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6 Food-Drug Combinations That Could Be Dangerous

Posted 2/8/2017 by UHBlog

Some foods create unintended risks with certain medications. Talk to us to avoid possibly dangerous food-drug interactions.

6 Food-Drug Combinations That Could Be Dangerous

Sometimes, food-drug combinations can make you sick or jeopardize your health. Do you know which foods, when taken along with certain medications, can affect how the drug works?

“When medicines are approved, the approval is based on standards of how the medicines are supposed to work,” says clinical pharmacy specialist Alexander Hoffman, Pharm.D., BCPS. “If the drug is affected by foods or beverages, the drug might not be doing what it's designed to do – and that can lead to side effects.”

The six food-drug combinations that can affect your health include:

  1. Grapefruit. This food can prevent your body from getting its full dosage of a medication. For instance, Zocor, a statin-based cholesterol drug that controls high blood pressure, and Plavix, which is used to prevent blood clots after a recent heart attack or stroke, are affected when grapefruit is consumed.

    “Grapefruit can be like a roadblock with some medications,” Dr. Hoffman says. “For some medications like Zocor, your body can’t break them down as quickly, so they build up. For others, like Plavix, the active version of the medicine doesn’t get made, so they become less effective.”

  2. Alcohol. “We often tell people to avoid alcohol because of the effect if can have on your medications,” he says.

    For instance, if you're taking antidepressants, drinking alcohol can increase your risk of a bleeding stomach. With Xanax, a drug used to treat anxiety, alcohol can make the medication more potent, leading to drowsiness and impacting your ability to function the next day.

  3. Green leafy vegetables. Some blood thinners – like Coumadin – are affected by leafy green vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, spinach, kale and brussels sprouts.

    “We don't want to encourage patients to stop eating vegetables, but we do want them to be consistent,” Dr. Hoffman says. “If you eat salad three days a week, keep doing that. It's when you eat more or less than normal that it throws your medication off.”

  4. Dairy products. The antibiotics you take to treat a cut, scrape or acne can be bound up by the calcium in milk and other dairy products.

    “The calcium sticks to the antibiotic and decreases your body’s ability to absorb the medication,” he says.

  5. Black licorice. If you eat natural licorice root, it contains a compound that can throw off some medications, such as Lanoxin, which is used to treat abnormal heart rhythms. The compound in licorice can also affect some medications used to treat high blood pressure.

  6. Herbal supplements. If you're taking medications, be wary of some herbal supplements, Dr. Hoffman says.

    “Oftentimes, herbal products interact in ways we don't understand,” he says.

To avoid unintentional outcomes, Dr. Hoffman recommends talking to your pharmacist, especially when you're starting a new medication.

“Your pharmacist is there to protect you,” he says. “They are the last wall of safety, if you will. A pharmacist is a treasure trove of information. Many pharmacists have doctorate degrees. Any pharmacist can give you helpful information about how your medications work and interact.”

According to Dr. Hoffman, the questions you should ask your pharmacist are:

  • What should I expect with this medication?
  • What are the major side effects of the medication?
  • Are there any foods or other things I should avoid with this medication?

Alexander Hoffman, Pharm.D., BCPS is a ambulatory care clinical pharmacy specialist at University Hospitals Cleveland Heights Primary Care. You can request an appointment with a University Hospitals doctor online.

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