Prescription Medications and Nutrient Depletion: What’s the Connection?

Nutrients are vital substances the body obtains from foods and liquids for growth, development, and sustaining bodily functions. Sometimes, medications can interfere with the body’s nutrient balance and cause levels of certain nutrients to become too low.

Taking medications short-term does not result in nutrient depletion. However, long-term maintenance medication regimens used to treat chronic conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure can, over time, lead to nutrient depletion. 

How do Medications Cause Nutrient Depletion?

Medications can deplete nutrients from the body in a few ways:

  • Excretion: Certain drugs can deplete nutrients by increasing urination and flushing them out of the body.
  • Decreasing absorption: Certain drugs affect the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients.
  • Increasing metabolism: Certain drugs can speed up the body’s metabolism, causing the body to use certain nutrients more quickly.

Why Is it Important to Monitor Nutrient Levels?

The body needs nutrients to execute all of its functions, including growth, development, and reproduction. There are six main groups of nutrients:

  • Carbohydrates: Provide an important source of energy to the body’s cells as well as fiber. 
  • Minerals: Essential elements needed for nerve function, fluid balance, and bone density.
  • Lipids: Fats that help the body store energy and form cell membranes for cell protection. 
  • Proteins: Form the basic building blocks of structures throughout the body like bones, muscles, cartilage, and skin and are also used to repair these structures.
  • Vitamins: Vital compounds that facilitate chemical reactions throughout the body needed for everyday functions.   
  • Water: Substance that helps the body regulate temperature, lubricate the joints and acts as a solvent to dissolve nutrients and make them available to the body.  

When the body is low in a certain nutrient, it’s unable to perform all of its functions properly. For example, magnesium (a mineral) plays a role in numerous functions throughout the body, including energy production, muscle and nerve function, and DNA replication (vital to cell division and reproduction). If the body is low in magnesium, this can lead to symptoms such as constipation, fatigue, and abnormal heart rhythm. Long-term magnesium deficiency may even lead to more serious conditions like osteoporosis and heart disease. 

Examples of Common Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletions 

Scientists have identified numerous drug-induced nutrient depletions. Some of these include:

  • Antidepressants—can cause folate, calcium, and vitamin D deficiency.
  • Oral contraceptives (birth control)—can cause vitamin B12, folate, calcium, and magnesium deficiency. 
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs—can cause iron and vitamin C deficiency. 

Is it Possible to Avoid Nutrient Depletion When Taking Medications?

Symptoms of nutrient deficiency may not be obvious. If your doctor has prescribed a long-term maintenance medication regimen, ask him/her about the possibility of nutrient depletion. He/she may recommend periodical blood tests to monitor levels of nutrients and may prescribe supplements to restore healthy levels of nutrients, as needed.

If you’re currently taking a long-term medication and are interested in learning whether it is associated with a known nutrient depletion, or if you notice symptoms of nutrient depletion, talk to your doctor.