Guest blog by Jayson Calton, PhD and Mira Calton, CN
According to a 2010 report by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, one-half of Americans take at least one prescription medication. One out of every five children and nine out of every ten adults age sixty and over take at least one prescription drug. In fact, almost 40 percent of older Americans take five or more prescription drugs per month.
With such a large percentage of the population taking prescription medications, it is extremely important that we discuss what effect they might have on one’s personal micronutrient sufficiency. According to Hyla Cass, M.D., author of Supplement Your Prescription: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know About Nutrition, “Drug-induced nutrient depletion is far more common than we thought.” Yet, it seems that most of the individuals who take these medications are unaware of this serious side effect. While the prescriptions in America may come with “may cause drowsiness” warnings, they do not come with “causes micronutrient depletion” warnings.
However, according to Dr. Cass, this is not the case throughout the world. She explains, “Health Canada, which is the federal department responsible for helping Canadians maintain and improve their health, requires that manufacturers of statin drugs include warnings about related CoQ10 deficiencies”
There have been numerous studies on long-term drug use and micronutrient deficiencies, and there is conclusive evidence that states that prescription drugs deplete vital micronutrients in three distinct ways. First, as is the case with Ritalin and Adderall, which are prescribed for attention deficit disorder, some prescribed medications reduce appetite. If you aren’t particularly hungry, you may decide to eat only once or twice a day, which decreases the likelihood of receiving enough of the essential micronutrients required for good health. In contrast, other drugs, including antipsychotics, antidepressants, and steroids, cause blood sugar swings, which in turn cause cravings for simple carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, and sugary snacks—processed EDNP foods that contain little to no micronutrient value.
Finally, we have medications that directly deplete the micronutrients from your body. Let’s examine three micronutrients, the prescription drugs that directly deplete them, and some of the effects of their depletion.
Micronutrient #1: Coenzyme Q10
As our first example in illustrating the direct micronutrient-depleting effect of prescription medication, we will use the micronutrient coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This accessory micronutrient plays a critical role in the synthesis of ATP (an energy molecule that fuels all cells) and is crucial in the protection against free radicals. Remember, free radicals are pretty much just like their name implies—free moving, unattached electrons that crash into other molecules, causing other electrons to detach and become free radicals. The more free radicals there are, the more cellular damage is done.
Initially, a deficiency of this crucial compound can make someone lethargic. Coenzyme Q10 can be depleted by a variety of different drugs that include antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, beta-blockers, anti-diabetic drugs, and antihypertensive drugs. (Lipitor, which is in the top 10 percent of all drugs sold in the United States, would be included here.) According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 45 percent of people over the age of sixty now take cholesterol-lowering prescription medicines—a statistic that has more than doubled since 1999.
Most cardiologists recommend their patients take CoQ10 because the heart requires a great deal of it for energy production; some studies suggest that congestive heart failure is primarily a CoQ10 deficiency disease. Would it shock you to discover that drugs prescribed to heart patients result in lowered levels of CoQ10? While treating a patient with a poor heart, physicians are prescribing prescription medications that deplete CoQ10, a micronutrient known to be essential to that same organ.
Another benefit of CoQ10 is its ability to boost the effectiveness of other antioxidants and destroy free radicals. It is so powerful that it can actually stop the harmful effects of some toxic medications. In fact, it can stop the toxic effects of beta-blockers. Wait a second. Did you catch that? It can stop beta-blockers’ toxic side effects. This would be a good thing, of course, if we didn’t already know that beta-blockers deplete CoQ10.
While we would never tell an individual to stop taking a medication without first discussing it with their physician, we want you to be aware of the array of medications that act as micronutrient depleters. A small deficiency in CoQ10 can turn into an even greater deficiency when medications are prescribed. Do not let this happen to you.
Micronutrient #2: Zinc
Micronutrient deficiency of zinc is widespread. Deficiency rates increase with age, due to poor absorption of micronutrients in older adults and diets high in phytate-containing processed grains. Zinc deficiency can commonly be seen in conditions such as diabetes, liver and kidney diseases, macular degeneration, and melanomas. A zinc deficiency can be detrimental because zinc is needed for the cell activity of more than 300 enzymes. It detoxifies alcohol, aids in protein digestion, regulates gene expression, aids in regulating insulin receptors, and facilitates your thyroid hormones. It can protect your DNA from damage and it greatly enhances immunity. Many medications that you may be taking inhibit the absorption of zinc. These can include oral contraceptives, ACE inhibitors, diuretics, anti-ulcer medications, as well as cholesterol-lowering drug.
Micronutrient #3: Folate (Vitamin B9)
Let’s change our focus to folate (vitamin B9), which is one of the most common deficiencies in America. While many women learn during pregnancy that supplementation of folic acid (or even better 5-MTHF) is important to decrease the risk of spina bifida, they are unaware of the consequences of stopping this crucial supplementation. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 80 percent of U.S. women use oral contraceptives at some point between the ages of eighteen and forty-four. These medications leach folate.
The same can be said of the many hormone-replacement therapy drugs containing estrogen. Folate deficiencies have been linked to hysterectomies and cervical dysplasia in the United States.
Folate, by means of lowering homocysteine, may also aid in the prevention of osteoporosis. A depleted level of folate, due to birth control pills, may result in osteoporosis, which ironically, is also commonly treated by the same physicians who prescribed the birth control in the first place. Confusing, right? Let’s pause here to review. In order to avoid pregnancy, one might take birth control pills. These birth control pills may cause lowered folate levels. Lowered folate levels may cause osteoporosis.
Folate has also been proven to aid in the prevention of heart disease. It shouldn’t surprise us that recent studies have linked folate–depleting oral contraceptives to plaque buildup in the arteries. According to a 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of Ghent, Belgium, and presented at a conference of the American Heart Association, every ten years of oral contraceptive use correlated with a 20 to 30 percent increase in plaque buildup. You may also find it ironic that while folate has been shown to alleviate the pain of arthritis, many arthritic medications, which are primarily anti-inflammatory drugs, actually deplete levels of folate. This means that the same drug used to reduce the pain you feel from arthritis actually depletes folate, which causes the arthritis to feel worse.
Is all of this soaking in? We do not believe that, in most cases, the medications themselves are the causes of the original conditions or diseases.
Physicians, upon diagnosis, prescribe medications in an attempt to control existing conditions or diseases. As we have learned from some of the most brilliant minds in nutritional medicine, most, if not all, modern conditions and diseases can be traced to micronutrient deficiency. The medicines we take simply act to further deplete us of micronutrients. In some cases, they deplete us of the very same micronutrient whose depletion most likely caused the condition or disease in the first place. In this way the medications themselves now become Everyday Micronutrient Depleters (EMDs), potentially causing an exacerbation of the original condition, or initiate an entirely new one.
It is interesting to think about how many millions of prescriptions might not have been needed if specific micronutrients had never become deficient or were properly replenished. Hyla Cass, M.D., stresses, “In evaluating patients’ symptoms, we doctors must assess whether symptoms are due to the illness, to side effects of the drugs, or to drug-induced nutrient depletion. Considering the inadequate nutritional status of most people, consider that the illness itself may even be due, at least in part, to nutrient deficiency.”
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(if you would like part 2 of this series.. the problem with over the counter medications simply send a request to Calton Nutrition.)