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Drugs: Nutrient Thieves : Common Medicines Part of Problem

October 15, 1987

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs, even simple antacids, can deplete stores of essential nutrients in the sick, elderly and other groups that use them frequently, according to an expert on drug-nutrient interactions.

"Someone might not even know they are creating nutrient deficiencies because the symptoms are not readily apparent," said Christine Smith, Ph.D., Cal State Northridge, and with the Dairy Council of California. "For that reason, everyone needs to know these problems can occur and can impact their health."

Smith cautioned, however, against self-medicating with vitamin and mineral supplements to counteract the nutrient-draining effects because to do so may only aggravate the problem.

"Vitamin and mineral supplements are just another form of drug therapy," Smith said. "Too much of a concentrated nutrient upsets the body's natural nutrient balance, and can either block or speed absorption of another nutrient," she said.

Risk of More Severe Imbalances

This type of self-medication without an understanding of the precise consequences can create more severe imbalances, according to Smith, who co-edited a guide on drug-nutrient interactions titled "Food-Medication Interactions."

"The safest way to deal with the problems is to first identify which drugs can cause imbalances by asking your doctor, pharmacist or dietitian. Second, make up for any deficiencies by balancing the diet," Smith said.

Common over-the-counter medicines that create deficiencies and good sources of the nutrients lost include:

--Antacids. Can deplete phosphorus or block absorption of other nutrients. Phosphorus is found in meat, poultry, fish, milk and milk products.

--Aspirin. Lowers Vitamin C and folic acids, both found in dark green and yellow fruits and vegetables.

--Laxatives. Can deplete vitamin stores, but are not specific to one vitamin.

--Alcohol. In excess, can deplete B vitamins, folic acid and minerals. B vitamins are found in breads, cereals and meats.

Some description drugs that can induce deficiencies include:

--Diuretics (water pills). In lowering bodily fluids can drain potassium levels. Orange juice, dried fruits and bran are good potassium sources.

--Oral contraceptives. Can reduce the body's ability to absorb or use Vitamins B-6 and C, folic acid, thiamine and riboflavin, important nutrients for women.

The booklet "Food-Medication Interactions" can be requested for $9.95 from P.O. Box 26464, Tempe, Ariz. 85282.

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