Mixing certain foods, supplements with medications can be a prescription for trouble

January 10, 2008

How could grapefruit possibly be bad for you?

High in vitamin C, it’s part of many people’s morning ritual – particularly those who are dieting. But if you’re taking certain medications for high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias or high cholesterol, that refreshing glass of grapefruit juice could be trouble. In fact, The Hospital of Central Connecticut no longer serves grapefruit juice to patients. Welcome to the world of food and medication interactions. It’s a confusing – and sometimes dangerous – place. “Most people are cautious about taking medications – they’ll research a drug online, discuss it with their doctors, carefully read labels,” says Mark Garavel, M.S., M.Ed., R.D., C.D.-N., a registered dietitian and manager of clinical nutrition at The Hospital of Central Connecticut. “Food is such a basic part of our lives we don’t always give it the same scrutiny – and we should.”

Mixing even healthy foods, vitamins and other supplements with certain medications can have a significant impact on the body, says David Girouoard, R.Ph., M.P.H., the hospital’s pharmacy director. “A lot of people think the ‘natural’ supplements containing herbs and other plant-based substances are perfectly safe,” Girouard says. “There hasn’t been a lot of research done on many of these supplements, but the fact that many prescription medicines we use today are derived from plants should tell you what an impact natural supplements can have. You wouldn’t mix two prescription medications without a doctor’s advice – you shouldn’t indiscriminately mix foods and supplements with medications, either.”

Food and supplements can change the effects of medications in a variety of ways, influencing how the body absorbs, excretes, distributes and metabolizes drugs, says Jillian Wanik, M.S., R.D., C.D.-N., a registered dietitian with the hospital. So how do you know what foods/supplements are safe to consume with your medications? Talk to your doctor, who is familiar with your medical condition(s) and medications. You can also ask your pharmacist or a registered dietitian familiar with your medication regimen. Other information can be found on medication labels and the National Institutes of Health and U.S. National Library of Medicine Medline Plus Web site: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginformation.html.

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