Be Wary of Harmful Food and Drug Interactions

If you’re taking medications, what you eat matters. Here are some common food and drug interactions you should know about.
Harmful Food and Drug Interactions

It’s not uncommon to take prescription drugs these days. In fact, the statistics show more than 131 million people, or 66% of all adults in the United States, use medicine prescribed to them. It’s particularly common for older people and those with chronic conditions. If you’re among them, there are some common food and drug interactions you should know about.

If you’re taking medications, what you eat matters. A lot. That’s because, in some cases, eating the right foods can help reverse the health issues you’re facing. But in other cases, even with healthy choices, sometimes the food you eat can negatively affect the way your medication works. Sometimes, it can even cause unintended and possibly dangerous results. 

Negative Food and Drug Interactions

If you’re taking a cholesterol-lowering statin, you should say goodbye to grapefruit and pomegranate. Grapefruit juice boosts the drug’s absorption and can increase side effects, including muscle aches. Grapefruit juice can also impact how your body metabolizes certain allergy drugs, birth control, and blood pressure medications. Other foods to avoid if you’re taking blood pressure medication include aged cheese, sausage, bologna, pepperoni, and salami.

Dark, Leafy Greens

Food and Drug Interactions to Watch Out For

If you’re taking a prescription blood thinner to prevent a stroke or other issues, you need to be careful about dark, leafy greens. Foods such as spinach, kale, and broccoli are rich in vitamin K, which is normally great for you. But if you’re taking blood thinners, they can decrease the drug’s ability to prevent dangerous clots. This doesn’t mean you should stop eating them altogether. It means you should watch how much you’re ingesting and carefully balance your intake.

Milk is also normally good for you, but if you’re using it to help swallow your antibiotic, you should stop. This combination won’t cause harmful side effects, but you may absorb less of the medicine. Experts suggest you wait at least two hours between taking your pill and downing a glass of milk.

If you’re taking digoxin for heart failure or ace inhibitors for high blood pressure, be careful about salt substitutes. The salt substitutes often contain potassium, which at higher levels can impact the effectiveness of the medication.

Sweets & Treats to Avoid

Bad Food and Drug Interactions

Chocolate, as great as it might taste, can carry dangerous interactions if you take MAO drugs used for depression, phobias, and panic disorders. Nardil (phenelzine) or Parnate (tranylcypromine) are two of the medications that are at risk when you indulge in chocolate. 

Another treat you should avoid on certain medications is licorice (at least certain kinds). If you’re taking Lanoxin (digoxin) for congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms, some forms of licorice may increase your risk of Lanoxin toxicity. Licorice may also reduce the effects of blood pressure drugs and diuretic (urine-producing) drugs. Those include Hydrodiuril (hydrochlorothiazide) and Aldactone (spironolactone).

Alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of your medications since it can change the liver’s ability to filter medication from the body. It’s also important to watch alcohol intake with over-the-counter meds.

Even basic salt, which is common in the food supply, can create a negative food and drug interaction. Salt increases the amount of fluid you retain, which makes the medication dose inaccurate and likely inadequate.

It’s not just food and drug interactions…

Bad Food-Drug Interactions

It’s not just food and alcohol you must avoid if you don’t want to see bad interactions. Supplements also matter. Vitamin supplements can disrupt your medications’ impact. St. John’s Wort induces liver enzymes, which means it may cut the concentration of medications in the blood. It can impact Lanoxin, cholesterol-lowering drugs Mevacor and Altocor, and the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

Vitamin E can increase anti-clotting activity and increase your risk of bleeding if you’re taking blood-thinning medication such as Coumadin. Ginseng can interfere with Coumadin. It can increase the bleeding effects of heparin, aspirin, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen, naproxen, and ketoprofen. If you’re taking MAO inhibitors, ginseng may cause headaches, trouble sleeping, nervousness, and hyperactivity.


Some medicines you get over-the-counter for colds and allergies can also cause blood thinners to have more powerful effects. Mixing an over-the-counter drug to help you sleep with a medication you take for allergies could slow your reactions and make it dangerous to drive a car. It’s important to keep that in mind.

To avoid harmful food and drug interactions, always read your drug labels carefully. Learn about the warnings for all the medicines you take. Keep medications in their original containers so you know exactly what you’re taking. And always ask your doctor about potential interactions when you’re prescribed a new medicine. It’ll also help to use one pharmacy for all of your prescriptions. You should keep a log of all the prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements you’re taking. It’s important to share that with your doctor and/or pharmacist so they have it on record, just in case. As they say, better safe than sorry.

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