Food and drugsI recently attended a conference as part of my continuing medical education. Dr. Christie Fleetwood, a naturopathic doctor and registered pharmacist, shared some eye-opening facts about the effects of prescription drugs on important nutrients in the body. I thought it would be helpful to you if I passed along some of that information.

NOTE: This article is not intended to encourage you to stop your medications. My purpose is to make you aware of signs and symptoms that might occur because of nutritional deficiencies caused by long-term prescription drug use and to encourage you to talk with your doctor about it.


The following are just a few prescription drug types that are some of the most commonly prescribed. Long-term use of these drugs can result in deficiencies in specific vitamins, nutrients, and other substances that are important to bodily functions and our health and well-being. Under each drug type I have listed a few of the likely deficiencies and their possible effects.

Opioids­–primarily used for treating pain

Related deficiencies and some of their possible signs and symptoms:

  • Folic acid: poor growth, GI tract disturbances
  • Vitamin C: fatigue, aching bones/joints/muscles
  • Iron: anemia, increased susceptibility to infection, hair loss
  • Potassium: muscle weakness and cramps, mental confusion, abdominal bloating

Benzodiazepines–primarily used for anxiety disorders, seizures, acute insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal

  • Melatonin: sleep disorders

Steroids–primarily used to reduce certain types of inflammation

  • Magnesium: muscle spasms, insomnia, sugar cravings, hypertension
  • Potassium: muscle weakness, irritability
  • Vitamin B6: depression, nausea, convulsions
  • Vitamin B12: anemia, confusion, memory loss
  • Chromium: glucose intolerance, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Vitamin D: compromised bone health, increased sensitivity to pain

Long-term use of statins (often prescribed to control cholesterol) can also deplete the body of important substances like CoQ10 and vitamin D3. It can also inhibit the synthesis of vitamin K2, which plays an essential role in the metabolism of calcium and in heart health.

So how can you know if you have deficiencies that may have been caused by prescription drug use?

First, if you are having certain signs and symptoms it might be helpful to do a bit of research to see if they are linked to particular nutritional deficiencies such as the ones above. You can then speak with your health provider about possibly testing for those specific vitamin and nutrient levels in your blood.

Another good option is to take a Cellular Nutrition Assay, which is a blood test that measures a wide range of micronutrients in the body and can zero in on which nutrients you are lacking, allowing your provider to recommend targeted nutritional supplements that will provide what your body needs. If the deficiencies are caused by long-term prescription drug use, supplementation could be a relatively easy and very effective way to offset the negative symptoms you’re experiencing.