Nutrient Depleters

How the top prescribed drugs in the US either steal or block vital nutrients from our bodies

Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander
16 min readFeb 13, 2023

Disease treatment in the US is based on a reductionist model, meaning that the mechanisms of our physical bodies can be understood by taking the cells apart and studying their chemical building blocks. Conventional biologists and scientific researchers believe that all biochemical reactions responsible for life are generated in assembly lines: one chemical causes a reaction followed by another with a different chemical. The reductionist model suggests if there is a problem and that problem can be attributed to a malfunction in one step of the assembly line, then treating the problem or disease with a single “drug” or combination of drugs to replace the one faulty element is in theory, the only way the defective protein or chemical pathway can be repaired and health restored. This model only spurs the pharmaceutical industry’s search for the magic-bullet drug. It completely ignores the complex intercommunication among the physical parts that make up the whole organism.

“Cellular constituents are woven into a complex web of crosstalk, feedback, and feedforward communication loops. A biological dysfunction may arise from miscommunication along any of the routes of information flow.” Bruce Lipton

To think that if we adjust the chemistry of this system by changing one of the information pathways with a drug and there are no consequences is like sticking your head in the sand when danger is near. If you change a pathway or concentration of a hormone or chemical messenger, it doesn't just influence the action of one thing. It also influences the behavior and functions of other chemical signals within the body. We know there is a complex interplay between protein-to-protein interactions because of recent research into protein mapping and function. The human genome project found humans contain about 24,000 protein-coding genes rather than the original estimate of 100,000. Basically, multicellular organisms can survive with far fewer genes because the same gene products (proteins) are used for several functions, not just one.

When you change the protein at one point, whether it be an enzyme or receptor, you will alter the parameters of other proteins at any point along the network. Understanding that concept can help explain why there is no “safe” medication. Prescription medications can be dangerous, especially in the context of multiple medications and the ample side effects that can be on a spectrum from annoying to deadly. When a drug is introduced into the body to treat a faulty pathway, that drug interacts with one or more other pathways. Our body operates with many redundant systems and pathways. The same signal or proteins can be used in different organs and tissues for different functions. Hormones like estrogen and testosterone and a chemical signal like histamine have multiorgan functions. Blocking, decreasing, or increasing these signals not only affects the dysfunctional organ but also the rest of the body.

Histamine is a prime example of redundant pathways and chemical signals that have two opposing effects depending on the site where the signal is released. There are 4 types of histamine receptors located on various tissues and organs throughout the body and each receptor has a different effect when histamine binds to the receptor. Histamine is often vilified for its role in allergy symptoms such as a runny nose and watery eyes. But histamine itself is not a villain at all. Histamine is incredibly important due to its role in managing the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, stimulating muscle growth and repair after exercise, and during a stress response it can launch local inflammation in tissues. Histamine release in the brain in response to stress actually enhances the neurological processing required for survival. Taking copious amounts of antihistamines will increase exercise intolerance but may also cause brain and nervous system damage. Determining exactly why someone may have histamine intolerance over labeling the symptoms as just having allergies would keep a person from chronically overusing antihistamines and the downstream consequences of blocking histamine release. It’s not the chemical that is the problem, it’s the environment in which the body is having to respond that creates the disease dynamic.

Drug Muggers

There is no “safe” medication. The body “sees” medications as toxins, something that must be biotransformed and excreted. That requires nutrients and enzymes and good digestion. That doesn’t mean that in some cases medications can’t be life-saving, but they are not required by the body to function optimally if foundational health tenets are in place. We are not born deficient in ADHD meds or antidepressants or even acid reducers, however, we can be living in an environment that over many years may cause nutritional deficiencies that present symptoms that are diagnosable. Consider that for any medication or toxin, the liver must be healthy and functioning to transform the toxin into something that can be excreted. If the liver is fatty or damaged, the likelihood of side effects as well as drug-to-drug interactions increases, especially as we age.

One of my heroes, Dr. Suzy Cohen wrote a book that has been instrumental in the way I counsel patients on medications. “Drug Muggers,” should be on every physician’s desk as a reminder that medications can have serious consequences, especially when a patient is taking multiple medications and seeing multiple providers who may not be familiar with certain drugs, their side effect profiles, and their interactions with others. I am using her book in this post to highlight the most common and profitable medications that have dangerous side effects. These are the medications that have become mainstream and in the minds of most people, safe, with little to no consequences or health costs.

Proton pump inhibitors and acid reducers

I am starting with proton pump inhibitors because this class of medications ultimately harmed me over the course of 20-plus years. During that time no physician or gastrointestinal specialist was able to figure out why my reflux was so bad, I was told multiple times that I just had too much stomach acid. By the way, too much acid is not a thing. Stomach acid in the wrong place, NOT ENOUGH ACID, or both are absolutely the two causes of acid reflux disease, GERD, bloating, belching, burning, and general discomfort in the esophagus and stomach. Stomach acid in the wrong place is a cause for concern because the lining of our esophagus is not a type of tissue that can withstand low pH levels like the stomach. So when acid flows upward into the esophagus it can damage the tissue causing long-term damage like cancer and Barret’s esophagitis. Medication is not necessary to correct this dysfunction. Yes, proton pump inhibitors and another class of medications called H2 blockers will lower acid production which will keep the tissue from being damaged as the acid refluxes up, however, it doesn’t stop the root cause, which is the acid in the wrong place.

Not enough acid. Most people would probably be shocked at that statement but if the stomach does not produce enough hydrochloric acid to digest our food, the food stays in the stomach longer, resulting in bloating, belching, discomfort, and then ultimately larger food particles moving into the small intestines which can set up other disease dynamics like small bacterial overgrowths (SIBO), food sensitivities, immune hyperreactivity, constipation or diarrhea, and a decrease in nutrient absorption due to inadequate digestion of those nutrients. What I found on my health journey is that I had both issues. I plan on writing an entire book on my gut issues and the path to living medication free and “burn” free.

Life-long acid reduction is not necessary if the root cause is discovered and if people are willing to make dietary changes and practice eating hygiene principles like chewing their food and not over-eating, as well as prioritizing stress reduction (stress alone decreases gastric juices causing inadequate digestion). Magnesium deficiencies can even be a root cause of reflux. Magnesium is necessary to have an appropriate muscle tone of the lower esophageal sphincter and without enough magnesium that flap can open, causing reflux of gastric juices. Magnesium can also be deficient due to stress, because magnesium is used in over 300 enzymatic reactions, including breaking down stress molecules like cortisol and adrenaline. A real vicious cycle for people who eat fast while on the run and in a stressed state. No wonder they have tummy troubles!

Proton pump inhibitors and acid reducers such as H2 blockers rob your body of all nutrients, I repeat ALL nutrients. Why? Because they alter the pH of the stomach. There is a reason we have a low pH in our stomachs and altering that causes inadequate digestion and stops intrinsic factor from being released, which is necessary to cleave B12 from its mineral carrier. Complications from proton pump inhibitors include heart disease, fatigue, candida overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome, increased risk of cancer, poor vision, high blood pressure, anemia, brittle nails, tiredness, hair loss, hearing loss, tooth decay, higher levels of developing gluten sensitivity, and now a black box warning for increased risk of dementia.

When your body is robbed of essential nutrients there are consequences. The list above includes only symptoms but let’s talk about the body parts affected. When food isn’t digested properly it leaves more food fodder for our friendly microbiome, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. That can create overgrowths of yeast and opportunistic bacteria which over time can cause those bacteria to migrate from the large intestines to the small intestines. This creates a dynamic called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO for short and can result in gas, pain, constipation, or diarrhea. Basically what happened to me. How about our thyroid and the production of thyroid hormone? Minerals required for thyroid hormone production include selenium and iron and vitamins such as B6 and B9. Without good strong stomach acid, those minerals and vitamins are often not digested and therefore not absorbed. What about vision and hearing? Those symptoms are a result of insufficient vitamin A and the entire vitamin B family. How about heart disease? The heart muscle itself contains thousands of little energy-generating factories called mitochondria. Those mitochondria need to produce millions of ATP molecules every day until you die and CoQ10 is a necessary component of energy generation. CoQ10 is also used in the process of biotransformation in the liver. Acid reducers decrease the absorption of CoQ10. Many other medications can deplete CoQ10 causing the risk of heart disease to increase as more medications are added.

The greatest travesty of all is that these dangerous medications are over-the-counter. Anyone can diagnose themselves with “too much” acid and start popping a little purple pill for years without physician intervention. And let’s be real here, even when physicians know patients take these medications over-the-counter, the risks are not talked about, and trying to find the root cause of the reflux isn’t a focus. If you take OTC acid reducers on a regular basis, I urge you to reach out to me or do research on the dangers of these health-threatening medications.

Blood pressure Medications

Where to even begin with this category of medications? From conversations in the pharmacy, I gather most people believe that taking blood pressure medications is inevitable. That it is a normal sign of aging. I find that so sad. High blood pressure is a sign of not aging well, not just getting older. High blood pressure means your arteries are not flexible and are becoming stiff, which doesn’t allow for the flex and constriction that is a normal process in response to a stimulus like movement and stress. Increasing blood pressure in acute settings is part of our innate ability to respond quickly to an environment that might require us to run for our lives. However, chronic stress along with a diet high in sugar and inflammatory fats directly damages the lining of our arteries. Inflammation at the arterial level creates a plaque over the damaged tissue, like a scab on a wound on your skin, and this plaque narrows the affected artery which can then lead to blood clots. So to keep from needing blood pressure medications, the answer is the same as literally countless other chronic disease dynamics. Change your relationship to stress. Find ways to mitigate stress that seem constant such as a job, partnership, or children. Sleep deeply and for 8 to 10 hours. Eat whole foods and minimize processed foods. Maintain a low glycemic diet and keep a watch on blood sugar and insulin levels. Just focusing on these 3 foundational habits can drastically lower blood pressure without even needing to take one single pill.

Blood pressure medications do lower blood pressure, but at what cost? Maybe your blood pressure is lower but you have started to develop asthma symptoms. Maybe your blood pressure is lower but you have chronic fatigue. Blood pressure medication's side effects are often so overlooked that when I have a conversation with patients they often say their doctor said that is rare and they shouldn’t worry about it! I disagree 100%. Side effects are not rare and in fact, side effects are often seen as another symptom coming from a different disease dynamic.

Ace Inhibitors, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers are three of the top blood pressure medications I see every day. It isn’t uncommon for a patient to be taking at least two classes of medications at high doses. These medications deplete vital nutrients such as CoQ10, magnesium, melatonin, zinc, potassium, calcium, and Vitamin D. Side effects range from loss of sex drive, loss of smell or taste, higher risk of cancer, leg cramps, high blood pressure, weight gain, bone loss, memory loss, insomnia, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, irregular heartbeat, confusion, muscle weakness, thirst, and fatigue. Not to mention liver dysfunction due to the load of exogenous compounds that the liver must process each day. Patients most likely will be given medication for these side effects rather than removing the blood pressure medication or decreasing the dose. Take for instance your average elderly woman who may be on 2 or 3 blood pressure medications. She suffers from insomnia and instead of checking magnesium levels or looking at drug side effects and interactions (by the way she also takes medication for depression and anxiety), her physician will most likely prescribe a class of medications that is very dangerous for the elderly and women especially. She now falls asleep, but still doesn’t get adequate melatonin production (which is also an endogenous antioxidant), she doesn’t get enough REM sleep and now feels confused and struggles to concentrate during the day. Can you guess what they might add to this growing list of medications? I have been increasingly shocked over the last two years at the amount of ADHD medication that is now prescribed for women over age 60 for brain fog. The above scenario is just one of many I see each day. All can be prevented. Oh and yes she continues to have muscle weakness, leading to a fall, and a broken hip. Is it any wonder?

Cholesterol Lowering Medications

Dietary fat makes you fat and increases cholesterol levels. FALSE! Thank goodness scientific research has come a long way from this antiquated and just plain wrong statement. We now know that dietary fat does not correlate directly with high cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is not an evil substance out to cause heart attacks and strokes for kicks. Cholesterol is a vital part of cellular membranes and is a precursor to steroid hormones and energy-generating compounds like CoQ10. Sadly, high cholesterol has become the monster to attack in the traditional medicine world, even though the research over the last 20 years shows correlations between high blood sugar, dietary intake of high fructose corn syrup, and inflammation that creates the plaques that can form in arteries and veins. But because of research in the 1950s from Ancel Keyes, who left out part of his worldwide study to fit his hypothesis, we now generally prescribe a class of cholesterol-lowering medications called statins to lower cholesterol in the hopes of preventing a heart attack or stroke. The reality is that research and studies into these medications show the risk of a heart attack or stroke is only lowered if it is for secondary prevention, meaning after an event has occurred.

The top prescribed drug in the US as of 2022 is a cholesterol-lowering drug called Atorvastatin. Atorvastatin is a member of the statins, which are incredibly effective at reducing cholesterol. They work in the liver by suppressing an enzyme called HMG-CoA. When you block this enzyme you block the production of cholesterol, but also CoQ10 and hormones. Just a reminder, statins aren’t the only medications to block CoQ10. Both blood pressure medication and proton pump inhibitors deplete CoQ10. Here is what happens when you are depleted of CoQ10.

  1. Leg cramps and leg pain or feeling of heaviness (your doctor may prescribe medication for restless legs)
  2. Sexual dysfunction (you will probably get a prescription for sildenafil)
  3. Depression (you will probably get an SSRI)
  4. Memory loss (you may be told you have dementia or Alzheimers)
  5. Cardiac arrhythmias and heart palpitations (you will most definitely get more medications and be told you have heart failure)
  6. Liver enzyme abnormalities (your liver is overwhelmed and damaged)
  7. Fatigue and brain fog (you will probably get ADHD medication)

Statins also potentially deplete Vitamin D. Statins are not the only class of cholesterol-lowering medications and some people are prescribed both a statin and potentially a fibrate or medication such as colestipol or cholestyramine, all of which can deplete most minerals as well as B vitamins. A real energy-sucking combination.

Familial hypercholesterolemia is a condition in which people produce too much LDL, this condition usually warrants medication. However, this condition is rare, like most genetic diseases. When people say high cholesterol runs in my family, it is not a genetic issue it is a lifestyle and environmental issue. Yes, everyone in your family does, because everyone eats a standard American diet with little to no exercise and high-stress situations. All three of these lifestyle habits contribute to high cholesterol levels and risk of heart attack and stroke because they lead to direct damage to arteries as well as high cortisol and adrenaline, which over time cause the arteries to lose their flexibility and become stiff.

The message traditional medicine gives, however, is not one of empowerment. Most patients I see believe they just need to stop eating fat, but the doctor does not mention sugar, high fructose corn syrup, stress, exercise, or even sleep. The ability to lower cholesterol levels to a healthy range is absolutely feasible and patient education is critical when it comes to dietary change that makes a lasting impact on cholesterol levels but also blood sugar, and uric acid levels (which may be an early indicator of diabetes and liver dysfunction based on new data) and heart health.

Pharmaceutical Pawns

Physicians and pharmacists alike are pawns in the huge medical complex. It takes a good 20 years of research to finally make its way into the average primary care setting and even then, only if doctors are progressive enough to read and study the literature. Most doctors and even pharmacists receive continuing education from drug reps, most of which are nonprofessionals with no medical background. Their primary goal is to sell products and provide doctors with education about the efficacy of new drugs. This is an absolute tragedy and I see the results each day when patients come in with prescriptions for the latest and greatest brand-name medication only to find out insurance won’t pay and it cost about $400. When drug reps come into the pharmacy they usually ask if we have their medication on the shelf and if we are willing to order. They give “education” materials which are just two pages of info with lots of graphs showing how well their drug outperformed the placebo and in some cases compared to the standard of care. I hate to bash drug reps but the entire process of selling or marketing a drug to a physician doesn’t sit well with me. Where are the lifestyle change coaches that canvas doctor's offices and medical facilities so we can educate doctors on the importance of diet and exercise?

How they rob you

At least half of the medications approved in the US commonly deplete specific nutrients. The mechanisms for nutrient depletion vary and it isn’t what you might assume. Drugs alter the acidity of your gut, especially the more you take. Multi-mineral supplementation can do this as well. Drugs can stimulate or inhibit enzymes involved in the transportation of nutrients around your body. They also can stimulate or inhibit enzymes involved in activating nutrients or in transforming them into more usable substances. Some require specific nutrients in order to work and require a specific nutrient in order to be transformed in your liver. Drugs can even alter your body’s ability to absorb, digest, transport, break down, or eliminate toxins that you encounter every day. Bottom line: Drugs affect your quality of life and side effects from them can remain undiscovered for years as you continue to keep doing the same old same old and doctors address symptoms rather than your entire body and life.

The effects of drugs that rob your body of essential nutrients are real and well-known in the medical community. It is not something scientists are still trying to figure out. The information about medications and yes even supplements and their nutrient depletion abilities just has not been widely disseminated. Most physicians get little training on the side effects of medications and some may not even know depletion occurs. I have had several conversations with doctors who flat-out don’t believe me even when I pull up evidence from scientific articles and reviews. Drugs are advertised to fix one problem but the reality is that they don’t fix what got you to that problem in the first place. A symptom of a disease is just a warning sign. It’s your body’s way of saying pay attention. Suppressing that signal does nothing to correct the root cause. Suppressing that signal with a drug will most likely lead to other aspects of cellular and organ dysfunction. Side effects usually don’t show up right away, especially nutritional depletions. Some occur months to years later and may even affect a body part that is distant from the original body part that is “broken”.

Common side effects are a sign something is going wrong. It’s time to wake up and pay attention to your body’s cry for help. Maybe you need to take a good hard look at your sleep, your stress, your food, and your exercise routine. Where can you prescribe yourself some Vitamin J for joy or Vitamin R for rest? Instead of popping pills which each meal, where can you prescribe an overhaul in your life that will lead to optimal health, rather than feeling just fine or ok?



Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander

Pharmacist.Personal Trainer.Lift heavy, skip the run.Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.