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Don’t Eat This if You’re Taking That

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Dear Savvy Senior: If the prescription label says “take with meals,” does it matter what you eat? I take eight different medications for various health problems. What foods should I avoid? — Over Medicated

Dear Over: It depends on the medication. Many meds should be taken with food — any food — to increase their absorption and reduce the risk of side effects. But some foods and medications can interact, reducing the medications’ effectiveness or increasing the risk of harmful side effects. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist what foods and beverages to avoid while you’re on a new medication. Here are some foods to avoid when on some commonly prescribed drugs.

>> Cholesterol medications: If you take a statin drug for high cholesterol like Lipitor, Zocor, Altoprev, Mevacor or generics atorvastatin, simvastatin or lovastatin, avoid grapefruit and grapefruit juice. Grapefruit can raise the level of the drug in your bloodstream and increase the risk of side effects.

>> Blood-pressure medicine: If you take an ACE inhibitor drug like Capoten, Vasotec, Monopril or Zestril to lower blood pressure, limit potassium-rich food like bananas, oranges, tomatoes, spinach and leafy greens, sweet potatoes and salt substitutes that contain potassium. ACE inhibitors raise potassium levels, leading to an irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations.

>> Blood-thinning medications: If you are taking Coumadin, Jantoven or the generic warfarin, you should limit kale and other greens, including broccoli, cabbage, spinach and Brussels sprouts that contain vitamin K. They can block the effects of blood- thinning medications putting you at risk for blood clots. Also watch out for garlic, ginger, vitamin E and fish oil supplements as they can increase these drugs’ blood-thinning abilities, putting you at risk for excessive bleeding.

>> Antidepressants: If you take a monoamine oxidase inhibitor antidepressant like Marplan, Nardil, Emsam, Parnate or generic isocarboxazid, phenelzine, selegiline or tranylcypromine, avoid aged cheeses, chocolate, cured meats and alcoholic drinks. These contain tyramine, which can raise blood pressure.

>> Thyroid medications: If you take a medication for hypothyroidism like Synthroid, Levoxyl, Levothroid or generic levothyroxine, avoid tofu, walnuts, and soymilk. These can prevent your body from absorbing this medicine.

>> Anti-anxiety medications: If you take medication for anxiety like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan or generic alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam or lorazepam, avoid alcohol. When you mix these drugs with alcohol, side effects intensify and can cause you to feel lightheaded, sleepy and forgetful.

>> Antibiotics: If you’re taking an antibiotic like Sumycin, Dynacin, Monodox or generic tetracycline, doxycycline or minocycline, you should avoid dairy and calcium supplements and fortified foods for a couple hours before and after taking the medicine. Calcium in dairy products binds to the antibiotic and prevents your body from absorbing it, making it ineffective.

Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit

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