Medications have side effects. Often, one or more additional drugs are given to deal with the side effects of a primary medication. Even some supplements and foods interact with drugs. The consequences of taking many drugs can also mean quick nutritional depletion. So it is fairly safe to say that larger amounts of drugs means larger overall health problems. That is unless you know what you need to replenish your body, and how and when to replenish it.
Who looks at the nutritional depletion of the drugs they take and the supplements needed to compensate? Some natural doctors do, but many do not. The best defense is a good offense, and a good offense here is to take excellent care of yourself so your exposure to the drug store shelf or to prescription medications is limited.
Bodies are like cars. They have parts that wear out, get clogged, run out of fuel or get seriously injured. There is only so much we can do to keep the body running and spare parts are seldom an option. Medications are quite often how we keep the body functioning. But for how long, and at what price?
To give you an idea of how wide spread this ‘nutrient depletion because of drugs’ is and why it is important to replace the diminished vitamins and minerals, let’s talk about aspirin. Most households have this common drug in their medicine cabinets. Some people take these every day.
Aspirin takes out folic acid; a B vitamin in a group called folates. In pregnant women, they recommend taking folic acid to prevent neural tube defects in the newborn. This is a nerve defect. Folate is needed for healthy new cell growth.
A lack of folic acid can cause immune problems, gut flora problems, fatigue, blood cell production issues, brain function abnormalities and depression. Much of what we get of folic acid is from food additives consisting of synthetic folic acid and from low cost cutting vitamin supplements. Another vitamin, B12, comes in two forms. The commonly found form is cyanocobalamin. Both of these synthetic forms of the vitamins are not well used by the body, but our companies insist on using them. You should be taking the methyl form of both.
Folic acid is also just one part of a multi-part B vitamin called folate. Science seems to like to take individual parts of more complex groups that work together and isolate them from the group. That is not always the best thing to do when they act synergistically and are balanced as a group. They also tend to like to make synthetic versions of substances, and those synthetic versions usually do not absorb for use in the body as well as the natural substances.
As with all supplements, you need to know the forms of the vitamins that are best absorbed and used by the body. To lower homocysteine levels you need to have good levels of this form, 5-methyltetrahydrofolate, in your blood. So the methyl form of both folate and B12 is great. However, the medical establishment offers only the cyanocobalamin form of B12.
Synthetic forms are often less available to us biologically than the folate form nature offers in foods. Leafy greens, some beans like garbanzo, some fruits including citrus, and even peanuts are all great sources of folate. With the addition of folic acid in wheat, cereals, and other grocery store items you can get too much folic acid, and it can interfere with the utilization of folate. Like with all things in nature, it is all about balance and imbalance. Read your labels.
Now, on to the subject of aspirin. Aspirin and other drug pain killers affect one or both COX1 and COX2 enzymes. Many deaths occurred every year from regular use of full strength aspirin until the medical establishment cut the doses prescribed. Deaths still occur, just not as many.
COX1 is an enzyme that maintains the lining of the stomach, and digestive track. By inhibiting COX1, the areas that usually have a thick mucous coating for protection suffer, sometimes to the point of internal bleeding and even death.
By inhibiting COX2, which triggers inflammation and pain, the blood vessels fail to expand well and the blood forms clots more easily. Research into other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs have shown that when COX2 is inhibited there are more strokes, heart attacks, and high blood pressure. Do you want these side effects in exchange for today's pain relief?
Aspirin also depletes potassium. Potassium is a mineral that keeps your heart pumping along with a regular beat so, if it is low, your heart beat can become unstable. Your heart is a muscle, and this mineral also assists with muscle contractions. When you get leg cramps that may be at least a part of the cause.
Our bodies have a balance between acid and alkaline to maintain. Potassium is critical to this balance. Our diets can obviously affect this to one degree or another. The intake of too much salt can flush potassium out of the system. Again, it is a delicate dance between these two minerals that keeps us running smoothly. And, if you are a licorice fan, licorice in large amounts can also eliminate potassium from the body.
Potassium is also important for the blood vessels and can be a factor in high blood pressure. Too little in your system and the blood transport arteries and veins fail to loosen as necessary. When the vessels stay tight, the pressure stays high which over time causes damage to the entire circulatory system.
Low potassium also affects fluid balance in cells and throughout the body. This can be a factor in constipation, digestion, and kidney function. Kidneys function best when there is a balance of liquids coming in and going out. Kidney stones can be avoided with the correct form of potassium…potassium citrate.
Potassium can also affect the nerves. Too little and you may feel weak and suffer from fatigue. Since potassium is helpful to nerve conduction, a lack of it may have those nerves tingling. Nerves transmit signals to the body via the sodium-potassium pump action of the cells. Again, balance between the two mineral electrolytes is critical to that pump and you correctly functioning.
Most of us know that bananas have potassium, but other good sources are peanuts, avocados, oranges, spinach, kiwi, carrots, beans, and peas to name a few. Eating as much organic produce as possible will ensure you have the highest levels of nutrients from the foods you eat without pesticides or genetic modifications.
Taking aspirin causes potassium loss or, if the person has poor kidney function, potassium retention. Aspirin tends to hold sodium which can disturb the balance of these two electrolytes.
Either too much or too little potassium causes problems you want to avoid. Aspirin also has been found to interfere with thyroid function, bringing on thyroid dysfunction. How many people with thyroid problems are on aspirin daily to thin their blood?
Many over-the-counter medications have aspirin in them, but one you probably wouldn’t expect is Alka Seltzer. Kaopectate and Pepto Bismal also have an aspirin related compound.
Aspirin takes vitamin C from the body. Research suggests that aspirin blocks the availability of vitamin C to the body. The vitamin is simply excreted when it can’t be used. If you are taking high doses of vitamin C with aspirin, it can cause the drug to stay in your system longer. Some formulas combine aspirin and vitamin C. The thinking is that the vitamin will buffer the effects of the aspirin in the gastrointestinal tract.
Vitamin C plays important roles in our health and maintains the frame work of collagen dependent structures (skin, ligaments, tendons) that keep us glued together. Because vitamin C is water based, it goes to every cell and is a major antioxidant. This antioxidant behavior also works to keep our vessels clean, and our blood free flowing. Our immune system also depends on vitamin C to keep it strong and alert to dangers that assault us everyday.
Humans don’t make vitamin C. We don’t store it, either. Vitamin C has to be ingested daily. If we take aspirin often and it is blocking the use of this vitamin, we are compromising many systems that support our well being.
No one is deficient in aspirin, but being deficient in vitamin C can be damaging to every cell in your body. Give some good thought to what you put in your body and for how long. Know how it works and what it takes from you and your health, any alternatives, and how best to maintain your health if you do have to take some drug. It is your health, your decision.
And lastly, aspirin, especially if taken over time, causes small, yet consistent blood loss and with that, iron loss. Diet, sex, and age can make this loss important. I recall how sick I was in my 40's due to anemia caused by a uterine fibroid. My male doctors never seemed to correlate the blood loss with the fact that I was female until my body made it clear to all.
Meat eaters usually get enough iron. Iron is also found in eggs, beans, nuts, and dark green leafy vegetables. Women need it for their menstrual cycle, but after menopause they need less. Too much iron intake is even possible for them at this time.
But for both sexes, aging can also be a time of digestive issues because of a diminishing amount of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This acid is needed to make use of iron in the body. Without the acid and enzymes, we fail to break down our food into useable elements.
When we have issues with digestion, we are often told to take antacids. These call a host of other problems to the party. I tell clients to take lemon juice or vinegar before or during a meal to see whether that helps their distress. If it does, then that indicates a need for more acid, not less. Antacids, by limiting stomach acid, also limit iron absorption, as well as the absorption of other nutrients.
Too little iron causes weakness and fatigue. Know any seniors who suffer from those symptoms? When I was a teenager, my mother took me for testing because all I could do was sit around. Once iron was given, I was fine again. To this day, I can still feel when I need iron. When I need it, I head for organic chicken or beef liver.
Both too little or too much iron can cause an irregular heartbeat and too much can be part of a potenital heart attack as can magnesium and potassium, if out of balance. Many more iron related issues can surface as well. If you have a poor ability to absorb iron, your doctor may have to give you injections to maintain proper levels.
I hope by this explanation of a drug we all take for granted, that you have an idea of why there should be greater concern in even taking over-the-counter drugs. There may be a medical necessity for a drug or two in your life. But know, too, that what they deplete from the body needs to be replaced in an intelligent manner, and that the side effects you experience may be nutrient depletion symptoms that could be avoided.
Knowing just this much about a non prescription medication, what don't you know about all the others? That is what the subscripiton portion of my site called "Nutrient Thieves in Your Medicine Cabinet" is all about. You'll find it in the 'store' tab on the top of the site.
My health coaching usually begins with someone who has arthritis, and is looking for relief. They have taken long term aspirin or other medical pain killers. Not only is arthritis just the tip of an unhealthy iceberg, but these people also have drug related nutrient delpletion issues that they and I have to work on together. If my client is willing to make changes in diet and lifestyle, as well as to the approaches they are taking to deal with their arthritis, we can usually make good progress.
If you or someone you care about needs my program and coaching support, please let them know there is help and there is hope. Here is the link to my free Strategy Session: https://www.loveyourlongevity.com/products/healthy-happy-joints-strategy-session
Linda Mac Dougall M.A., HHP, CMT
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