Written by Anthony Rees
National Chairman – TNHA
Nutrient depletion is an often overlooked side effect of some common medications.
In the context of medication usage for symptom management, it is important to acknowledge that several of the top 100 prescribed drugs in South Africa have been found to deplete various nutrients. Regular intake of these commonly prescribed medications can lead to a reduction or depletion of essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being.
Optimal bodily functioning relies on an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, as they support vital processes such as cellular growth, immune response, and metabolism. While the ideal scenario involves obtaining all necessary nutrients from a balanced diet, the reality is that many South Africans do not consume such diets. Moreover, despite advancements in agricultural technology aimed at enhancing desirable traits like size, growth rate, and resistance to pests, the nutritional quality of our food has been declining. Regrettably, specific prescription medications can further exacerbate this nutrient deficiency.
Although healthcare professionals are generally aware of concerns regarding potential interactions between drugs and supplements, the issue of drug-induced nutrient depletion is not adequately addressed within the South African healthcare system or covered in medical school education. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications have the potential to alter physiological processes, leading to long-term nutrient deficiencies.
Essential nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other plant-based compounds, play a critical role in numerous cellular-level metabolic processes. Each cell requires a daily supply of these micronutrients to carry out its functions effectively. It is estimated that up to 30 percent of pharmaceutical side effects result from drug-induced nutrient deficiencies, which can, in turn, cause additional adverse effects.
Notably, some of the most commonly prescribed drugs associated with nutrient depletion include oral contraceptives, cholesterol-lowering statins, and antibiotics. These medications, along with numerous other over-the-counter and prescription drugs, can impede the body’s ability to digest, absorb, synthesize, or utilize specific nutrients. To optimize the performance of medications, it is advisable to increase the consumption of nutritious food or consider supplementation with evidence-based, high-quality natural health products. Such nutritional supplements can also mitigate adverse side effects, enhance patient comfort and compliance, and improve therapeutic efficacy and clinical outcomes.
It is crucial to recognize the significant number of prescription medicines that deplete nutrients from the body. The unintended consequences of these nutrient losses can impact energy levels, mood, libido, immune function, and overall quality of life.
Given the prevalence of malnutrition, nutrient depletion in fruits and vegetables resulting from mono-crop farming practices, and existing food security challenges in South Africa, the TNHA (Traditional & Natural Health Alliance) will advocate for mandatory black box warnings on pharmaceutical product labels and associated marketing materials. These warnings would inform users about nutrient-depleting medicines and recommend supplementing with those specific micronutrients at risk of depletion.
This serves as a call to action, urging increased awareness of drug-induced nutrient losses caused by regularly used medications.
How To Prevent Nutrient Depletion From Prescription Medication
While in many cases medications can be crucial, one also shouldn’t have to sacrifice one’s overall health to manage a condition.
1. Eat a whole foods diet.
Ensuring that you are getting enough nutrients through your food is key in avoiding nutrient depletion. Many nutrient deficiencies that people experience when they start a new prescription occur because they already had deficits in their diet. Make sure to eat:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables daily. Antioxidant-rich berries, vitamin and mineral-rich leafy greens, and nutrient-dense complex carbs like sweet potatoes are all incredibly nutritious and very versatile.
- Quality meat and eggs. Aim for organic and pasture-raised, as these will have the most abundant nutrients.
- Healthy fats. Think olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, and fatty fish. These will keep you full longer and help curb junk food cravings.
2. Address gut health
Proper nutrient absorption begins with the gut. It is not just how you eat that is important, but how well your body can digest and eliminate that food. You may not feel the benefits of your balanced diet if your gut health is lacking. We recommend:
- Working with a practitioner to get to the root of any gut-related problems like poor digestion or absorption.
- Eating probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt or kefir, especially if you are taking pain medications, antibiotics, or oral contraceptives. This will help replenish the “good” bacteria that gets killed by these medications.
Supplementation can be a great way to replenish nutrients lost as a result of medication, though it is important to work with a wellness coach or appropriately qualified practitioner to determine the proper dosage for your needs.
There is no reason to settle for suboptimal health! If you suspect your health is being impacted by medications, come in to review your medications and formulate a plan to get your health back!
Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Table
Below is a basic list of common drugs and the corresponding nutrients that they deplete from our bodies.
If you are a health practitioner, you can download a more comprehensive list by clicking here.
Find out more about the Depleted Nutrients
Below is a list containing more in-depth information about the micronutrients suggested in the table above.
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B5
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin K
- Beta Carotene
- Co-enzyme Q10
- Folic Acid
- Pantothenic Acid
- Phosphate Salts (Phosphorus)
- Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
View more detailed information about other individual natural health substances and their uses here.