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Grapefruit and certain Rx can be lethal

Mar 12, 2013

Certain citrus fruits and medications can be dangerous
Photo source: commons.wikimedia.org

Eighty-five prescription drugs can spur serious side effects when combined with a popular citrus drink, including some reactions that are potentially life-threatening, says a Canadian researcher.

Dr. David Bailey, a clinical pharmacologist at the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ontario, first noted the interaction between grapefruit juice and prescribed medications in the 1990’s. He recently released an updated list of 85 drugs that might cause serious side effects when combined with grapefruit consumption, including 43 that can be life-threatening. The previous list in 2008 contained just 17 drugs.

The new list  contains common drugs used to control cholesterol, fight infections, control high blood pressure and treat heart issues.  Other drugs on the list include new anticancer agents, some birth control pills, estrogen treatments, certain immunosuppressant medications taken by organ transplant patients, and some AIDS medications.

Senior citizens may be more vulnerable because their body’s ability to cope with drugs weakens with age, Bailey noted.

“What drove us to write this paper was the number of new drugs that have come out in the last four years,” said Bailey. Nutritionists say that problems arise because chemicals in the fruit can interfere with the enzymes that metabolize (break down) medication in the digestive system. That means the medication may stay in your body too short or too long. If it breaks down too quickly it doesn't have time to work. If it stays in the user’s system too long it can mushroom to dangerous levels, causing side effects like low blood pressure and slowing the heartbeat.

Researchers debate about the frequency of such reactions and how often those reactions are triggered with people drinking regular amounts of juice. Dr. Bailey thinks many cases are missed because doctors don’t ask patients if they consume grapefruit or grapefruit juice.

Dr. Bailey argues even if such cases are rare, they are entirely avoidable. “The bottom line is that even if the frequency is low, the consequences can be dire,” he said. “Why do we have to have a body count before we make changes?”

Reportedly many hospitals have quit serving juice to patients, and some prescriptions now carry a sticker warning users to avoid grapefruit when taking that medication.

The Mayo Clinic advises people using prescription drugs to play it safe by consulting their doctor or pharmacist when they get a new prescription. Ask if the new medication interacts with other foods or other medicines and if it does, ask whether you need to eliminate that food or drink from your diet.

Sources: New York Times, Mayo Clinic, BBC News



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