It’s all down to drugs, at least I remember taking them and not a lot else…

Painkillers have become an unavoidable part of life for many people around us. For some, the day begins with taking a couple of painkillers in order to avoid getting a headache later on. For others, they wait until the warning signs of illness or until they feel taking them is the last resort. What most of these people will have in common is a hectic and/or unhealthy lifestyle resulting in them becoming almost reliant on these drugs. When the drugs do not have the desired effect, stronger medications are often turned to unnecessarily, and one reason is that people do not understand the effect food and drink has on the interaction with their drugs.

A food-drug interaction can prevent a medication from working how it should, cause a side effect from the medicine to get better/worse and can even cause other side effects. Medicine can also change the way the body uses a food, and this can be dangerous.

Full or empty stomach… does this have an effect? Yes, with some medicines. Some medicines will work faster, slower, better or worse if taken on a full or empty stomach. Some medicines can upset the stomach, and having food in your stomach can help reduce the upset. It is important to read the labels on these medicines, but a general guideline for taking medication on an empty stomach would be either 1 hour before eating, or 2 hours after eating. If you are required to take medication on a full stomach, then it is generally taken with your food or straight after a meal.

Alcohol… does this have an effect? Again, yes. The way your medicine works can change if swallowed with alcohol or if you drink alcohol before or after taking your medicine. Alcohol can also add to any side effects a medication may have. Caffeine can also affect medication in similar ways.

Below is a brief list of medication types, and whether they are affected by food, alcohol or caffeine. The list is not exhaustive and should not replace advice given to you by your doctor or pharmacist. Remember, if you are unsure, always consult with a healthcare professional.

  • ALLERGIES: antihistamines – alcohol (can add to the drowsiness)
  • ARTHRITIS, PAIN, FEVER: analgesics – alcohol (can cause liver damage if drunk in excess), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs/NSAIDs – food (take medication with food or milk if they upset your stomach), alcohol (can cause stomach bleeding if drunk in excess)
  • ASTHMA: bronchodilators – alcohol (can increase the chance of side effects such as headaches, nausea, vomiting and irritability), caffeine (can increase the chance of side effects such as excitability, nervousness and rapid heart beat)
  • CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE: ACE inhibitors – food (avoid foods with large amounts of potassium as this can cause an irregular heart beat or palpitations), beta-blockers – food (take with food to avoid medication reducing blood pressure too much)
  • HYPOTHYROIDISM: thyroid medicine – food (take medication at least half an hour before food)
  • PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS: anti-anxiety and panic disorder medicines – alcohol (can add to the drowsiness), antidepressants – alcohol (can add to the drowsiness)
  • OSTEOPOROSIS: bisphosphonates – food (medicine only works when taken on an empty stomach)

It isn’t just food, alcohol and caffeine that can alter the effect of a drug; age, weight, sex, dosage and interaction with other drugs are some of the other factors that also have an effect. It is always important to read the label before taking a drug, and if unsure, to consult with your doctor or pharmacist. Though it isn’t just the lay person who has trouble dealing with drugs… The greatest doctor in the world is a drug addict…

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