We take medicine to feel better. But get this: Some of the most popular drugs in America actually rob the body of essential nutrients, leaving us with a long list of other mysterious symptoms that often lead to—you guessed it—more ailments and prescriptions. This doesn't have to be the case. Suzy Cohen, RPh, "America's Most Trusted Pharmacist" and author of Drug Muggers, recently spoke at the Natural Cures Summit, where she identified some the top drug-mugging medications—and offered ways to avoid common nasty side effects.
"At least half of the drugs approved in the United States commonly deplete specific nutrients, creating the need for nutritional supplementation. More drugs probably deplete nutrients; we just don't have the data to prove it yet. The mechanisms by which drugs mug you can vary," she writes in Drug Muggers.
Cohen says most people assume it's because the drug grabs hold of a nutrient in the gut and takes it out of the system through the gastrointestinal tract (called chelation). Certainly, a drug can mug you this way, but there are other ways, too, she notes:
• Altering the acidity in your gastrointestinal or urinary tract
• Stimulating or inhibiting enzymes involved in the transport of nutrients around your body
• Stimulating or inhibiting enzymes involved in activating nutrients or in transforming them into more usable substances.
Certain drugs require specific nutrients in order to work; they might need to bind to a protein, for example, or perhaps they require a specific nutrient in order to be detoxified in your liver, she explains in Drug Muggers.
"Basically it's the biggest rip-off that could ever happen, and you never see it coming," she said during the Natural Cures Summit. "It's nutrients that are being stolen from your body by the medicines you take, by the foods that you eat, or drinks that you drink."
Here's a list of some of the many drug muggers out there: (Consult with a knowledgeable doctor or pharmacist before changing your medication and supplement plan.)
Cholesterol Medications Statins, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol)
"Statins also mug your body of vitamin D, so you could be diagnosed with depression, fibromyalgia," Cohen said.
Possible drug-mugging side effects: Fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, memory loss, shortness of breath, higher risk of cancer, frequent infections, liver damage, heart disease
Extra nutrients you may need:CoQ10, possibly vitamin D, B12, high-quality multivitamin
Acid Blockers Proton pump inhibitors, H2 blockers
"Proton pump inhibitors work by reducing acid in the stomach…this category of drugs was found to steal magnesium so fiercely that in March 2011 FDA issued a black-box warning, the strongest warning you can put on a drug before yanking it," Cohen said. "When you run out of magnesium, there's a higher risk of heart problems, mood problems, blood pressure goes up…the body needs magnesium for 200 to 300 reactions."
Possible drug-mugging side effects: Heart disease, high homocysteine, fatigue, candida, irritable bowel syndrome, increased risk of cancer, poor vision, high blood pressure, anemia, brittle nails, tiredness, hair loss, hearing loss, tooth decay, higher risk of developing gluten sensitivity
Extra nutrients you may need: Cohen says acid blockers steal every nutrient because they affect the pH of the gut. You may need more B6, CoQ10, and trace minerals.
Thyroid Medications Levothyroxine, Synthroid, Armour
"Thyroid medicines levothyroxine need zinc in order to activate to a useful form that your body incorporates into the cell," Cohen said. "So by virtue of requiring zinc, it mugs zinc." And the damage is far-reaching: "When you run out of zinc, you may gain weight, develop hypothyroidism, experience chronic diarrhea, or lose interest in sex. You may also get sick more frequently," Cohen said. "That's because zinc plays an important role in immune function, and without enough of it, you lose your defense system, most notably some of your T-helper cells and natural killer cells. Ultimately, this means that you are less able to defend yourself from pathogens in your environment."
Possible drug-mugging side effects: Anemia, weakness, brittle nails, irritability, fatigue, osteoporosis, tooth decay, high blood pressure, heart disease, insomnia, acid reflux, digestive problems, slower wound healing, higher risk of cancer
Extra nutrients you may need: Iron, calcium, calcium/magnesium combo
Blood Pressure Drugs Diuretics
"Blood pressure pills [along with acid blockers and estrogen-containing hormones like birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy] deplete your body stores of magnesium and calcium and other minerals you need for bone integrity," Cohen explains.
Possible drug-mugging side effects: Osteoporosis, heart disease, slow wound healing, frequent infection, leg cramps, depression, memory loss, lowered immunity, vision problems, enlarged prostate, edema, weight gain, hair loss, high blood pressure, fatigue, mood swings
Extra nutrients you may need: B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, calcium, magnesium, potassium
Birth Control Pills
"These are drug muggers of at least eight different nutrients. If you take for more than a year, it could cause problems like panic attacks, chronic fatigue, higher risk of gallstones, depression, hypothyroidism, and weight gain," Cohen explained. "And it's all due to the hormones stealing the nutrients which are required by your body to make natural, happy, healthy neurotransmitters and sex hormones."
Possible drug-mugging side effects: Heart disease, fatigue, candida, increased risks of stroke and cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, insomnia, lowered immunity, memory loss, irritability, nerve pain, hypothyroidism, inability to cope, higher risk of breast cancer
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