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Beware: When Foods and Medicines Don’t Mix

By Sheryl Kraft

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Food. We all love it, especially those foods that are healthy and help contribute to disease protection.

And if foods fail, medicines can help manage or stave off some diseases.

But what’s also true – and many times unknown – is that combinations of medicines and foods don’t always mix. In fact, some foods can dangerously alter or even negate the benefits of certain medications.

Shocking Facts: In 2008, spending for prescription drugs in the U.S. was more than double what it was in 1999. Can you guess that dollar value*?

The CDC reports that almost 40 percent of older Americans used five or more prescription drugs in the past month, with the use of multiple prescription drugs increasing by 20% and the use of five or more drugs by 70%. 

And with 150 million Americans gulping down prescription medications, that’s cause for alarm, I’d say.

Don’t mix:

Statins and Grapefruit Juice. Cholesterol-lowering medicines like Zocor, Crestor and Lipitor have been shown to effectively lower cholesterol for many by blocking a substance your body needs to manufacture cholesterol. They may also aid your body in reabsorbing cholesterol that has built up on your artery walls, which helps prevent further blood vessel blockage and subsequently, heart attacks.

But pairing statins with grapefruit juice can increase its potency by up to ten times the amount you really need and cause damage to your kidneys.

Lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, managing stress, getting regular exercise (at least 30 minutes a day most days) and eating a healthy diet low in fat, cholesterol and salt can go a long way toward lowering cholesterol.

This matters> Lipitor lowers the production of coenzyme Q10, an essential nutrient that transforms carbohydrate and fat into energy. If you are taking it, talk to your healthcare provider about supplementing your diet with CoQ10.

So does this> Other grapefruit/medication interactions include the anti-anxiety medication, BuSpar, antidepressant Zoloft, antihistamine Allegra. For more, click here.

Anti-Depressants, Fruits and Aged Cheese.  Certain antidepressant medications known as MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors) like Marplan, Nardil and Parnate don’t mix well with aged hard cheeses (which contain a substance called Tyramine) like Blue, Camembert, Emmenthaler, Stilton and Swiss, causing dangerous spikes in your blood pressure. Also beware of fruits such as bananas, raspberries, dried and overripe fruits, especially avocados and figs.

This matters> This is not a complete list. Make sure to consult with your pharmacist or prescribing physician.

Blood Pressure Medications and Licorice. ACE inhibitors or diuretics to regulate blood pressure do not pair well with licorice. The licorice could interfere with the effectiveness of the medications, or could even worsen the possible side effects. Licorice can cause the body to get rid of potassium, as can diuretics, resulting in too-low levels of potassium, which can affect your heart, nerves and muscles. Symptoms of low potassium can be mild or vague, or can include nausea and/or vomiting, heart palpitations, constipation.

This matters> Diuretics like Diuril, Hydrodiuril and Mykrox, usually the first-line therapy for high blood pressure, can deplete your body of magnesium, potassium, zinc, sodium and CoQ10, writes Dr. Hyla Cass in her book, Supplement Your Prescription. She suggests supplementing with these nutrients.

Again, lifestyle changes can go a long way toward managing high blood pressure. Things like avoiding excess salt, minimizing stress levels, getting regular exercise and sleep, loading up on fiber, fresh fruits and veggies helps.

For more surprising interactions with licorice (who knew?) click here.

Read more about high blood pressure here.

Read Ten Easy Ways to Fight Cancer With Nutrition

*234.1 BILLION


I had no idea that these foods would not "go" with the drugs you listed above. Wow.. lots of great information!

I know - a lot of people don't realize. It's such important information, too.

Great tips. I took CoQ10 when I was taking red yeast rice for cholesterol and noticed improvement in energy.

Interesting. I'm wondering about vitamin supplements. I just noticed on my bottle (that I dug out after reading one of your previous posts!), it says that I should be taking it with food. I don't recall my other vitamins mentioning that. Does taking a vitamin with food maybe help with absorption?

At my age I take a lot of medications and it gets to be quite a chore to remember what goes with what. Not to mention tip-toeing around food intolerances. I knew about grapefruit--most of the cholesterol medicines are labeled I think--but certainly never heard of the licorice, aged cheese and fruits problems. Thanks for once again presenting useful information.

I really wish more doctors and pharmacists would let people know about these interactions - after all, they're the ones dealing with the dosing and prescribing. So frustrating!

A lot of drugs seem to clash with grapefruit, but licorice? Never heard about THAT!

So important and, I think, not discussed nearly enough. Glad you're highlighting ways to keep safe.

And, then there's the drugs not to take simultaneously with alcohol. So much to remember! I did not know about the licorice either.

I wonder if the licorice clashes with blood thinners too?

Good question - I did a preliminary check and see that it can interfere with anti-coagulants. Surprising. Best to talk to your healthcare provider to double check any possible problems.

Very interesting list. I had to stop taking Lipitor due to leg pain. When I told my doctor that I took myself off of the drug, he suggested that I take CoQ10 for a few weeks then resume the Lipitor. That took care of the leg pain. However, I'm a real skeptic about cholesterol lowering drugs as I feel they haven't been tested for enough years, making us the guinea pigs.

THAT is interesting, Donna. Glad that you were given that advice and your leg pain cleared up~

Some surprising food-med interactions in this post that I'm sure lots of folks (and maybe even some prescribing physicians aren't aware of) -- like licorice.

Whoa - I had no idea about all these interactions! I'm especially surprised about fruits and antidepressants because I thought you were supposed to eat a balanced diet, including lots of fruits and veggies, to help stave off depression. Fortunately, I'm not on any long-term medications but this is good to know.

Thankfully, the grapefruit issue is clearly marked on my husband's bottle of Lipitor, but I didn't know about the CoQ10. Looks like we'll be upping his dosage of that!

Hmm..if grapefruit is marked on the bottle, I wonder why CoQ10 is not. It pays to be aware of things like this, since we can't totally depend on others to do it for us!

It's so important to know about this. I wish more doctors were versed on these issues. Sometimes they prescribe medicines that are counterindicated with each other and I've never had a doc tell me to avoid certain foods while taking a certain medication...

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