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Nutrient Robbers

Common medications can cause nutrient depletion

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Do you feel tired all the time? Is your hair brittle, your nails weak, or your eyesight poor? If so, you could have a nutritional d.

Do you feel tired all the time? Is your hair brittle, your nails weak, or your eyesight poor? If so, you could have a nutritional deficiency. In fact, most people have one or more nutritional deficiencies for a variety of reasons including poor diet (insufficient nutrient intake) or too much stress (depletes nutrients).

Do you feel tired all the time? Is your hair brittle, your nails weak, or your eyesight poor? If so, you could have a nutritional deficiency. In fact, most people have one or more nutritional deficiencies for a variety of reasons including poor diet (insufficient nutrient intake) or too much stress (depletes nutrients).

We now also know that many commonly prescribed drugs cause nutrient depletions, including any estrogen-containing medications, anticonvulsants, antidiabetic, antihypertensive (for high blood pressure), anti-inflammatory and anti-ulcer drugs, cholesterol-lowering drugs, beta-blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, and antibiotics. This, in turn, can cause or contribute to additional health problems. When people take a medication, drug-related side-effects usually occur relatively quickly, within the first 24 to 48 hours or certainly within the first week. However, health problems associated with drug-induced nutrient depletions are much more subtle and insidious. Because they develop gradually over a longer period of time, these health problems are more difficult to identify.

Let’s consider, for example, women who have taken oral contraceptives for a number of years, seemingly without problems. However, gradually and more frequently, they may tell their partners, “I’m so tired, I can hardly get up in the morning,” or “By the middle of the day, I feel like I’ve totally run out of gas,” or “I’m so tired, I can hardly make it through the day.” These women are not likely to realize their symptoms may be caused by oral contraceptive-induced depletion of vitamin B12 and folic acid, which can result in anemia and symptoms of fatigue and weakness.

Folic acid depletion also increases a woman’s risk for a number of diseases such as anemia, birth defects, cervical dysplasia (which may result in a hysterectomy), and elevated levels of homocysteine, which increases risk for cardiovascular disease. More recently, studies have reported folic acid deficiency also increases risk for developing breast and colorectal cancer.

Vitamin B6 depletion from oral contraceptives interferes with the synthesis of serotonin, which increases a woman’s risk of developing depression and insomnia. About twice as many women than men suffer from depression. A contributing factor might well be estrogen and oral contraceptive use, which deplete nutrients that influence mental health. Since vitamin B6 is also necessary to metabolize homocysteine, a deficiency can result in elevated homocysteine levels and increase women’s risk of developing atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).

Oral contraceptives have been implicated in lowered levels of vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B12. A deficiency of vitamin B1 can result in depression, irritability, memory loss, muscle, weakness, and edema, while vitamin B2 deficiency pri-marily affects the skin, eyes, and mucous, membranes of the gastrointestinal tract. Vitamin B3 deficiency from contraceptives may explain why twice as many women die from pellagra (lack of B3) than men do. Symptoms include problems with the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system. As for vitamin B12, supplementation should be considered because B12 is required for the metabolism of homocysteine.

Women taking oral contraceptives have lower vitamin C (ascorbic acid) levels than women who do not, which can result in a weakened immune system, slower wound healing, and, increased risks for diseases such as cervical dysplasia, asthma, cancer, and, cardiovascular disease.

Oral contraceptives also deplete the minerals magnesium, selenium, and zinc. Although critical magnesium deficiency is rare in North America, marginal deficiency appears to be widespread, with symptoms including muscle cramps, weakness, insomnia, anxiety, nervousness, osteoporosis, and increased risk of cardiovascular problems.

A deficiency of selenium weakens the immune system, which can result in increased risk for viral infections, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. As a trace element, selenium is essential for adequate antioxidant defense. Therefore, lack of selenium may cause increased free radical damage and accelerated aging.

Reduced zinc status can compromise the immune system by weakening thyroid gland function. It may also increase insulin resistance, slow wound healing, and have a negative impact on many aspects of metabolism due to zinc’s participation in more than 200 enzyme reactions. Zinc deficiency can also cause infertility and sexual problems.

Women taking oral contraceptives have lower levels of the amino acid tyrosine. It is suggested that tyrosine depletion could cause or contribute to depression in women taking birth control pills. This is because tyrosine is the precursor for the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, which are important neurotransmitters that regulate moods and emotions. Since tyrosine is also the precursor for the production of thyroid hormones, tyrosine depletion may also increase risk of hypothyroidism, which can cause symptoms of cold hands and feet, tiredness, irritability, poor memory, decreased libido, irregular menstrual cycles, and weight gain.

Education is key in avoiding the problem of nutritional deficiencies caused by prescription drugs and other nutrient robbers (see sidebar). A preventive strategy includes a healthy diet and additional nutritional supplements to counteract the effects of any suspect medications and our modern lifestyle.

Taking Oral Contraceptives?

You may need: folic acid, B-vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, selenium, zinc, tyrosine.

Eat: dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, spinach, organic eggs, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, cashews, almonds, legumes.

Supplement daily with: two heaping tablespoons of a nutrient-rich, powdered “green drink” formula, multivitamin/mineral with zinc, B-complex vitamin containing folic acid.

Consider: safer birth control methods such as condoms, cervical cap, IUD, or the new birth control patch.

Nutritional Deficiencies: Common Causes

We have discussed how common medications, and birth control pills in particular, can reduce the body’s stores of important nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies in general, however, start with our diet. Most people know they should eat healthier meals, but don’t. Fast-paced lifestyles cause many to consume nutritionally deficient meals because they rely on fast food or packaged/processed foods. Further, data from the US Department of Agriculture reveals that nutrient-poor soil caused by industrial farming techniques has resulted in a substantial reduction in the nutritional content of the commercially available food supply over the past 50 years. Environmental pollution puts increased stress on our bodies and can contribute to nutrient depletions.

Although I am unaware of any recent studies on Canadian nutritional deficiencies, I would imagine there are similarities with American data. One US Department of Agriculture study reported that 80 percent of Americans consumed less than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin B6; 75 percent consumed less than the RDA for magnesium; 68 percent consumed less than the RDA for calcium; 50 per ent consumed less than the RDA for vitamin A; and 30 to 40 percent consumed less than the RDA for vitamins B1, B2, B3, B12, and vitamin C.

RDAs are for intended for health maintenance only, not for therapeutic purposes, and many experts believe they are set far too low. With this in mind, supplementing with additional nutritional products makes good sense from a preventive point of view.

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