Before you read the rest of this article, know that the use of prescribed drugs can be life-saving or highly beneficial on a short-term basis. The problems described in this article refer to the long-term, chronic (months or years), consumption of drugs well beyond their emergency or acute use. Furthermore, abruptly stopping all drugs can sometimes lead to catastrophic consequences. Always check with your doctor about starting or stopping any medications.
Conventional doctors are quick to warn their patients against using nutritional supplements that could interfere with their prescriptions. For example, if you are on Warfarin for blood thinning purposes, you are certain to be admonished for supplementing with fish oil, vitamin E, and greens. But what about the reverse side of this issue? Shouldn’t you be doing something to offset the nutrient deficiencies caused by most drugs, especially if you are taking them on a long-term basis?
Few people taking prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs on a regular basis for chronic health concerns are aware that every drug causes a nutritional depletion. Worse still is the fact that most doctors who prescribe medication fail to warn their patients of the potential for nutrient depletion, and neglect to recommend taking the specific nutrients that the drugs are stealing from the body. For example, it is very well known and established that statin drugs prescribed for lowering cholesterol levels can damage the liver. It is also known that one can prevent liver damage by supplementing with B complex vitamins, the herbs milk thistle and curcumin, as well as N-Acetyl-Cysteine (N-A-C) and alpha lipoic acid. Statin drugs also deplete Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and vitamin D, yet these nutrients are rarely, if ever, prescribed for people who are instructed to take statin drugs for life.
In a past issue of Vitality magazine I wrote about the unsuspected danger to the liver of taking Tylenol, even at the recommended therapeutic doses.(1) Once again, one can prevent such liver damage by using B complex vitamins, milk thistle, curcumin, N-Acetyl-Cysteine, and alpha lipoic acid.
Nutrients Needed for Hormonal Health
Good nutrition is a very important part of optimizing hormonal function and preventing aging. According to experts (see reference list at end), each medication that a person takes causes at least one nutritional depletion. These depletions directly affect male and female hormone production along with adrenal gland function. Sexual dysfunction, chronic fatigue, and general malaise may be the end result. Nutrients needed by the body to build sex hormones in both men and women include boron, vanadium, zinc, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin B6. These are unfortunately depleted by numerous drugs.
Factors that support a biochemical process called methylation are also vital for hormone function. These include nutrients like SAMe (S-Adenosyl-Methionine), methionine, vitamins B2, B6 and B12, 5-MTHF (5-Methyl-Tetra-Hydro-Folate) and TMG (trimethylglycine). Stress tends to deplete these nutrients, as do a large list of drugs. Nutrients needed for good adrenal function include vitamin B complex, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, copper and manganese.
The most obvious example of drugs affecting hormonal balance is the opiate class of drugs that basically suppress all the male, female. and adrenal hormones leading to a loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, chronic maldigestion, and chronic fatigue.
Nutrient Depletions Caused by Prescription Medications
What follows here is a list of the most common drugs used by Western medicine and the nutrient depletions they cause. In most cases, making diet changes or using the appropriate nutrient supplement can prevent the inevitable deficiency signs and symptoms caused by the drug.
ACE Inhibitors (Ramipril, Captopril)
Angiotensin II converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are most often used to control high blood pressure. Unfortunately, they deplete vitamin B6, magnesium, potassium, and Coenzyme Q10.
It’s been well known for over 20 years that aluminum-containing antacids deplete the body of calcium, phosphate, and folic acid. High aluminum levels in the body have been associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Despite this possibility, these drugs continue to be widely available without a prescription.
Antacids containing sodium bicarbonate are more natural to the body, but long-term chronic use can deplete the body of potassium and folic acid. One can get prescription bicarbonate with added potassium and then also supplement with folate to prevent depletion.
Your stomach acid is the first line of defense against invading bacteria, parasites and fungi that contaminate food. By knocking hydrochloric acid out, antacid drugs can, in susceptible individuals, cause an abnormal colonization of the gastrointestinal tract with unfriendly microbes. Pneumonias, candida, and other infections can occur as a direct result. I wrote about this in a past article on the hazards of regular antacid use.(2)
Those who wish to avoid antacids can benefit from changing the diet by avoiding allergenic foods, caffeine, and alcohol. Recommended supplements to alleviate indigestion naturally include: DGL (Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice Root), L-glutamine, slippery elm, berberine, aloe vera juice, raw cabbage juice, calcium citrate, and magnesium bisglycinate.
Despite the now well-known and publicized fact that the frequent and chronic use of antibiotics leads to resistant bacterial strains and infections with superbugs, they continue to be prescribed for viral infections. Antibiotics are also found in abundance in our food supply. Fast food hamburgers, for example, can contain traces of at least 18 different antibiotics.
All antibiotics destroy the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, causing deficiencies in B complex vitamins, vitamin K2, and just about all minerals, especially if the antibiotic causes diarrhea as one of its side effects.
The aminoglycoside class of antibiotics, for example, that include gentamicin, tobramycin, amikacin, streptomycin, neomycin, and paromomycin will deplete magnesium, a mineral that has over 300 functions in the body. I have also written about the importance of magnesium in a past Vitality magazine issue.(3)
If you must be on antibiotics of any kind, make sure that you also take a probiotic supplement containing at least 45 billion live organisms (approximately 2 hours apart from an antibiotic dose). These bacteria will manufacture most of your B complex vitamins and vitamin K2.
Anti-malarial antibiotics like hydroxychloroquine, used to treat autoimmune diseases and given to patients on long-term dialysis, deplete the body of calcium and vitamin D.
Recently, I saw a patient at my office who had been on Cipro (Ciprofloxacin) daily for two years. It’s also common for men who have chronic prostate infections to be on long-term Cipro. Fluoroquinolones (Ciprofloxacin, gemifloxacin, levofloxacin, moxifloxacin, norfloxacin, and ofloxacin) can have harmful effects on tendons (ie. torn Achilles tendon), muscles, and ligaments, and also rob the body’s stores of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iodine, and iron as well as the beneficial gut flora. Supplementing with these nutrients can help reverse or prevent some of the long-term adverse reactions.
The older tricyclic antidepressants deplete vitamin B2 and Coenzyme Q10, while the newer SSRIs (selective serotonin uptake inhibitors like Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc.) deplete the body of melatonin and iodine. These all have a high fluoride content which would explain most of their toxicity. Fluoride displaces iodine and will have detrimental effects on the thyroid and hundreds of enzymes in the human body.
The SARIs (serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitors) like Trazedone and Nefazedone deplete vitamin B12 and Coenzyme Q10. High doses of the mineral lithium used to treat bipolar disorder depletes inositol, weakens the thyroid and may induce kidney damage.
Benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium) and Xanax deplete melatonin. It was recently shown that antidepressants can double the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s, possibly due to causing brain damage and nutrient depletion.(4)
Barbiturates deplete the body of calcium, folic acid, vitamin D, vitamin K and biotin. Phenytoin (Dilantin) depletes biotin, calcium, folic acid, B1, B12, folic acid, vitamins D, E, K, phosphorus and carnitine. Carbamazepine depletes biotin, folic acid, vitamins D and E. Valproic acid depletes folic acid, carnitine, copper, selenium, B6, vitamin E and zinc.
The commonest drug prescribed for those suffering from Parkinson’s Disease is Levodopa which depletes the body of potassium, SAMe, vitamin B6, and Coenzyme Q10. Anyone with Parkinson’s should consider oral supplementation with these nutrients at the very least, as well as intravenous glutathione, a therapy receiving more attention lately pioneered by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter.
ARBs (Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers)
ARBs like candesartan, losartan, and telmisartan are yet another class of anti-hypertensives and they can deplete zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and Coenzyme Q10.
Beta Blockers (Metoprolol, Bisoprolol)
Beta blockers are a class of drugs used to treat angina, high blood pressure, and irregular heart rhythms. Unfortunately, they deplete the body of CoQ10 – the heart’s most important antioxidant, and melatonin. Beta blockers also lower HDL, the protective carrier protein of cholesterol. One can combat the low HDL by taking a supplement of 200 mcg chromium daily.
This is a class of drugs that include Fosamax, Actonel, Didrocal, generally used to treat osteoporosis. Unfortunately, they deplete the body of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. They can cause the dissolution of the jaw bones and spontaneous fractures. I wrote about this class of drugs in a past issue of Vitality magazine.(5)
Anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as Coumadin, Warfarin, Heparin, Lovenox, Normiflo, Orgaran, Aspirin, and Plavix deplete vitamin D, Coenzyme Q10, magnesium, potassium, zinc, folic acid, and calcium. The newer blood thinners such as Pradaxa, Xarelto (the drug that golfer Arnold Palmer was on before he died; by the way, he no longer appears in the drug commercials), and Eliquis have not yet been around for long enough to see if they rob the body of any nutrients, but stay tuned because nutrient depletion is a likely side effect.
Sulfonylureas (e.g. glyburide) deplete CoQ10 and vitamin E. Biguanides (eg. metformin) deplete vitamin B12, vitamin E, folic acid and CoQ10. Injected insulin may deplete the body of DHEA. It’s no wonder that people on these drugs can feel chronically fatigued. The fatigue may not necessarily be because of diabetes, but because of the drug used to treat it.
Diuretics (‘Water Pills’)
When I was first taught about diuretics in medical school, I was warned by my professors that these drugs deplete potassium and that this could lead to serious heart problems. So, the major drug companies invented “potassium sparing” diuretics. Unfortunately, these caused a depletion of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and folic acid. If you are taking ‘water pills’, make sure to also take a supplement that replaces what you are losing in the toilet bowl. Some of these drugs can also elevate your blood sugar and uric acid, leading to kidney stones and gout which in turn leads to a whole new set of health issues.
Mineral Oil Laxatives
It surprises me how many doctors still prescribe mineral oil for constipation rather than advising on basic things like proper diet, adequate fibre, and increased water intake. Over the years, I have heard of many children who went to hospital emergency rooms for constipation and were quickly prescribed mineral oil. Unfortunately, mineral oil depletes the body of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, K and beta-carotene., CoQ10, alpha lipoic acid, calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. And mineral oil can deplete the body of vitamin K if taken for only a week.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen, salicylates, indomethacin, etc.) or, as some people have called them: “new sorts of aspirin in disguise”, will deplete the body of iron, vitamin C, calcium, folic acid, potassium, vitamin B5, and melatonin. Long term use has been associated with blood loss, anemia, hemorrhage and death. If you are interested in pain relief without drugs, read more here.(6)
The birth control pill robs the body of B complex vitamins, especially folic acid, B1, B2, B3, B6 (synthetic estrogen inhibits the conversion of tryptophan to niacin (B3), for example), vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, zinc and tyrosine. Blood clots, strokes, and sudden death can be side effects of some birth control pills used to treat acne. The possibility that these side effects are caused by nutrient depletions cannot be ruled out.(7)
This is a class of drugs which is also known as “HMG- CoA Reductase Inhibitors”. They basically block the enzyme that manufactures cholesterol in the liver. You probably know these as Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Pravachol, Mevacor, et al. They are hyper-prescribed for anyone with an elevated cholesterol level, virtually all diabetics despite the fact that the drubs can elevate blood sugar, as well as anyone with a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes.
If you are over 50 and well connected with conventional medical doctors, chances are high that you are either on statins already or are being talked into taking them. The belief in these ubiquitous pills absolutely astounds me, given that the evidence for their use is so questionable. I wrote about challenging the statin dogma in this magazine a few years ago and nothing to date has convinced me that this is not a dangerous and largely unnecessary class of drugs. The statin brainwashing runs deep so, if you need to see the other side of the story, please read my article for a fresh perspective.(6)
The now well-documented evidence shows that statins deplete the body of Coenzyme Q10, vitamin D, vitamin E (tocopherols and tocotrienols), omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, carnitine, selenium, copper, vitamin K2, vitamin A, and creatine (perhaps one reason why muscle pain is associated with statins).
Corticosteroids ingested in pills, injections, inhalers, or creams will gradually deplete a person of vitamins A, B6, B12, C, D, K, folic acid, calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, zinc, and chromium. Steroids can also deplete the adrenal glands’ major hormone, DHEA. The severity of the depletions can lead to immune system problems, recurrent infections, and osteoporosis.
All drugs, without exception, deplete nutrients. This in turn leads to new health problems. I didn’t even cover chemotherapy drugs and a new class of autoimmune disease drugs called “biologics” (now there’s a misnomer if I ever heard one). These happen to be some of the most side effect-associated drugs out there. Before you start any prescription or OTC drug, ask your health care provider or just look up what nutrients the drug depletes. One excellent website to consult is: https://rxisk.org You can prevent many new illnesses that way.
- An independent drug safety website that reports on drug risks, side effects, and patient commentaries: https://rxisk.org
- Pelton, R. and LaValle, J. The Nutritional Cost of Drugs. 2nd Ed. Englewood, CO: Morton Publishing company, 2004.
- Smith, P. What You Must Know About Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs and More. Garden City Park, NY:Square One Publishers, 2008.
- Braun, L., and Cohen, M., Herbs and Natural Supplements: An Evidence Based Guide. 4th Ed. Volume 2. Australia: Elsevier, 2015.
- Smith, P. What You Must Know About Women’s Hormones. Garden City Park, NY: Square One Publishers, 2010
- D’Erasmo, E et al. “Drug induced osteomalacia,” Recenti Prog Med 1998; 89(10): 529-33.
- Rhodes, J., “Side effects of antacids treatments.” Antacids in the Eighties. Halter F, (Ed.) Munchen, Germany: Uran & Schwarzenberg, 1982: p. 99-102.
- Russell, R. et al, “Effect of antacid and H2 receptor antagonists on the intestinal absorption of folic acid.” Jour Lab Clin Mewd 1988; 112:458-63.
- Antibiotics in fast Foods. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/fast-food-restaurant-chains-antibiotics-in-meat-supply/
- Harkness, R., et al. Mosby’s Handbook of Drug-Herb and Drug-Supplements Interactions. St. Louis: Mosby, 2003.
- Elliott, C., et al, “Gentamycin effects on urinary electrolyte excretion in healthy subjects,” Clin Pharm Ther 2000: 67: 16 – 21.
- CoQ10 depletion by Statins, IOS Press Content Library: http://content.iospress.com/articles/biofactors/bio00551
- Drug-Nutrient Depletions; Pharmavite: http://tinyurl.com/zpz4s5l
- Diabetes Drugs Deplete Nutrients. http://tinyurl.com/zqkv3ot
- Blood thinners and nutrient depletions. http://tinyurl.com/ju66ecw
- Buckley LM, Leib ES, Cartularo KS, et al. “Calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation prevents bone loss in the spine secondary to low-dose corticosteroids in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” Annals of Internal Medicine 1996;125:961-68.
- Sambrook PN: “Calcium and vitamin D therapy in corticosteroid bone loss: what is the evidence?” Journal of Rheumatology, 1996; 23:963-964.
- Lems WF, Van Veen GJ, Gerrits MI, et al: Effect of low-dose prednisone (with calcium and calcitrol supplementation) on calcium and bone metabolism in healthy volunteers, British Journal of Rheumatology, 1998, 37(1):27-33.
- Glutathione for Parkinson’s Disease: http://drhoffman.com/article/parkinsons-disease-and-glutathione-2/
- Nutrient Depletions with Statins. http://www.drsinatra.com/nutrient-depletion-a-serious-side-effect-of-statins/
- Side effects of mineral oil. http://tinyurl.com/zpfqqzn
- Langsjoen PH, Langsjoen AM. “The clinical use of HMG CoA-reductase inhibitors and the associated depletion of coenzyme Q10: A review of animal and human publications.” Biofactors 2003;18 (1-4):101-111.
- Nutrient depletions induced by statin drugs: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/disease/drug-induced-nutrient-depletion-statin-drugs
- Oral Contraceptives Change Nutritional Requirements. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23852908
- Nutritional effects of oral contraceptives. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7001015