Have you noticed that prescription drug use is on the rise? We sure have. In fact, the odds are that most people you know are on at least one medication.

According to a 2013 report by the Mayo Clinic and the Olmsted Medical Center, nearly 7 in 10 Americans are on at least one prescription drug, and more than half take two. A whopping 20 percent take five or more. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 out of every 5 children and 9 out of 10 older Americans reported using at least one prescription drug in the past month. While many of these prescriptions can be lifesaving, there is no denying that their use in this country has increased steadily over the past decade, and what’s more, overdoses involving prescription drugs are at new epidemic levels, now killing more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined. And America is not alone in this pill-popping party. According to a 2013 study, the average person in the UK takes 18 prescriptions a year, and approximately two-thirds of Australian seniors over the age of 60 are reported to take four or more drugs.

While many of these prescription drugs may make you “feel better,” like a Band-Aid covering and protecting a wound, they likely will not fix the underlying problem. In fact, at a micronutrient level, they may be making matters quite a bit worse. The fact is that prescription medications can reduce micronutrient sufficiency in three unique ways. First, some prescribed medications reduce appetite. This is the case for both Ritalin and Adderall, which are prescribed for attention deficit disorder. Reducing food intake reduces the likelihood that you will receive all the essential micronutrients you need throughout the day. Second, other drugs— such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, and steroids— have quite the opposite effect. They cause blood sugar swings, which can then cause cravings for simple carbohydrates— like white bread, pasta, and sugary snacks— and these are often filled with sugar and wheat, two EMDs we don’t want in our diets. The third way prescription meds sabotage our sufficiency levels is by directly depleting the micronutrients from our bodies. In other words, the simple act of taking a prescription medication robs you of specific micronutrients, and these depletions are thought to cause up to 30 percent of all pharmaceutical side effects.

Yes, your prescription medication may be an “antimicronutrient pill,” depleting your essential micronutrients without you even knowing it. Over time, these depletions can cause new health conditions to arise, which may possibly require yet more medications to treat.

Let’s look at two of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States, Abilify and Crestor, to discover how they affect your micronutrient levels and hinder your chances of recovery. First let’s examine the most commonly prescribed medication in the United States. You may not have guessed this one, but it’s the antidepressant sold under the name Abilify, and 1 out of every 4 women ages 50 to 64 is on an antidepressant. If you live in the United States, you have probably seen the commercials for this pill. It is the one with a woman who walks around depressed with her best friend, a small cartoon prescription drug pill, but he just can’t cheer her up. Luckily, her doctor offers her a script for this exciting new pharmaceutical “add-on” called Abilify. In the ad, a giant cartoon letter A joins her and her prescription, and together the three live happily ever after. So, first of all, you need to know that this isn’t a primary medication. This means that the most commonly prescribed drug in the United States, for which annual sales exceed 6 billion dollars, is only given to those already on depression medications that aren’t working. Yes, that’s billion with a B! While studies have shown that Abilify reduces depression, it also has a slew of other unwanted side effects, including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, drooling, weight gain, seizures, and increased suicidal tendencies. Another side effect that is not often discussed is its depletion of the essential mineral selenium. And guess what? Selenium has important functions in brain metabolism. Selenium is so important to the brain that the body tries to maintain the concentration of selenium in the brain even when there is a  deficiency in the peripheral organs. A low selenium status has a negative effect on the psyche and can be accompanied by an increased incidence of depression and other psychiatric conditions. So this medication actually eliminates the very micronutrient you need to fight depression naturally. One UK study showed that “the lower the level of selenium in the diet, the more reports of anxiety, depression, and tiredness,” and the researchers found that supplementation with this one micronutrient for a 5-week period significantly reduced these ailments.  Selenium has also been shown to reduce post-partum depression, as well as lift the spirits of and reduce clinical depression in elderly patients and those with cancer and HIV.  So, as you can see, adding this selenium-robbing thief into your prescription drug mix isn’t smart if your goal is alleviating depression. Rather than depleting “feel-good” micronutrients, wouldn’t it be better to add some in naturally through diet and supplementation? For example, studies show that eating selenium and omega-3–rich seafood two or more times a week may be linked with a 50 percent lower rate of depression. Eating super-delicious salmon certainly sounds better than taking a drug that depletes selenium and increases suicidal tendencies— don’t you think?  In fact, just one 4-ounce serving of wild caught salmon contains more than 50 percent of the RDI for selenium and between 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams of omega-3.

The second drug we will discuss is Crestor, which is currently the fifth most commonly prescribed medication in the United States with just over $ 5.25 billion in annual sales. Crestor is classified as a statin and is often given to treat high cholesterol. You may also be aware of some other well-known statins, such as Lipitor, Levacor, Zocor, and Pravachol. And Lipitor is actually the world’s all-time biggest-selling prescription medicine, with cumulative sales topping $ 130 billion. According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 45 percent of people over the age of 60 now take cholesterol lowering prescription medicines— a figure that has more than doubled since 1999. So the side effects of this type of medicine currently affect nearly half of America’s aging population. To make matters worse, experts from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology recently crafted new guidelines for prescribing statins, and these new guidelines are forecasted to widen the use of statins. In fact, under the new guidelines, nearly half of all Americans ages 40 to 75 and nearly all men over 60 now qualify to take statins. Adding to the sales, and the prevalence of this class of drugs among the American population, the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends statins for children over 8 years of age who are suffering from high cholesterol. And just because you may not call the United States home, don’t think that you are off the hook. Australians take more cholesterol medication than any other developed country, with prescription rates 40 percent above the global average.

Well, if so many people are taking statins, what could possibly be the problem? As it turns out, a lot! First, according to a 2015 study published in Diabetologia, researchers that studied the effects of statins for 6 years on more than 8,000 nondiabetic participants ages 45 to 73 found that “statin treatment increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 46 percent.”  Second, a 2015 study published in the journal Movement Disorders found that those taking cholesterol lowering drugs (such as statins) are more than twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease as those who do not. Finally, Another side effect that is just starting to gain attention is muscle damage, which scientists believe is potentially “very serious.” The industry insists that only 2 to 3 percent of patients get muscle aches and cramps, but according to one study, 98 percent of patients taking Lipitor and one-third of patients taking Mevacor (a lower-dose statin) suffered from muscle problems!  But while we want you to be aware of these major side effects, what we really want to focus on is this script’s ability to deplete your micronutrients. Again, here in the United States, these depletions are commonly overlooked, but our northern neighbor, Canada, warns of this on prescription bottles: Use of this statin “could lead to impaired cardiac function in patients with borderline congestive heart failure.” Why? This side effect is due to the depletion of CoQ10. It is well documented that the heart requires a sufficient amount of CoQ10 for energy production. However, when treating a patient with a bad heart thought to be due to high cholesterol, doctors give statins that deplete CoQ10, a micronutrient known to be essential to proper heart function— so essential, in fact, that some studies even suggest that congestive heart failure is primarily a CoQ10 deficiency disease. Here again, the one micronutrient absolutely critical for heart health is the one depleted in the treatment of heart disease.

We aren’t trying to say that physicians are out to hurt you by offering you prescription medications. This is what they are taught in medical school and by the numerous pharmaceutical reps that visit them weekly. However, what if some of your health complaints are actually being caused by these doctor-prescribed medications? The micronutrient depletion caused by prescription drugs is well-documented, and we want you to become aware of their depleting side effects. Pharmacists can be a big help in this area, as they are experts in drug-to-drug and drug-to-micronutrient antagonisms/competitions.

Our goal is to help you fill in the nutritional gaps that your prescription medications may be causing. And as an added benefit, creating sufficiency will likely, over time, reduce your body’s requirements for these medications, and slowly but surely, you may be able to get off of them altogether. Think of the micronutrient depletion you will avoid and the money you will save! 

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We realize that not everyone takes prescription drugs, but we'd like to encourage you to share this information with your family and friends!