Let me be absolutely clear: I am not anti-medication. In many situations they are absolutely necessary and lifesaving. They can prevent a lot of pain, suffering and anxiety.
My most personal experience of that was my ‘happy-dural’ as I like to refer to it after 22 hours of labour. Paracetamol? Are you actually joking? No thanks – give me the strongest painkiller known to man.
Most people also know that antibiotics, although definitely sometimes necessary, are rarely picky in the bacteria they kill. They often obliterate your friendly bacteria as well as the miserable ones.
But – did you know that so many regularly used medications directly deplete our body-battery of nutrients?
We need these nutrients to fuel many processes in our body that help us digest our food properly, make energy, keep our hormones balanced, help regulate our mood, brain function, stress levels.....you get the picture.
Some medications do this because they use up high amounts of the nutrients when they are busy doing their thing in your body. Others do this because they inhibit the conversion of nutrients into body-usable forms by interfering with the natural chemical reactions required.
In fact, it is actually nutrient deficiency that is behind a lot of the side effects that are listed, but this is rarely explained.
I’ve certainly not seen that noted on the 6-billion-trees-felled-that-nobody-reads medication leaflets.
Could this be contributing to your health challenges?
Do you take regular medication? Could you have less than optimal nutrient levels which may be covertly having an impact on your health?
Let’s take a look at some commonly used medications and the potential impact on our nutrient ‘body-battery’.
(1) Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) & Antacids
PPI’s are prescribed to reduce symptoms of acid reflux, stomach ulcers or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The most common ones of these in the UK come under the brand names of Omeprazole or Lansaprazole.
They work by reducing the amount of stomach acid you produce. However, as we need stomach acid to break down our foods and access their nutrients they also interfere with the absorption of vitamins and minerals, particularly B-Vitamins, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium.
Of particular concern is the impact PPIs can have on B12 absorption. You need B12 for the health of your blood cells and nerve function. Having less than optimal levels can impact sleep, cause fatigue, irritability, depression and memory challenges as well as pins and needles in your hands and feet.
The older we are, the more impact this may have as we absorb nutrients less efficiently. It is estimated that around 20% of elderly people have a B12 deficiency, many of whom will also be on PPIs permanently. PPIs are often prescribed alongside other medication where acid reflux is a known side effect.
The added irony here is that acid reflux is not always caused by too much stomach acid. Sometimes it can be caused by too little stomach acid.
The sphincter in between our stomach and our oesophagus needs to sense sufficient acid to remain shut. In some cases, too little stomach acid can mean that it gets confused and thinks it isn’t time to shut, allowing contents to rise up into our oesophagus.
In addition, a reduction in stomach acid means that we are more prone to overgrowth of microbes we don’t want – these can also produce extra gas and prevent digestion of food, again pushing open the spinchter.
PPI’s ‘sister’ Antacids don’t stop us from making stomach acid but they neutralise what is already there. Therefore if used regularly and for a long time the impact they have on nutrient absorption is similar. Yet these aren’t even prescription medications. I’ve had numerous clients who consider a few Rennie an essential part of their daily diet as they battle with acid reflux.
(2) Oral Contraceptive Pill (OCP)
Rarely do my clients consider this a ‘medication’ and it is often left off my medication list in my pre-consultation questionnaire.
However, it is unfortunately a huge drain on the body-battery bank. The nutrients impacted vary slightly depending on the type of OCP you are on, but of particular concern are Zinc and B-Vitamins.
Zinc is crucial for almost every function in your body as you need it to make proteins and carry out many chemical reactions in the body to keep us working like a well-oiled machine. You may be aware that it is vital for the immune system, wound healing and (ironically) hormone balance. We also need it to make stomach acid.
The OCP depletes all B-Vitamins which we use for energy production, brain function and our response to stress. Of particular concern is B9, commonly known as Folate. This is vital for cell repair and growth – it is why women who wish to get pregnant are advised to take Folic Acid supplements for at least a few months before conceiving.
I’ve seen several clients with persistent migraine who have been on the OCP and have found that a strong slow-release B2 supplement alongside dietary interventions has helped immensely. This is partly because B2 is a really important part of how our brain makes and uses energy.
The OCP also depletes an important mineral used to maintain thyroid function – Selenium. Our thyroid function controls metabolism and has a huge impact on our digestion, heart function and bone maintenance.
When the OCP is prescribed for short-term hormonal balance reasons rather than contraception I think we need to be mindful of the impact that depletion of all these nutrients will have on that hormonal balance in the long-term.
Around 80% of the cholesterol in our body is made by our liver. The other 20% comes from the food we eat. Statins are prescribed if cholesterol levels are considered too high. They work by inhibiting an enzyme which is needed by our liver to make cholesterol.
Unfortunately, statins also interfere with the process we use to make a compound called CoQ10. This is a very anti-inflammatory compound and is a vital part of the process in which we make energy, particularly in our muscle cells, including the heart.
Fatigue and muscle pain are two well-documented side effects of taking Statins. Some years ago, some doctor’s surgeries used to prescribe CoQ10 alongside statin prescriptions but I haven’t heard of this happening recently.
(4) Ibuprofen & Aspirin
Both deplete Vitamin C in the body because they encourage more of it to be excreted in our urine. They can also have a negative impact on the lining of your intestines leading to a reduced ability to absorb Vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals too.
In yet another irony, you might reach for the Ibuprofen or Aspirin when you are feeling under the weather – it may make you feel better in the short-term, but you need that Vitamin C to keep your immune system at fighting strength.
So how can we protect our nutrient body-battery?
I am absolutely not advocating that you stop any medication that you are taking. You must always take your doctor’s advice.
However, it can be really useful to understand the potential impact on your nutrient body-battery so that you can take action to correct and reduce those risks.
Find out the depletion's your medication might be causing and compensate for it in your diet.
For instance, if you take the OCP, be sure to eat lots of zinc rich foods such as beef, chicken legs, tofu, lentils and pumpkin seeds. To increase your intake of food rich in B-Vitamins consider fish, meat, eggs, nuts & seeds.
You can also consider other approaches to the symptoms you are trying to solve.
For instance, acid reflux responds well to natural approaches that get to the root cause of the problem rather than just treating the symptoms.
However, there are some very significant negative interactions between natural supplements and medication.
PLEASE DO NOT USE ANY SUPPLEMENT IF YOU TAKE ANY MEDICATION AND YOU HAVE NOT CHECKED FOR POTENTIAL INTERACTIONS WITH A QUALIFIED HEALTH PROFESSIONAL.
I can not stress this enough - especially with the likes of Amazon selling super-strength supplements at the click of a button. You must check that any supplement you want to take does not interact with regular medication. Most health professionals and certainly all nutritional therapists have access to industry-regulated medication/supplement interaction databases which are regularly updated.
If you’d like to chat about how your current or previous medications may have contributed to your health challenges today, please do not hesitate to get in touch.