Surprising Side Effects from Your Medications
In a previous issue, we looked at adrenal burnout — one of the most common causes of fatigue, even though it’s seldom diagnosed by conventional physicians. This week, I want to turn our attention to another energy thief: medications that steal the nutrients your body needs for energy production or interfere with sleep and relaxation.
Cholesterol-reducing statin drugs, like Lipitor, are good examples. Statins are among the best-selling prescription drugs in the world, even though they are quite costly. Unfortunately, these drugs can have life-altering side effects, including serious muscle and/or liver damage, ulcers, difficulties with memory and low energy caused by depletion of nutrients, particularly Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).
Many of my patients are surprised to learn that prescription drugs can cause problems. For instance, a long-time patient that I’ll call “Frank,” to protect his privacy, came to see me not long ago, complaining of exhaustion. On previous visits, Frank had come through his physicals with flying colors. His only health problem was slightly elevated cholesterol, but he had been managing it very well with my diet and exercise recommendations.
Then Frank was hired by a Fortune 500 company and moved out of the area. His new job involved a great deal of travel, leaving him little time to exercise or eat properly. His cholesterol levels soared, so a new physician gave him a prescription for statins.
I saw Frank a few months later, after he made a special trip to Southern California to see me. By then, his formerly high energy levels were history, and his new doctor had nothing to offer him. “I am absolutely wiped out, no matter how much I sleep,” he told me. “I hope you can help, because I can’t go on this way. My energy has just disappeared. And this job is way too demanding for me to keep up in the shape I’m in now.”
Statin Medication Was the Culprit
Looking at Frank’s chart, I knew right away that the statins he was taking were most likely the problem. So I reminded Frank of how well he managed his cholesterol earlier with diet and exercise. At first, he insisted there was no time to work out or cook with the pressures of the new job. But after talking for a few more minutes, we came up with a plan: Frank would start delegating more tasks to his assistant and replace some travel with video conferencing, freeing him up to spend time exercising and cooking healthier meals again. I also recommended that he stay at hotels that had in-house gyms and menus with whole food options. Finally, I suggested that he replace the statins with a natural alternative known as red yeast rice, plus supplements of Coenzyme Q10 (more on that below). Chemically, red yeast rice is nearly identical to synthetic statins, but it is much gentler on the body, so Frank could take 600 mg twice a day.
A few months later, Frank called to tell me how well he was doing. His cholesterol levels were responding perfectly to the combination of exercise, good food and red yeast rice. Plus, the CoQ10 had replenished his energy supplies.
“I feel better than I have in years,” he reported. “And here I thought modern medicine would give me a pill to solve all my problems. Instead, the pill solved one problem and created new ones. Your ‘back to basics’ approach is the only way to go.”
The Surprising Side Effects from Your Medications
Frank’s story is such a familiar one! At least once a day, I have to explain to a patient that all medications are toxic to the body and interfere with natural processes. They may help a specific condition for a time, or solve a short-term problem, but medication always has long-term complications. And fatigue is a very common one.
Often, medication-related exhaustion can be fixed by substituting a natural remedy, like red yeast rice, and then replacing nutrients depleted by medications. In the case of statins, for example, patients need 100 to 200 mg of CoQ10 supplements to replace what the statins “steal.” CoQ10 is an essential nutrient found throughout the body and one closely linked to the body’s energy creation. Even though we can make CoQ10, after age 30, production falls simply due to aging. Add into the equation a steady diet of CoQ10-depleting statins, and it’s easy to see how an otherwise healthy person could become fatigued.
After starting a prescription medication, it may be weeks or even months before the tired-all-the-time feeling kicks in. So, even if you’ve been taking a medicine for some time and only recently began feeling weary, talk to your physician or go to the manufacturer’s website to see if fatigue or insomnia are listed as side effects. Please do not stop taking any medication cold turkey, though, since that can cause serious consequences. Instead, talk with your health-care provider about healthier, natural alternatives.
Don’t Overlook Vitamin D3
As you may recall from last week’s newsletter, taking high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplements was one of my top recommendations. Even though we’re talking about a different type of fatigue now, I still encourage patients to take multivitamins and minerals. Here’s why: even a minor nutrient deficiency can leave some people feeling wiped out. So a potent multivitamin is like an insurance policy protecting you against a poor diet, stress, toxins, and other enemies of our health.
In addition, there are a few other supplements to consider. First, I recommend adding 5,000 IU (International Units) of vitamin D3 daily, which not only fights fatigue, but also boosts immunity, relieves depression, helps maintain strong bones, and wards off heart disease and cancer. That’s an impressive list of results, especially considering that vitamin D supplements are very reasonably priced.
Even though our bodies can make vitamin D3, deficiencies are widespread these days. In part, that’s because vitamin D3 production requires a bit of bare skin (like an arm or a leg) to be exposed to sunlight — in other words, no sunblock or clothing — for about 20 minutes or so each day. Of course, winter weather and concerns about skin cancer make this advice difficult for most people to follow. To make matters worse, as we age, the ability to produce vitamin D3 declines, no matter how much sun exposure we get.
Most fish are good sources of vitamin D3, but fish is also loaded with toxins (see below for my recommendations on fish oil supplements). Some foods are fortified with vitamin D3, including raw and pasteurized milk, cereal, and orange juice. But supplements are still your best bet when it comes to making certain you have sufficient levels of this important nutrient.
Fuel Your Energy Factories
Our bodies are equipped with wondrous little energy synthesizers called mitochondria. To work properly, these microscopic organs need the right ingredients. Imagine, for example, what would happen if you put sawdust and glue into a bread-making machine. The “bread” that came out might be good for a paperweight, but not much else.
The same is true for your mitochondria. To churn out energy, they need the right ingredients. These ingredients include “good fats,” known as omega-3s, and CoQ10, the compound I mentioned above. A new study reviewed previous clinical trials on the effects of good fats as well as CoQ10 on fatigued patients with and without cancer. The researchers confirmed what I’ve long known — both groups benefited from the omega-3 and CoQ10 supplements.
Fish provides a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, but with toxin levels in fish at record highs, supplements are a much better choice. Look for a fish oil supplement that has been purified or molecularly distilled, meaning the heavy metals and toxins have been removed. A dosage of 2,000 mg (2 g) daily provides your body with the fuel it needs. Taking 100 to 200 mg of CoQ10 each day with the fish oil is an excellent way to make sure it’s absorbed properly, since CoQ10 needs a good fat for absorption. The combination of fish oil and CoQ10 can provide your body with the fuel it needs to keep you moving.
The Rising Stars of Fatigue Fighters
If you’re not familiar with the names D-ribose or Rhodiola rosea, don’t worry. Even though they may not be household names yet, both have been researched for decades.
D-ribose is a unique carbohydrate that stimulates the body’s energy production. Research shows that ribose strengthens muscles, especially the heart, while minimizing stress and anxiety. Patients with sleep difficulties, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia all benefit from ribose supplementation. Recently, an additional study found that D-ribose boosts low energy in elderly patients, while improving overall attitude. I recommend a dose of 5 grams, taken twice daily.
Rhodiola rosea is one member of a large family of widely grown plants. Commonly known as golden root, Rhodiola rosea’s medicinal qualities have long been recognized in Asia and Eastern Europe, where it’s used to ward off fatigue and depression. The key to Rhodiola’s effectiveness lies in its multi-tasking abilities as an adaptogen. That simply means it can provide various types of support during stressful events or episodes of depression, depending on what the individual needs.
Rhodiola also increases cellular fuel creation, so it’s an extremely useful performer when it comes to combating fatigue. I usually recommend that patients suffering from low energy start by taking 100 mg early in the day to see how their body reacts. If you need a bigger boost, it’s considered safe to take as much as 300 mg daily, but don’t overdo it.
Get in Tune with Healing
Music therapy has been used to treat everything from pain to emotional difficulties to insomnia. Now a new study shows that just two hours of music therapy boosted both energy levels and relaxation in a group of cancer survivors. Music therapy includes activities like singing, making music, learning to play an instrument, or simply listening to music — all things that can be done at home on your own. The key to making music therapy effective is to work with music you truly enjoy.
Don’t let life pass you by because you’re too tired to enjoy it. Getting through the day when you’re exhausted makes everything more difficult. Do yourself a favor and use my action plan to find solutions that work for you.
Last Updated: August 21, 2018
Originally Published: October 24, 2011