Drug Inflation, Nutrient Depletion

Key Takeaways:
  • Almost 50 percent of all Americans use at least one prescription drug regularly.
  • The most common of these medications, even those taken over-the-counter, deplete one or more vital nutrients that are needed to survive.
  • Medications and seemingly harmless supplements, such as melatonin taken on a restless night to help with sleep, when taken daily can actually exacerbate the original issue and in some cases cause even more health issues.
From the commercials invading your TV to the billboards intruding your view on your drive to work, it’s evident that America is becoming a pill-dependent society.  Almost half of all Americans use a prescription drug regularly; about 20% take three or more (NPR, 2016). However, a lesser-known fact is that most common medications, including those over-the-counter, deplete one or more vital nutrients needed to survive. And furthermore, physicians are not aware that some of the conditions they see every day may be the result of medication-induced nutrient loss.  Patients are even more in the dark, and some diagnoses may lead to additional medications, resulting in polypharmacy that causes even more problems that may include the prescribing of yet more drugs - an endless cycle.  

Prescription Drug Overuse? 

Take, for example, the middle-aged person needing a thiazide diuretic and a beta blocker for high blood pressure and palpitations, in addition to a bisphosphonate drug for osteoporosis. This person was referred to a physician because life was disturbed by fatigue, anxiety, depression and insomnia. These symptoms call for an antidepressant, an anti-anxiety drug or a sleeping pill. The issue is, any of these medications might cause mineral depletions that evoke the symptoms presented, notably deficits of magnesium, potassium and possibly zinc.

Let’s Talk About Nutrient Depletion 

Some drugs reduce appetite, further limiting the intake of required nutrients. Some stimulants, such as Ritalin/Adderall and a few antidepressants, have this characteristic.  On the other hand, some drugs may increase the craving for undesirable foods, such as refined carbohydrates. Some psychotropics fit here because they may produce insulin swings.  Other medications interfere with nutrient absorption by binding to them prior to uptake into the bloodstream. Some antibiotics are noted for this activity. Drugs that bind to fats, with the aim of lowering cholesterol, can interfere with absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A, D, E and K.  Coenzyme Q10, known either as ubiquinone or ubiquinol in its reduced form, is easily displaced by some antihypertensives, like beta blockers and statins intended to adjust cholesterol values*. Considering that CoQ10 is vital to the electron transport chain, its deficit may lead to cardiovascular issues that are easily prevented*. Beta blockers also prevent the manufacture of melatonin, a hormone made by the pineal gland when the sun goes down to encourage restful sleep. Here, taking melatonin as a supplement can offset the deficiency. Even tried-and-true Tylenol sacrifices the amino acid tryptophan.  Those acid reflux remedies we consume, both Rx and OTC, cause several nutrient deficiencies. Just by neutralizing stomach acid, food breakdown is impaired.  Vitamin B12 and folic acid, iron and zinc are often in deficit. Where vitamin D and calcium absorption is disrupted, skeletal abnormalities, including fractures, may occur. Antibiotics are non-selective, they kill the good with the bad. Friendly gut bacteria make vitamin K.  If you kill the bacteria, you kill the vitamin K factory. Not only does vitamin K help blood to clot following injury, but it also helps to carry calcium to bone and away from arterial walls, where it can get into trouble by setting the stage for a clogged artery. Unfortunately, a practitioner informing patients that they can get all the nutrients they need from their food is not the norm. 

Outdated Inaccuracies for Nutrient Recommendations 

Almost everything we purchase comes with a user manual - unfortunately our bodies do not. What we call the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for nutrient values is about as close as we get, but even this is worthy of contempt. Devised before WWII, the RDA was based on a survey of the food intake of a hundred people who classified themselves as “healthy”. Using whatever quantifying instruments were available at the time, government employees decoded the nutrient values of the diets and decided that these determinations apply to most people in the country. However, one size does not fit all. The RDA merely describes the amount of a nutrient needed to prevent a disorder caused by the lack or shortage of that nutrient. So, then, the 60 mg of vitamin C that is recommended every day will prevent scurvy, but is unlikely to perform any of the other tasks ascribed to higher vitamin C doses. What’s adequate for you is not the same for your twin. The RDA has naught to do with optimal health.  That said, optimal health and wellness are compromised in the face of modern medicine…or modern medication, at least. Unfortunately, in our today’s world, our food supply has been demeaned by over-hybridization for the sake of increased food production; by the premature harvest of produce to guarantee its youthful beauty in the marketplace, despite not spending enough time in the ground to develop its nutrient potential; and by poor storage and handling prior to reaching the home kitchen, after which time who-knows-what culinary insults are practiced. It’s bad enough to need supplementation for this, yet the situation is compounded by the nature of chemicals that are supposed to be good for us.  At the end of the day, you know your body best. Modern medicine is a great tool, but it’s important to educate yourself about what you’re putting in your body. As always, consult your doctor or healthcare professional before you decide to cease taking any prescribed medication. Should you wish to learn more about how some of today’s drugs can affect your nutrient levels, we recommend “Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know about Nutrition,” by Hyla Cass, M.D. Should you decide to get some guidance from knowledgeable health care professional, look for an integrative medicine practitioner, a dietitian-nutritionist or a supplement manufacturer staffed by such personnel.