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Prescription for Danger

Nutrient depletion from common medicines

Are you damaging your heart? Setting yourself up for osteoporosis, or even cancer? Many prescribed drugs--including over-the-counter medications--are time bombs that can create more disease than they cure. How? By depleting the body of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have essential roles to play in maintaining or restoring health.

Many doctors are unaware of such nutrient depletion because pharmaceutical companies don´t tell them. You can protect yourself by understanding how these deficiencies occur, supplementing to correct them, and finding alternatives to your current medications.

Your medications could be the culprits if you´ve noticed the loss of memory, hair, or hearing. Muscle weakness, anemia, fatigue, and depression are another set of consequences. If you notice any of these symptoms early on, you´re lucky. More serious symptoms often remain hidden--or their causes go undiscovered by doctors--until life-threatening consequences result, such as the risk of heart disease or cancer. Depleted levels of vital body nutrients also lead to lowered immune system function, in turn causing a host of other maladies. If you only had this information beforehand, you could supplement right from the start.

Common Drugs, Common Problems

Aspirin, acid-blockers, and cholesterol-lowering drugs can put you at risk for anemia by depleting the body of iron, the signs of which include weakness and hair loss. If your doctor detects anemia, she may offer iron supplementation yet still not identify your medication as the source of the problem.

A lot of drugs also interfere with nutrient absorption or with their metabolism, storage, transport, or use by cells. Because the initial signs of nutritional deficiency are subtle, cells and organs may become prone to disease conditions before the need for supplements (or for changing medications) is recognized. Medications that interfere with calcium absorption, for instance, can lead to osteoporosis.

Research findings in the Health Sciences Institute´s Members Alert in September 1999 demonstrate that medicating a single problem can lead to a series of additional problems caused by the nutrient-depleting effects of the previous medication. This, in turn, can lead to more prescriptions, which create additional nutrient deficiencies, and so on.

Antibiotics are a good example because they deplete helpful bacteria. When women taking antibiotics consequently develop an overgrowth of Candida, including vaginal yeast infections, doctors prescribe more medications to combat the yeast. This cycle can lead to immune system disturbance if overused. Antibiotics also deplete B vitamins that are necessary for hundreds of biological processes, including proper nervous system functioning--suggesting, yes, another array of pharmaceutical interventions. Supplementing with a probiotic will replenish the necessary flora. Acidophilus is an excellent adjunct to treatment for infection; ginger and aloe vera also soothe the digestive tract distress caused by the deficiency.

Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) is another category of nutrient-depleting drugs. Vitamin C, zinc, and magnesium can be depleted, causing lowered resistance to colds and stress; magnesium depletion also interferes with absorption of calcium. Low levels of vitamin B-6, B-12, and folic acid associated with ERT or oral contraceptives also have a high correlation with elevated homocysteine levels, which result in arterial plaque build-up. When the heart has to work harder to adapt to plaque-narrowed arteries, blood pressure rises.

Medications that lower blood pressure cause escalating problems of their own. Some, such as Apresoline, reduce the levels of coenzyme Q10, a powerful antioxidant that is essential for cellular energy and repairing free-radical damage to the heart muscle. Deficiencies can put you at risk for heart disease. Pretty ironic for a cardiovascular medicine!

Blood pressure medications further deplete vitamin B-6 (already depleted by estrogen replacement), thereby interfering with neurotransmitters that regulate mood, sleep, and appetite--all disturbances that can cause depression. To treat depression, doctors often prescribe antidepressants that would be unnecessary if the causes of depression were recognized. Some antidepressant drugs also deplete Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin).

Many medications can contribute to making the body too acidic, a condition in which opportunistic diseases can take hold and in which cancer cells can thrive. The typical American diet, rich in meat, dairy products, sugar, alcohol, and processed foods, already tends to make the body acidic; medications may compound the problem.

Correcting the Problem

Informing yourself is your first line of defense in managing your health. A new desk reference, The Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook, by pharmacist and nutrition expert Ross Pelton and colleagues at Natural Health Resources (published by Lexi-Comp Clinical Reference Library; cost: $34.95), documents nearly 1,000 drugs that deplete the body´s nutrients. You can contact the publisher at 800-837-5394.

Taking a good multi-vitamin and mineral formula will give you a head start on avoiding or reversing nutrient depletion. Once you have determined specific supplements you may need, such as B-6 or CoQ10, you can purchase these individually in health food stores.

In addition to supplementation, there is another important option for improving your health. You can look up alternative treatments at our website. Go to our search engine and enter a health condition such as high blood pressure or depression to see links to articles and research.

Many health problems can be alleviated through methods other than prescription drugs. If you choose to try alternatives, be certain to consult with a health professional before stopping any current prescription medication, and continue to take nutritional supplements to counteract the existing deficiencies.

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