There are many of the prescription drugs on the market today that are truly miraculous and are helping us live longer and more comfortable, productive lives. For many of us, it’s worth putting up with even moderate side effects if it means our blood sugar remains stable or we don’t experience heartburn after every meal. But there’s one darker side to some pharmaceuticals that until lately hasn’t gotten much attention: The fact that they can prevent us from properly assimilating nutrients. Here are some examples:
- Proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec, H2 blockers such as Zantac, and general antacids all block the production of stomach acid. While this can help to soothe heartburn in the short term, the long-term suppression of stomach acid leads to reduced absorption of many nutrients, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, vitamins B12 and C, and Beta Carotene. Magnesium deficiency is particularly concerning because it can lead to potentially life-threatening heart arrhythmias. Magnesium deficiency can also contribute to anxiety, restless leg syndrome, insomnia and muscle spasm.
- Metformin (also known as Glucophage) is a widely used drug for diabetes that causes the depletion of several nutrients, including Vitamin B12, Folic Acid and Coenzyme Q10. Up to 30 percent of people taking this drug will develop B12 deficiency. Anyone taking Metformin on a continuing basis should have B12 blood levels checked periodically. B12 supplements will generally correct any deficiency caused by this drug.
- Statin drugs like Lipitor and Zocor have an impressive track record for lowering cholesterol, but they also lower blood levels of Coenzyme Q10, especially when high doses are used. Coenzyme Q10 depletion by statin drugs may lead to muscle pain. From some people taking statins, Coenzyme Q10 supplements will help to reduce this pain.
- Antibiotics, while very useful for killing off harmful bacteria in the body, also kill off healthy bacteria in the gut. These healthy bugs are there for a reason—they help produce B vitamins and Vitamin K (which is essential for healthy blood clotting) and they also affect the function of the immune system. Disruption of this healthy flora has been tied to multiple medical conditions including cancer, depression and autoimmune disorders. A reduction in healthy intestinal flora can also lead to the overgrowth of more dangerous bacteria in the gut, including E. coli and C. difficile, leading to infectious gastroenteritis. Probiotic supplements may help offset damage to the gut caused by antibiotics.