Many people over fifty are on a range of medications to manage chronic health problems. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 47% of the population is managing chronic health conditions which include arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, mental health conditions and osteoporosis. Whilst these medications are often essential the side effects of some of these common medications can have negative impacts on your overall health.
What can you do to manage these risks? First up make sure that your GP is aware of all the medications you are taking and that they are still appropriate. Secondly if you are having noticeable side effects with a medication see if your GP can recommend an alternative. The next step, if the medication is creating side effects, is then to consider looking at supporting yourself nutritionally to minimise the impact. Below are five common medications that may have side effects that impact your brain or physical health (1) and some strategies for managing them.
- Statins. A common problem for people on statins (cholesterol lowering medication) is that they start feeling less energetic as the statins deplete the levels of Co Q 10. Some people can also suffer from muscle aches and pains and develop memory problems. CoQ10 is important for energy production within the cell. Dosage is a little dependent on weight however generally 150-300 mcg is useful and its recommended that you start at a lower dose and build up slowly.
- Metformin which is often given for Diabetes can reduce levels of both B6 and B12. Low B12 may lead to peripheral neuropathy which can cause loss of sensation in the feet or tingling or burning sensations. Again a Multi vitamin with adequate B12 is essential . Depending on your other medications and any possible interactions you may need to use individual supplements rather than a multi-vitamin. Balancing your blood sugar is also essential when you are on these medications so have a look at the dietary recommendations in my blog Are you missing out on ways that you can start ageing outrageously well ?
- Anti-depressants need B vitamins for optimal effect and whilst they may not reduce levels specifically they may be less effective if you are not taking a multi vitamin at the same time. In addition your mood may be helped by considering an anti-inflammatory diet and according to the Mayo clinic, walking at least 30 minutes daily (2).
- Antibiotics Antibiotics can disrupt the natural bacteria flora in the digestive system, reducing beneficial bacteria, including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum , this may result in symptoms like persistent diarrhoea or constipation. Use a good quality brand of probiotics such as Inner Health with at least 5 billion live organisms for effective management. Nutritionally make sure you are having at least 3 cups of vegetables a day to feed beneficial bacteria and consider a range of prebiotic fibres as well. There is a lot more information on the best options in my recent blog What are the best vegetables for feeding your gut ?
- Hormone Replacement Therapy impacts on folic acid (B9), B6 and B12 as well as magnesium levels. A good multi vitamin plus between 400-800mg of magnesium can be useful in managing the side effects. HRT can be useful to manage significant symptoms post menopause and it is adviseable to ensure that if you are using it long term you look at liver support, such as St Mary’s Thistle, to minimise adverse effects longer term.
Food sources for some of these key nutrients such as Co Q10 can be a little challenging. CoQ10 is found in organ meats like kidney, heart and liver. Whilst you could look at including a nice pate on a regular basis, to include liver for example, it is hard to get sufficient levels without a supplement if you are vegetarian or can’t stomach organ meats. There are some organ supplements on the market which could be a good option, just make sure they are organic wherever possible.
Magnesium is found in a wide range of foods, but inadequate intake is common and is associated with a greater risk of osteoporosis. Food sources of magnesium include nuts and seeds, dark leafy greens, legumes, quinoa, dark chocolate, brown rice and other unrefined whole grains (3). People who benefit from a magnesium supplement are prone to headaches and cramping and have difficulty staying asleep. They usually find that magnesium reduces cramping with supplementation. Ideally look for a form of magnesium that is combined with a citrate or an amino acid chelate as magnesium combined with oxide is usually only helpful for constipation as it has laxative qualities.
For more information on maintaining or improving Brain Health have a look at my program Ageing Outrageously which covers six key areas for ensuring that you age well. These include improving brain health, balancing blood sugar, appropriate movement, gut and digestion as well as strategies for assessing and monitoring your health. The program has been designed for people who may not have the time or resources to work with me directly but would like to invest in improving their health. The program cost of $249 is similar to the cost of my initial appointment but you can run through the program under your own pace at home and it covers content from a series of 6-8 appointments .