Many common drugs—both prescription and over-the-counter—can cause nutritional deficiencies that can add to already existing health problems. Instead of healing your problem, the drug only causes more problems. In fact, heart disease is due in a large part to nutritional deficiency. Just as too little vitamin C causes scurvy, too little folate (and to a lesser extent, vitamins B6 and B12) can cause your arteries to clog up. Many years of chronic folate deficiency can result in a heart attack or stroke.
In the book, The Nutritional Cost of Prescription Drugs, the author Ross Pelton, R.Ph., Ph.D., CCN, points out that over 1,000 of the most commonly prescribed prescription drugs, and many over-the-counter (OTC) medications, deplete one or more nutrients in humans.
Studies reporting this information have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals for decades, but since the medical profession believes that, except for gross excess or deficiency, nutrition is of little importance to overall health, the information has been largely ignored.
He states that the annual survey of the top 200 drugs in the United States revealed that 15 out of the top 20 prescription drugs in the United States in 1999 are drugs that cause nutrient depletion. Thus, millions of people are taking medications that unknowingly deplete their bodies of essential nutrients.
Commonly Prescribed Drugs that Can Cause Nutritional Deficiencies
Oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
Estrogen replacement therapy
Anti-hypertensive (blood pressure lowering)
Anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen, aspirin)
Anti-ulcer and Heartburn drugs (H2 blockers such as Prilosec, Nexium)
So, you can see that many of the most commonly prescribed categories of prescription drugs can cause nutrient depletion.
In this article, he discusses nutrient depletion’s caused by two categories of commonly prescribed drugs: oral contraceptives and anti-diabetes medications.
Nutritional Deficiencies Caused by Oral Contraceptives (birth control pills)
Back in the mid-1970s, studies reporting that oral contraceptives depleted a variety of nutrients began appearing in the scientific literature. Numerous studies now document the fact that oral contraceptives deplete many of the B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, zinc and the amino acid tyrosine.
Let’s begin by examining the health problems associated with folic acid depletion in women taking oral contraceptives, but please keep in mind that other categories of drugs that also deplete folic acid include antacids, antibiotics, anticonvulsants, biguanide anti-diabetes medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, some of the anti-ulcer medications and aspirin.
Health problems associated with a deficiency of folic acid include anemia, fatigue, gray hair, mouth sores(ulcers),birth defects and cervical dysplasia, which is a pre-cancerous condition characterized by abnormal cells that can be detected in the cervix by pap smear and other methods.
Many women with cervical dysplasia end up having a hysterectomy. Sadly, hundreds of thousands of women have hysterectomies every year and many of these surgeries could be prevented if women had adequate folic acid.
Other problems associated with folic acid deficiency include Folic acid deficiency can cause poor growth, tongue inflammation, gingivitis, loss of appetite, shortness of breath, diarrhea, irritability, forgetfulness, mental sluggishness, depression and increased risk of breast cancer and colorectal cancer.
Folic Acid also works with vitamins B6 and B12 and other nutrients to control blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are associated with heart disease.
Vitamin B6 is also necessary for the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, both important brain chemicals. Thus, oral contraceptive-induced vitamin B6 depletion can inhibit the production of serotonin, which increases a woman’s risks of becoming depressed.
In one study, one third of the women taking oral contraceptives for two to five years were found to be suffering from depression. In the brain, serotonin gets converted into melatonin, which is a hormone that helps induce sleep. Therefore, the vitamin B6 depletion caused by oral contraceptives also increases a woman’s risk of developing insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Studies have reported that oral contraceptive use causes a significant decline in vitamin C levels. Some of the problems associated with vitamin C deficiency include a weakened immune system, poor wound healing and easy bruising.
Women taking oral contraceptives also have lower serum zinc levels than matched controls. Since zinc is one of the most important nutrients for proper functioning of the immune system, oral contraceptive-induced depletion of zinc may weaken the immune system in susceptible women.
Oral contraceptives also deplete magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is associated with a greater incidence of osteoporosis, muscle cramps, weakness, insomnia, anxiety and depression, as well as cardiovascular problems, including blood clots, elevated blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and increased risk of heart attacks.
Nutritional Deficiencies Caused by Anti-diabetes Drugs
Anti-diabetic drugs inhibit enzymes that are necessary for the synthesis of an important antioxidant called coenzyme Q10.
Coenzyme Q10 plays a critical role in the protection of mitochondrial DNA, and it also helps prevent the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, so it helps lower cardiovascular disease risks. Low levels of coenzyme Q10 can cause potential problems of high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, low levels of energy and a weakened immune system.
The immune system is weakened when you’ve lost the antioxidant potential of coenzyme Q10, which means there is the probability of a substantial increase in free radical damage and accelerated aging. A coenzyme Q10 deficiency in the pancreas might mean that the pancreatic cells cannot generate enough energy to synthesize insulin.
Metformin has been shown to deplete coenzyme Q10, vitamin B12, and folic acid.
Nutritional Deficiencies Caused by Anti-ulcer and Heartburn Medications
Anti-ulcer medications are one of the largest selling category of drugs in the pharmaceutical industry, accounting for over six billion dollars in sales in the U.S. Prilosec was the top selling prescription drug in the United States, accounting for nearly three billion dollars in sales.
These types of drugs function by lowering the amount of stomach acid, which can relieve the pain associated with heartburn, acid indigestion and ulcers. However, the level of acidity in the gastrointestinal tract is a critical factor that regulates the absorption of many nutrients.
In the process of making the GI tract less acidic, anti-ulcer medications inhibit the absorption of various vitamins and minerals. Studies have reported that these medications deplete vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin D, and the minerals calcium, iron, and zinc. There is an added concern because the FDA has allowed them to be taken off prescription-only status. This means people can have unlimited access to these medications without any monitoring or advice from health professionals.
Some of the health problems related to the depletion of folic acid, vitamin B12 and zinc were mentioned earlier during the discussion of oral contraceptives. Some additional health problems associated with vitamin B12 depletion include anemia, fatigue, depression and, particularly in the elderly, dementia. In severe cases of vitamin B12 deficiency, irreversible nerve damage can occur.
Depletion of vitamin D may result in skeletal problems such as osteoporosis as well as muscle weakness, tooth decay and hearing loss. Problems associated with calcium depletion include osteoporosis, heart and blood pressure irregularities and tooth decay. Depletion of iron could result in hair loss, brittle nails and anemia, with accompanying feelings of weakness, fatigue and low energy.
Nutritional supplementation can be used to prevent or overcome drug-induced nutrient depletions. In many cases, this can increase the effectiveness of a medication, reduce the incidence of side effects and contribute to a longer, healthier life.
Have you been taking these or other prescription and over the counter medications? Want to find out if you are nutrient deficient? We utilize functional medicine tests to assess for nutrient deficiencies. Contact our office to find out more!
Do not treat your symptoms, get to the cause!