Who would imagine that guacamole, cranberries or mango could interact with a medicine to cause a potentially life-threatening interaction? All these foods may alter the action of Coumadin (warfarin), an anticoagulant used to prevent blood clots.
Food and drug interactions are frequently overlooked when medication is prescribed. As a result, patients may not realize when their eating habits put them in harm’s way.
Coumadin is actually an exception. Most prescribers are aware of potential interactions between this blood-thinner and the vitamin K contained in green leafy vegetables. Excess vitamin K can reverse the effect of Coumadin and lead to dangerous blood clots.
The resulting advice may be overly restrictive, however. Some patients become frustrated wondering how to get their vitamins because they have been told to swear off all salads, vegetables and multi-vitamins containing vitamin K. They should be counseled that getting the same amount of vitamin K each day (as they would from a multivitamin) allows the dose to be adjusted appropriately.
Very few people taking warfarin are warned that avocados, green tea or menthol cough drops could also have a negative impact on their anticoagulant. Dietary supplements may pose a risk as well. St. John’s wort, Co-enzyme Q10 and ginseng may interact in the same way.
Cranberry juice, mango, garlic, fish oil and turmeric (in curry or curcumin pills) may increase the blood thinning activity of warfarin.
Many other drugs and dietary supplements can be affected by food or drink. Tea (hot or iced) can reduce the absorption of iron from pills or non-meat foods such as spinach. Fiber in bran can diminish the absorption of a powerful heart medicine called Lanoxin (digoxin) and statin-type cholesterol-lowering medicines such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin). High fiber foods such as bran muffins can also make certain antidepressants less effective.
Peppermint is a popular ingredient in candy, chewing gum, cough drops and herbal tea. It is used in dietary supplements for treating irritable bowel syndrome. Research shows that peppermint may affect enzymes in the body that that help process many medicines. Blood pressure pills like Plendil (felodipine) may produce more side effects because of higher blood levels. Statins may also be affected by peppermint.
Grapefruit has a similar but stronger impact. It can raise blood levels of a range of medications including Lipitor, Mevacor and Zocor as well as BuSpar, Estrace, Plendil, Sonata, Tegretol and Viagra.
Drugs can interact with other medicines as well as with foods, beverages or dietary supplements. Bad combinations cause thousands of deaths each year. The best protection is information and vigilance. Your health professional may not warn about every possible danger, so you need to protect yourself.