According to the Mayo Clinic, seven out of ten Americans take prescription drugs. These drugs could be anything from diabetes drugs to cancer medications, but the most commonly prescribed drugs are antibiotics, antidepressants, and painkillers(1).
“Often when people talk about health conditions they’re talking about chronic conditions such as heart disease or diabetes,” said Dr. St. Sauver for the Mayo Clinic.
“However, the second most common prescription was for antidepressants – that suggests mental health is a huge issue and is something we should focus on. And the third most common drugs were opioids, which is a bit concerning considering their addicting nature.”
However, there are even more concerns about the degree to which these medications are widely prescribed – specifically, many of them can contribute to chronic health problems by depleting valuable nutrients in your body. The medications that can cause such depletions include:
- Statins. Statins are generally taken to lower cholesterol(2).
- Antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections, as well as fungal infections and certain kinds of parasites(3).
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants are used to treat depression and anxiety, as well as to help manage other mental health problems such as bipolar disorder 2(4).
- Oral contraceptives. These hormonal medications are used to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy.
- Diabetes drugs. Almost 60% of Americans living with diabetes take some form of oral medications, according to the American Diabetes Association(5).
- Antacids. These medications are found in both prescription and over-the-counter formats, and are used to treat heartburn by neutralizing stomach acid(6).
How These Medications Impact Your Health
While many people rely on these medications to manage chronic conditions and improve their overall health, the price they pay may be in the form of important nutrients that the body needs to function.
Statins, for example, can deplete your body’s supply of CoQ10, an antioxidant which is vital to cardiovascular health(7).
Antacids can lead to iron deficiency when taken over a long period of time. Maalox, Mylantia, Tums and Rolaids all work by neutralizing the acid pH of the stomach. This reduction of stomach acid decreases the absorption of iron into the body(8).
Antibiotics are known to wreak havoc on your intestinal flora, drastically reducing the diversity of your gut’s natural microbiome(9). Diabetes drugs like insulin can cause magnesium deficiency(10).
Meanwhile, antidepressants aren’t much better – they can cause the depletion of selenium, which protects cells from damage and supports thyroid function, and zinc, which aids with wound healing(11).
Finally, oral contraceptives and antidepressants both deplete your levels of B-complex vitamins when taken for long periods of time(12).
How To Supplement For Better Health
If you’re one of the many Americans who relies on these drugs on a daily basis, it’s important to tailor your diet to ensure that you’re replenishing the nutrients you need as they’re being depleted. The following infographic gives information on dietary sources of all the nutrients mentioned above, and how to supplement for the nutrients that you can’t get from your daily diet(13).
If you’re concerned about the long-term effects of a medication you’re taking, talk to your doctor about it – chances are they’ll have advice for either tapering off it, or, if that’s not possible, managing side effects like nutritional depletion.