We are so fortunate to live in an era with so many life-saving prescription medications at our disposal. However, if not used properly, these same drugs can harm us – or even, God forbid, cost us our lives. I’ve been a pharmacist for over 25 years, so I know how important it is that prescriptions are used as directed and that patients are fully aware of proper dosage and possible interactions. Here are some of my ninja pharmacist secrets to help you minimize dangerous side effects:
Go to the same pharmacy each time. There is a computer record of your medication profile that automatically screens for interactions. If you chase coupons and go from pharmacy to pharmacy, the new pharmacy will not have the rest of your medication profile and you’re more apt to experience an interaction.
Take your medication at the same time each day. For example, if you take your blood pressure pill at different times of the day, you will experience more highs and lows in your blood stream, and the swinging blood levels may cause dizziness, nausea and faintness.
If you forget to take your medication, know what to do. Is it safe to double up the next day? Or is it better to just accept that you missed a dose and move on? This is a question only your doctor or pharmacist can answer – it’s important that you ask this question, and preferably ask when the prescription is first written for you – not when you realize at 3 in the morning that you’ve forgotten!
Take occasional drug holidays – but only with your doctor’s approval and oversight. A beloved aunt of my good friend was on long-term medications for most of her adult life. She was a smoker who didn’t exercise, and struggled with bronchitis and frequent pneumonia, especially toward the end of her life (she lived into her 80s). You won’t be surprised when I tell you that her lifestyle choices caused a host of medical issues for her, and she took a barrage of medications to deal with them. She often got tired of the side effects caused by her meds, and decided (on her own, without her doctor’s approval) to go off everything for a period of time.
While I do believe in “drug holidays”, I don’t think you should ever undertake them without your physician’s approval and supervision. This is crucial! Certain medications need to be weaned off slowly, and they could cause seizures or major withdrawal problems. If you’re fed up and insist on stopping everything, you must do it properly, and only with supervision by your doctors.
Keep a record. When beginning a medication, or new dietary supplement, it’s ideal to use a little notepad, an app, or a computer document to track your progress. Doing this allows you to pinpoint which medication triggers a side effect.
Consider the drug mugging effect. If you take 1 or 2 medications, and suddenly need more medications for brand new symptoms, it’s probably related to drug number 1 or 2 ripping you off! You have to fix the nutrient depletions, not layer on more medications. I believe all side effects are caused by drug nutrient depletion, something I call the drug mugger effect. By restoring nutrients stolen by your medicine, you can avoid these new “symptoms”. That’s important, because to many doctors, nutrient deficiencies look just like diseases.
For example, a diagnosis of “restless legs syndrome” could be tied to your cholesterol medicine stealing vitamin D and CoQ10. Your depression diagnosis may be related to your acid blocker, which suppresses your ability to make neurotransmitters by mugging your body of probiotics and methylcobalamin (a form of B12).
Beware of your food and drink choices. Some foods and beverages can affect your reaction to meds; for instance, if you drink coffee with stimulants, know that there’s an additive effect of caffeine with certain drugs like Provigil, Adderall, Concerta and Ritalin. By the same token, if you drink alcohol with sedatives, there’s an enhanced effect on your nervous system, and the alcohol can make your medicine work much stronger causing your breathing to stop completely. In fact, it’s bad news to combine drugs that all depress your nervous system. Ask both your doctor and pharmacist point blank, “Will this new medication interact with anything I’m taking?” This is particularly important if you go to more than one physician or pharmacy.
As you can see, there are many things to keep in mind when you take prescription drugs. If you are finding that it’s hard for you to manage them, recruit a friend or family member to help you out. It never hurts to have another pair of eyes watching out for you!
I wrote a book about Drug Muggers – Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients–and Natural Ways to Restore Them.
Suzy Cohen, has been a licensed pharmacist for over 30 years and believes the best approach to chronic illness is a combination of natural medicine and conventional. She founded her own dietary supplement company specializing in custom-formulas, some of which have patents. With a special focus on functional medicine, thyroid health and drug nutrient depletion, Suzy is the author of several related books including Thyroid Healthy, Drug Muggers, Diabetes Without Drugs, and a nationally syndicated column.