletion, we can move on to prevention.
While in many cases these medications can be crucial, you also shouldn’t have to sacrifice your overall health to manage a condition.
1 - Eat a whole foods diet.
Ensuring that you are getting enough nutrients through your food is key in avoiding nutrient depletion. Many nutrient deficiencies that people experience when they start a new prescription occurs because they already had deficits in their diet. Make sure to eat:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Antioxidant rich berries, vitamin and mineral rich leafy greens, and nutrient dense complex carbs like sweet potatoes are all incredibly nutritious and very versatile.
- Quality meat and eggs. Aim for organic and pasture-raised, as these will have the most abundant nutrients.
- Healthy fats. Think olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, and fatty fish. These will keep you full longer and help curb junk food cravings.
2 - Address gut health.
Proper nutrient absorption begins with the gut. It is not just how you eat that is important, but how well your body can digest and eliminate that food. You may not feel the benefits of your balanced diet if your gut health is lacking. We recommend:
- Working with a practitioner to get to the root of any gut related problems like poor digestion or absorption.
- Eating probiotic rich foods, such as yogurt or kefir, especially if you are taking pain medications, antibiotics, or oral contraceptives. This will help replenish the “good” bacteria that gets killed from these medications.
3 - Supplementation.
Supplementation can be a great way to replenish nutrients lost as a result of medication, though it is important to work with a practitioner to determine the proper dosage for your needs.
IV therapy, which can offer a higher uptake of key vitamins and minerals, is often a good option to replenish leached vitamins and minerals.
Addressing The Root Cause
While prescription drug use has become incredibly common in North America, it is important to be aware of the side effects that come with so many of them. And it’s important to note that prescription medication does not always have to be the answer, in fact it’s often just a band aid solution to manage a symptom rather than a plan for long term health. Working with us can help determine if the prescription you are taking could be making other symptoms worse. As naturopathic health practitioners, we strive to find the root cause of our patients’ imbalances to get them back to their best state of health in the most natural way.
Your body needs crucial nutrients to function at its best; they are vital for energy, cognition, bone health, and more. Failing to replenish the nutrients lost as a result of medication may lead to further health complications down the road. Eating a balanced diet, focusing on gut health, and supplementing where needed will help ensure your health does not suffer as a result of your medications.
There is no reason to settle for suboptimal health! If you suspect your health is being impacted by medications, come in to review your medications and formulate a plan to get your health back!
Drake, V (2020), Ph.D.Linus Pauling Institute Oregon State University Retreived from https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/drug-nutrient-interactions
Cass, H. (2019, May 22). A practical guide to avoiding drug-induced nutrient depletion. Nutrition Review. Retrieved from https://nutritionreview.org/2016/12/practical-guide-avoiding-drug-induced-nutrient-depletion/
Mathieu, L. (2018, January 22). Drug-induced nutrient depletion: The warnings not listed on your RX label. Coastal Pharmacy & Wellness - Compounding Pharmacy and Vitamins and Supplements Store in Portland, Maine. Retrieved from https://www.coastalpharmacyandwellness.com/drug-induced-nutrient-depletions-not-listed-on-rx/
Mohn, E. S., Kern, H. J., Saltzman, E., Mitmesser, S. H., & McKay, D. L. (2018, March 20). Evidence of drug-nutrient interactions with chronic use of commonly prescribed medications: An update. Pharmaceutics. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5874849/
Morea, J. (2017, February 10). 6 ways to boost your nutrient absorption by improving your gut health. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@moreajamie/6-ways-to-boost-your-nutrient-absorption-by-improving-your-gut-health-2d2321189587