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A Side Effect Solution

Ocala-based pharmacist Suzy Cohen is on a mission. She wants you to be and stay healthy.
Sep 27, 2011
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And Suzy wants you to watch out for muggers of your health, specifically prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Hence, the name of her latest health book—Drug Muggers: Which Medications Are Robbing Your Body of Essential Nutrients and Natural Ways to Restore Them. Whew, that’s a long title. But according to Suzy, the vital nutrients depleted by drugs are a big problem. Big enough for her to add it to her keep-you-healthy bucket list.


Suzy, who has been a licensed pharmacist for 22 years, began writing her internationally syndicated Dear Pharmacist column in 1999. She is a member of the Institute for Functional Medicine, American College for Advancement in Medicine and the American Association of Anti-Aging Medicine. Her first book, The 24-Hour Pharmacist, was published in 2007 by HarperCollins and later re-issued by Rodale Books. The latter published Cohen’s Diabetes Without Drugs in 2010 and Drug Muggers this year. Known as “America’s Most Trusted Pharmacist,” Cohen has been featured in many magazine articles, as well as on numerous radio and television programs, including The Dr. Oz Show and The View. She also hosts a medical minute spot on the syndicated TV health show Know the Cause.


Ocala Style recently caught up with Cohen to talk about her health mission and get her advice on how not to be a victim of drug muggers.


OS:The first question has to be what’s a drug mugger and how did you come up with the term?


SC:I define a drug mugger as an over-the-counter or prescribed medication, food, herb, medical condition or lifestyle choice that is capable of robbing your body’s natural stores of an important vitamin, mineral or hormone. My husband Sam actually came up with the term in a moment of brilliant inspiration.


OS: What inspired you to write Drug Muggers?


SC: I began to realize that when a person started a medication, they soon needed another one to take care of the pesky side effects from the first. When I did some research into this, it dawned on me that the nutrient depletion from medications could cause side effects. I was inspired to educate consumers that putting back what medication stole could help them feel better, and perhaps prevent the need to get on the medication merry-go-round.


OS: What’s the connection between prescription and over-the-counter drugs’ side effects and drug mugging?


SC: Prescription and OTC drugs that cause side effects do so most often (if not always) via the drug-mugging effect. People have symptoms that are so insidious and that can develop months to years later, they often don’t make the connection. There are hundreds of published articles and studies about nutrient depletion by drugs. The problem is that the information hasn’t been widely disseminated, but this is something very important for people to know for their health.


OS:What’s the answer to countering drug-mugging effects?


SC: Like any other problem, the first thing to do is become aware that there may be a drug-induced nutrient depletion happening in your body causing your symptoms. Once you’re aware, you can take a look at all your symptoms, try to determine when they began and then act to restore your nutrient balance.


For example, let’s say you’ve developed leg cramps and have been diagnosed with restless leg syndrome. The leg cramps may not really be a result of a disease called restless leg syndrome, but instead a side effect from some drug you’re taking. Leg cramps are associated with over 200 drugs via their drug-mugging effect of CoQ10, which a deficiency of can very well cause cramps, muscle spasms and weakness. So restoring your body’s levels of CoQ10 could possibly cure your leg cramps and the restless leg syndrome disease that you thought you had.


OS:According to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, cholesterol-lowering statins are among the top-selling prescription drugs. So using statins as an example, what nutrients do they mug from you?


SC: Primarily CoQ10 and possibly vitamin D. CoQ10 is the powerful antioxidant coenzyme Q10, which produces the energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Every single cell in your body needs ATP to function! ATP provides cellular energy for blood sugar regulation, muscle contractions, disease prevention, brain health and proper heart function.


Statins slow down cholesterol production in the body by blocking an enzyme called HMG-CoA. Unfortunately, this is the exact same pathway where CoQ10 is produced, hence the drug-mugging effect of CoQ10. The higher the statin dose, the higher the depletion of CoQ10. Drug-mugging side effects may include fatigue, weakness, muscle cramps, memory loss, higher risk of cancer, frequent infection, liver damage and heart disease. But statin-induced CoQ10 depletion is completely preventable by supplementing with CoQ10 or ubiquinol, its more active stronger version.



OS:Another area you cover in the book is the interaction of drugs with foods and supplements. Still sticking withstatins, what are some of the foods and supplements to be cautious about?


SC: Grapefruit and its juice can cause a spike in statin levels in your body. When the statin level rises, the person may experience severe muscle aches, headache, liver enzyme elevations, liver damage, kidney damage, severe leg cramps, peripheral neuropathy (pins and needles sensations/numbness) and life-threatening rhabdomyolysis.


OS:Is grapefruit the No. 1 food that interacts badly with the largest number of drugs? If so, why? How about other citrus fruits and pomegranate juice?


SC: Yes, I think so. Grapefruit contains an ingredient called naringenin, the bitter chemical that causes you to pucker when you eat or drink grapefruit. The naringenin prevents the proper breakdown of some medications, causing blood levels to spike. Some research suggests that pomegranate juice, tangerines and some oranges may have the same effect. And it doesn’t matter what time of day you drink or eat grapefruit or if you separate it hours between medication, the negative interaction remains.


OS:Besides prescription and over-the-counter drugs, you also cover lifestyle drug muggers. What are some of those?


SC: Wine is a drug-mugger of thiamine (vitamin B1). Coffee is a drug-mugger of iron. Fat-blocker diet drugs can deplete vitamins A, D, E and K. Medical conditions such as pancreatic insufficiency, gallbladder disease, IBS, Crohn’s disease, gluten-intolerance or Celiac disease can inhibit the absorption of nutrients from the intestines. This makes it very important to supplement with high-quality nutrients through food and supplements.


OS:Throughout your book, you recommend a nutrient security system depending on what medications a person is taking. What is the basic nutrient security system that you recommend?


SC: I recommend Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics because they restore your own gut flora fingerprint and don’t just dump a million bacteria into your body that might cause adverse reactions. I also recommend Nutrex-Hawaii spirulina, a blue-green ocean algae superfood because it has the highest nutritional content of any other brand on the market.


OS:When it comes to getting and/or restoring the vital nutrients we need, what’s best—food, supplements or a combination of both?


SC: Food is best, supplements next. In my book, I have “Put This On Your Plate” and then follow up with “What’s In My Cupboard” sections. Eat fresh, living organic fruits and vegetables to get your nutrients. Juicing is wonderful, too. With supplements, do your research. You want to buy from reputable companies that produce high-quality products. Look for pure and unadulterated formulas that are free of artificial colors, sweeteners, fillers, preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients.


OS:Unfortunately, there are times when we all have to take drugs. So what’s your best advice about taking medications and their drug-mugging effects on our health?


SC: If you’re taking a medication and develop side effects, track them on a calendar so you can see if they began after you started taking the drug. Then look up the drug and see what nutrients it depletes. If this matches with your symptoms, then you will know how to restore the nutrients. But, of course, always check with your doctor before taking any supplements with your drugs. As I said before, it’s all about being responsible for your health. And the best way to do that is to be aware and knowledgeable.


Editor’s Note: Suzy Cohen, a self-described “nerdy pharmacist who likes to write, share information and eat chocolate,” is not a medical doctor. She urges her readers to discuss every aspect of their personal health with their physicians. It is not Cohen’s intention to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease; her statements and the information in her books have not been evaluated by the US Food and Drug Administration.


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