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How Your Medications May Be Causing Nutrient Deficiencies and What You Can Do

Tablets in a vial

America is known for its heavy use of prescription drugs. According to Consumer Reports, the total number of prescriptions filled by Americans has increased by 85 percent in the past two decades, while the total U.S. population has only increased by 21 percent. All told, 55 percent of Americans take an average of four prescription medications on a daily basis.

While the most common side effects of medications are clearly stated in the drug documentation and sometimes explained by the prescribing physician, nutrient depletion resulting from the drug is rarely addressed. Still, drug-related nutrient deficiencies are very common, according to an article published in the journal “Pharmaceutics” which points out that since many health care providers are not knowledgeable about nutrient deficiencies caused by prescription and over-the-counter medications, symptoms of deficiencies may be attributed to other medical problems. delaying proper diagnosis and leading to even more drugs being prescribed.

Here, we look at how medication can cause nutrient deficiencies, the most common drugs and deficiencies, and what you can do to protect yourself while taking prescribed medications.

How Medications Result in Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies related to medication can occur in several ways. Certain medications, such as the stimulants used to treat ADHD, can curb the appetite and lead to nutritional deficiencies related to not eating enough food.

A number of medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, and steroids, cause swings in blood sugar levels, which cause cravings for simple carbohydrates like bread, pasta, and sugary treats. Filling up on these processed foods that contain few nutrients leaves little room for healthy foods that provide adequate vitamins and minerals.

Many medications can cause a direct nutrient deficiency by inhibiting the absorption of certain nutrients or depleting stores of them. For example, oral contraceptives and cholesterol-lowering drugs inhibit the absorption of zinc, while arthritis medications and hormone replacement therapy deplete levels of folic acid in the body. Some drugs can block the effects and production of nutrients at the cellular level by influencing enzymes or cell receptors.

Compounding the problem is that far too often, physicians don’t consider medication-related nutrient deficiencies when patients develop new symptoms. Doctors may explain them away as normal side effects, part of the illness, or even the result of aging. They may prescribe even more medications to treat these new symptoms, which may, in fact, be related to low levels of key nutrients in the body.

Common Medications and Related Nutritional Deficiencies

Some of the most common drugs prescribed in America are known to cause nutritional deficiencies. Beta blockers, which treat heart disease, deplete levels of CoQ10, an enzyme essential for heart health. They can also inhibit the release of an enzyme required for melatonin production, causing sleep problems. People who take beta blockers should address potential deficiencies by taking CoQ10 and melatonin supplements, which are widely available.

Statin drugs, which are used to lower cholesterol, are also widely prescribed and carry a risk of CoQ10 deficiency, producing symptoms like muscle pain and weakness, mood swings, and depression. 

Antacids and other drugs prescribed to treat heartburn may cause nutrient deficiencies by reducing the volume of acid in the stomach, which is crucial for breaking down the nutrients in food. Deficiencies associated with these drugs include vitamin B12, folic acid, iron, and zinc. A daily supplement of these nutrients will help ensure adequate levels.

How to Protect Yourself

Different medications and different combinations of medications affect different nutrients through a variety of mechanisms. Your age and general state of health can also play a role in whether a medication causes a nutrient deficiency.

One of the most important things you can do for your health is to educate yourself about the medications you take and the potential deficiencies associated with them. One helpful, evidence-based tool for this purpose is Simply enter your medications, and the tool will provide a list of nutrients at risk, along with symptoms of a deficiency. If you suspect you may be affected by inadequate amounts of a certain nutrient, a supplement can help restore its levels and reduce symptoms. Visit our store to order online.

You can also consult with your doctor when a medication is prescribed, or talk with your pharmacist when you pick up the medication. Ask whether there are any nutritional deficiencies associated with the medication and what supplements you should be taking while on it.

A proactive approach is the best way to stave off nutrient deficiencies related to the medications you take. Always ask questions, and do your due diligence to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need for optimal health.




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