Why Taking Drugs On Empty Stomach May Cause Death

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Some medications if taken on an empty stomach can cause liver poisoning and death, medical experts have warned.

They further cautioned that medication without food is dangerous unless prescribed by a doctor.

While speaking exclusively with PUNCH Healthwise in different interviews, they said such practice would mean pumping chemicals into the body more than the liver can handle.

According to a Professor of Human Nutrition and the Vice-Chancellor, Ave Maria University, Abuja, Ignatius Onimawo, taking drugs on an empty stomach is as good as killing oneself.

He noted that the effects of certain drugs when taken without eating might turn out to be more dangerous than the illness that the patient is trying to treat.

He said, “If a patient has medications to take and has no access to food, and you are pumping drugs into his system, you are gradually killing the patients.

“The body needs the energy and the liver which breaks down the medicine also needs the food and nutrients to do its work. When there is no food and you are taking medicine, you are only chemicalising the body and it can cause liver toxicity (poisoning).”

He noted that when drugs are taken in excess, the patient will get worse due to the drug’s toxicity.

“Medications without food are a waste of effort. When people are sick, and in most cases, lose appetite, the physician or the nurse will find a means to encourage the patient to eat because they know the implication.

“Apart from the fact that some drugs are strong and can affect a patient who has not eaten well, there are some others that can be taken on an empty stomach based on a doctor’s prescription.

“Your doctor can instruct you to take certain drugs on an empty stomach for it to work effectively, while some drugs don’t do well with food, so they have to be taken before food.

“Sometimes, when you don’t have the appetite for food, you will be given something to boost your appetite so that you don’t end up taking your drugs on an empty stomach.

“For better understanding, any drug that is taken is broken down by the liver and the same liver breaks down the food. It is also from the liver that energy and drugs are sent to parts of the body for action and to foster the healing processes.

“So, if there is no food to generate the energy needed and you are pouring drugs, you will get the liver destroyed due to excessive drugs and the person may die of liver toxicity.

“This is because you are chemicalising the body and instead of the body recovering, the patient will get worse. Sometimes, the effect of the drugs, if taken in excess (overdose), would be more severe than the illness being treated.”

However, a Public Health Physician at Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, Delta State, Dr Ovie Efekodo, said in order to reduce the side effects of stomach irritation as some drugs can irritate the stomach, taking them with food can reduce their efficacy.

“The standard practice is that you eat before taking any medicine, except for medicines that are supposed to be taken on an empty stomach. For this class of drugs, it has to be taken an hour or two before a meal or two hours after a meal for effectiveness,” he added.

Shedding more light on what class of drugs that can be taken on an empty stomach, the former Secretary, Association of Community Pharmacists of Nigeria, Jonah Okotie, said the digestive system from the mouth to the anus has its own environmental properties that affect the breakdown of food and absorption.

He said, “The stomach by nature is acidic. It is the place where the highest amount of breakdown of food components into absorbable form takes place. Foods are chemical in nature, often made of different chemical components of varied properties.

“For instance, beans are classified as proteinous, yet, they contain starch, some minerals and vitamins. Medicines are chemicals and each with its own nature. There are some medicines that are basic in nature, and thus, can be neutralised by the acid in the stomach if not prevented.

“Some others can react with other substances inside food in the stomach environment to form products that are of no use. Ampiclox and Ciprofloxacin can react with Calcium, Iron, and Zinc minerals inside food to form products that are of reduced potency.

“Hence the advice is that such products be taken alone, on an empty stomach to ensure nothing interferes with its capability to do what it’s supposed to in the body.”

Corroborating his views, the American Pharmacist Association said taking some medications when taken at the same time when food is being ingested can cause it not to be absorbed optimally.

“Food can interact with the medicine and either increase or decrease the amount of drug that is available in the blood, causing it to either be dangerously abundant or in an amount that is too low to be effective,” the association stated.

It noted that some of the drugs to be taken in an empty stomach include certain classes of antibiotics like ampicillin and some iron-based products, which are best absorbed when taken on an empty stomach.

“Ideally, they should be taken with water or fruit juice, one to two hours after a meal. However, in some patients, iron can cause stomach upset and may be taken with food to lower the chance of this adverse effect,” the Association added.




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