When it comes to medications, you cannot be too careful about the possibility of interactions. The medicines we take are powerful aids in relieving symptoms and treating disease, and they can be life-savers. But in the wrong combinations, medications can cause big problems. By some accounts, 10 percent of all hospitalizations are due to medication side effects or interactions.
The issue of drug interactions is multi-faceted. One side of the story is interactions between medications and foods or even vitamin supplements. When your doctor writes you a prescription, you may be scrupulous about reading the package inserts, following directions, and talking to your pharmacist. But did you know that some ordinary foods can interact with certain medications, causing reactions or reducing their effectiveness?
Some Examples of Food/Drug Interactions
Pharmacologist Joe Graedon, author of “The People’s Pharmacy,” gives us some examples of potential interaction problems. He says some foods can keep certain drugs from doing their jobs. “High fiber cereal, oatmeal, for example, might affect the heart medicine digoxin by lowering the absorption of the drug.”
Same story with vitamin K, which is present in a number of vegetables, and acts as a natural clotting factor. Consumed in large amounts, these vegetables can reduce and affect the blood-thinner medication warfarin, and Graedon says that can be dangerous. “So if you’re having big helpings of broccoli or spinach, it could reduce the effectiveness of warfarin, and that could be very serious indeed.”
Meanwhile, Graedon says a few foods, such as grapefruit, may actually boost the toxicity of certain drugs, such as Procardia. Other drugs, including some over-the-counter medications, can affect vitamin levels in your body. “Birth-control pills or even estrogen replacement therapy can deplete the body of vitamin B6 and folic acid, and maybe even vitamins E and C.” Some of the non-prescription indigestion drugs that suppress acid, such as Tagamet, Xantac, or Pepcid AC, may reduce your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12.
These examples are not intended to scare you off your medicine. But you should be vigilant about taking them properly and learning all you can about possible side effects and interactions. If you have any questions or doubts about your medication, ask your doctor or pharmacist, and if necessary, look it up at the library or on the Internet. Keep track of how well the drug is working, and report any unusual symptoms that develop.