Go-To Guide: Managing Your Diet with Your Medication
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Go-To Guide: Managing Your Diet with Your Medication

Controlling chronic conditions often requires taking prescription drugs. In fact, 87 percent of seniors take at least one prescription drug regularly, while 35 percent take five or more.

“Without question, medication can be great at providing relief, but they don’t exist in a vacuum,” says Robert Sherman, PharmD, the director of the Pharmacy Services at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. “Studies have shown that certain foods—ranging from bananas to spinach—can alter or limit how some common senior medications work or can even increase negative side effects.”

Here’s a quick look at some foods to avoid with specific medications:

Blood Thinners

Blood thinners like Warfarin and Coumadin work by blocking the body’s production of Vitamin K, which helps with clot formation. A diet heavy in foods rich in Vitamin K can work against blood thinners. That doesn’t mean foods with Vitamin K should be avoided. They should just be consumed in moderation (2 – 3 times per week) and on a predictable schedule. If you take blood thinners, go easy on:  kale, collards, spinach, turnip greens, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, scallions, asparagus, and endive.

Heart Medication

ACE Inhibitors are great for keeping blood moving smoothly to and from your heart, but they can raise potassium levels in your body. And too much potassium can lead to trouble for your heart in the form of palpitations and irregular heartbeat. If you take blood thinners, you want to avoid consuming potassium-rich foods such as bananas and oranges.  Also, avoid salt substitutes that contain potassium.

Cholesterol Medication

Statins work by preventing the production of cholesterol by the liver. Unfortunately, some statins don’t work when the patient also consumes grapefruit or grapefruit juice.  This is because grapefruit can affect how quickly your liver does or doesn’t process the drug. It’s important to note that not all statins are impacted the same way. Talk to your doctor about the specific medication you’re on before swearing off all grapefruit altogether.

More on Grapefruit…

Research shows that grapefruit interacts with more than just cholesterol medication. If you take any of the following, avoid eating grapefruit and speak with your healthcare provider about substitute medications or other options:

  • anti-anxiety medication
  • antihistamines
  • blood pressure medication
  • some cancer drugs
  • cough suppressants
  • stomach acid medication
  • thyroid medication

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications and Supplements

Sherman notes that, “Because they’re so easy to obtain, it’s easy to overlook how over-the-counter medications or supplements can interfere or impact the effectiveness of prescription medications. But the truth it both OTCs and supplements can change how the body absorbs, metabolizes or excretes medication and affect how potent it is in your system.” If you take an OTC or supplement, be sure to read the label before purchasing or taking to learn of potential interactions with prescription medications.

Balancing Risks and Rewards

“Taking medication as prescribed can make a meaningful difference in your health and wellbeing,” says Sherman. “To be sure to you get the full benefit of what you’re taking, you want to tell both your doctor and pharmacist about all medications—prescription or otherwise—that you’re taking so that so they can alert you to any drug-drug or drug-food issues.”


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