AS substances that we ingest are absorbed from the intestines, occasionally one substance may interfere with the absorption of another substance.

Iron is needed for good blood. Iron from iron tablets is best absorbed without food but because iron tablets cause stomach sensitivity and reactions such as cramps, pain, and nausea, it is necessary to take them with some food. Calcium containing foods such as milk, yogurt, sardines, and greens and calcium containing drugs such as antacid drugs used for gastric pain can limit the absorption of iron.

Phytates that are found in many plant foods can prevent absorption of most of the iron we ingest. On the other hand vitamin C and foods containing vitamin C such as orange juice increase the absorption of iron. Vitamin C taken with plant foods prevents the effects of phytates and increases the absorption of iron. It is good to eat fresh foods containing vitamin C in every meal or in most meals.

These includes food such as fresh tomatoes, paw-paw, guava, kiwis, blackcurrants, strawberries, and citrus fruits. Vitamin C in fresh lemon or lime juice sprinkled on salads and other foods can also serve this function. Some foods such as spinach, kale, peppers, and thyme contain abundant vitamin C so that the amount lost in cooking may leave enough vitamin C to meet daily intake.

We should eat foods, fresh or cooked, that contain enough vitamin C to help absorption of iron for good blood. We need iron for fitness and strength. When taking iron tablets, avoid taking them with antibiotics because iron (ferrous sulfate) can suppress the effectiveness of some antibiotics. Stagger your treatments rather than taking the two together.

Vitamin D is needed for absorption of calcium and bone health. Some drugs affect vitamin D. Prednisone (which is used to treat arthritis and immune system disorders) and some other steroid drugs interfere with vitamin D. People with epileptic conditions take phenobarbital or phenytoin which also affect vitamin D and therefore calcium absorption. Other drugs that interfere with vitamin D are the obesity medicine orlistat, some diabetes medicines, blood pressure medicines, calcium supplements and antacids, cholestyramine which is used to lower cholesterol.

People who take drugs that are used as blood thinners or other drugs that produce the same effect as a side effect should be careful not to take too much garlic, ginko biloba, feverfew, aspirin-like pain killers, or vitamin E because they all have the potential to increase the effects of blood thinning drugs and lead to internal bleeding.

Many drug-drug interactions and drug-food interactions are minimal or are of little or no consequence. New interactions are being discovered through clinical observations and clinical investigations. It is important to note those that are scientifically validated and to make sure we avoid such interactions.

To play it safe, always use drugs that are prescribed by a doctor. In some clinical environments, doctors may have limited contact with patients. Know you can ask relevant questions and do not leave in a hurry. Some questions you can ask about drugs are:

What is the drug supposed to do in my body?

What if I do not experience the expected effect?

Are there possibilities of interaction with such and such drugs that I also take?

Should I avoid certain drugs or foods or drinks?

If you must self-medicate (not seeing a doctor), ask the pharmacist’s advice on the drug you are buying. For example, if you go to the pharmacists with a stuffy nose and you want to buy a nasal decongestant, the pharmacist may ask you if you have high blood pressure or prostate problems because the nasal decongestant may adversely affect your already bad blood pressure or prostate problem.

Read well the insert within the drug package that gives you all relevant information and do your own search for information on the Internet or through other sources. Such information include: what the active ingredient(s) (the real drug substance(s)) are, the uses of the drug or what beneficial effects the medication is supposed to have, directions on how to use the drug which includes dose and timing, side-effects which are unwanted effects that the drug may also produce, warnings which includes known drug-drug interactions and known drug-food interactions, interaction with pregnancy and breast feeding and individual allergies, as well as information about other non-drug substances added for making the medication stable and safe. There is also contact information.

Free online information about drug-drug interaction can be obtained from websites such as Medscape Drug Reference Database for doctors and drugs.com, rxlist.com, and WebMD’s Drug Interaction Checker that lay people can use. Check on the drugs as well as herbal medicines, vitamin and other nutritional supplements, and social and recreational substances and drugs. A lot of information on medicines found on the internet are for laymen therefore ignorance should not kill anyone.

Theresa Adebola John is a lecturer at Lagos State University College of Medicine (LASUCOM) and an affiliated researcher at the College of Medicine, University of Tennessee, Memphis. For any comments or questions on this column, please email bolajohnwritings@yahoo.com or call 08160944635

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