Suzy Cohen, RPh
Suzy Cohen has been a licensed pharmacist for 23 years and a Functional Medicine practitioner for 13 years. Dubbed ‘America’s Most Trusted Pharmacist™’ Suzy devotes most of her time to teaching others about the benefits of natural vitamins, herbs, and minerals. In addition to writing her own nationally syndicated health column, “Dear Pharmacist,” which has appeared in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for 13 years, Suzy is the author of three best-selling books on natural health: The 24-Hour Pharmacist (Collins 2007), Diabetes Without Drugs (Rodale 2010) and her newest release, Drug Muggers: Which Medications are Robbing You of Essential Nutrients, and Natural Ways to Restore Them (Rodale 2011). Suzy has appeared on The Dr. OZ Show, The Doctors, The View, The 700 Club, and Good Morning America Health.
Cohen’s sensible health care advice comes from many years of education as she is an active member of The American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM), the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), and the American Pharmacist’s Association (APhA). Cohen answers some important questions about how to get the most out of your pharmacist in this exclusive Life Extension® interview.
LE: Why did you decide to become a pharmacist?
SC: I decided to become a pharmacist because I realized that medications can often create additional detrimental health conditions. When a person starts a medication, it is not unusual that they soon need another one to take care of side effects from the first. When I did some research into this, it dawned on me that nutrient-depletion from medications could spark side effects. As a result, I was inspired to educate consumers that putting back what their medication stole could help them feel better, and perhaps prevent the need to get on the medication merry-go-round.
LE: What are some ways that Life Extension members can get the most from having a pharmacist like you?
SC: Pharmacists are so knowledgeable about medications, interactions, and over-the-counter supplements that they can help you avoid medication problems; you should take advantage of their extensive knowledge. Picking their brain is free, though you may have to wait a few minutes at the counter if it’s a busy time of day. It is definitely worth the wait though, because they are sort of like ‘drug store doctors‘ in that they can help you feel better fast if you have minor health concerns.
LE: What are some typical questions that we should ask our pharmacist that could save us time, money, or aggravation?
SC: 1) Does my medication come in a generic? If it does not, is there another medication in the same category that DOES come in a generic? This could save you up to $150 per month.
2) Does my medication interact with fruit juice? Some cholesterol lowering medications and allergy tablets interact with fruit juice and drug levels spike causing more side effects. Such a simple question can avoid so much aggravation. Grapefruit and its juice are particularly troublesome. It can cause a spike in levels of statin cholesterol drugs. When the drug level rises, the person may experience severe muscle aches, headache, liver damage, kidney damage, leg cramps, peripheral neuropathy (pins and needle sensations, numbness), and breakdown of skeletal muscle: a life-threatening condition termed rhabdomyolysis.
3) Is there a way to achieve the same effects of a prescription drug, using over-the-counter medications? Often times, a sister drug is available over-the-counter for pennies on the dollar as compared to the prescription alternative.
LE: Those are some excellent suggestions. What are the particulars that separate you from other pharmacists?
SC: Most pharmacists are focused solely on medications, and their educational track consists of pharmacy seminars. I study medications, but I am much more focused on the way foods act like drugs in the body, and the benefits of Mother Nature’s medicine cabinet, meaning herbal remedies. There’s a synergy when you combine the right medication with the right vitamin or mineral. When a medication mugs a vital nutrient, the result is an unwanted side effect. It’s a rare breed to find a pharmacist that is cross trained in both conventional medicine as well as complimentary modalities. I think my specialty is the drug-nutrient depletion effect, something I’ve termed the “drug mugging” effect. This overlooked interaction between pharmaceuticals and nutrients lends explanation to why you take medicine and then develop other side effects which are then diagnosed as a new disease. Knowledge is power.
LE: How would someone go about dealing with a nutrient problem like this?
SC: Like any other problem, the first thing to do is become aware that there may be a drug-induced nutrient depletion happening in your body causing one of your symptoms. Once you are aware, you can take a look at all your symptoms and try to determine when they began. For example, if you have developed leg cramps and then got diagnosed with “restless leg syndrome” then I’m asking you to become aware that your symptoms of leg cramps may not really be a “disease” such as “restless leg syndrome.” Maybe you are just having a side effect to one of your medications, one that is known to deplete a nutrient needed for muscle health.
LE: So this “awareness” of your symptoms is vital?
SC: Yes, this awareness is very important. Did you know that leg cramps are associated with over 200 drugs via the drug mugging effect of CoQ10. A deficiency of that nutrient can very well cause cramps, muscle spasms, and weakness. Ta-dah! Restoring CoQ10 (or the active form of it called “ubiquinol”) could possibly cure your leg cramps – which was this terrible ‘disease’ that you thought you had! It’s so simple, and once you understand it, you have the power of knowledge to help yourself and others get back to vibrant health.
LE: Tell us a little more about this drug mugging effect.
SC: Prescription and OTC (over-the-counter) drugs that cause side effects do so most often (if not always) via the drug mugging effect. People have symptoms that are so insidious and because they develop them months to years later, they don’t often make the connection to the medication they are taking. And it could be like dominos. For example, in the case of hormone pills (like those containing estrogen) for menopause or birth control... those drugs are thieves for testosterone (among other hormones), but it’s not a direct connection. In other words, the estrogen-containing drugs don’t steal testosterone (i.e. reduce it directly), but these do steal zinc, magnesium, and certain B vitamins. Testosterone production just so happens to be dependent on these very micronutrients! So in this case, millions of women taking female hormones are being ‘mugged’ of their natural testosterone, which is a ‘personality’ hormone. It’s the one that motivates us, gives a sense of well-being, power, and sex drive. It keeps us thin, in part by keeping us from developing low thyroid. Without enough testosterone or “T” we might feel dull, depressed, stressed-out, powerless, cold-sensitive, and chronically fatigued. If you don’t know about the drug mugging effect, then you would never make the connection that these symptoms might be related to your original medication, the female hormone. Before you know it, your doctor will hand you a prescription for Paxil, Xanax, Synthroid, and so on. This is how people suddenly end up on numerous medications that can often create even more negative interactions. Nothing against these drugs, I’m only saying that they may not have been necessary if you knew about the drug mugging effect, and began taking trace minerals, probiotics, and B vitamins when you began the female hormones! Hawaiian Spirulina is one of my favorite supplements to restore essential nutrients with female hormones, because it contains everything you need in one supplement.
If you read some of my examples of drug/nutrient depletions and they fit your situation, you can talk to your doctor about supplementing. For a modest price, you can get your life back!
LE: We’ve heard you say that people should install a “nutrient security system.” Can you elaborate on that, please?
SC: The nutrient security system that one has to install is based on their medication. The most fundamental supplement that I recommend for anyone taking any medication (prescription or over-the-counter) is a good probiotic. Then, you take the supplement you need after that, based on the medication you’re taking. If you want to know MY personal nutrient security system, which is the one that I recommend for everyone, that I feel is safe and covers pretty much all medications, I would recommend three basic supplements: probiotics, B-complex, and trace minerals (alternate Hawaiian Spirulina which restores all three at once).
LE: Is fruit the number one food that interacts negatively with the largest number of drugs? How about other citrus fruits and pomegranate juice?
SC: Yes, I think so. It contains an active ingredient (naringen) that causes drug levels to rise. Emerging studies show that other juices may have a similar, though weaker effect.
LE: Besides prescription and over-the-counter drugs, your book Drug Muggers also mentions lifestyle drug muggers. What are those?
SC: Wine is a drug mugger of thiamine (vitamin B1). Coffee is a drug mugger of iron.* Medical conditions such as pancreatic insufficiency, gallbladder disease, IBS, Crohn’s disease, gluten-intolerance or “Celiac” disease can inhibit the absorption of nutrients from the intestine, so it’s best if you supplement with high-quality nutrients or get an IV infusion of nutrients called a “Meyer’s cocktail.” Fat blockers such as Alli® can suppress absorption of fat soluble vitamins including A, D, E, and K.
* High levels of iron increase cancer and heart disease risk. If coffee reduces iron absorption, this would be a beneficial effect for anyone who is not otherwise iron deficient.
LE: Is there a way to discover if we have a deficiency on our own?
SC: Yes. Track new symptoms on a calendar so you can see if they began after you started a new medication. Research in my book, look up the drug and see what nutrients it depletes. It would be fantastic if people could find the underlying cause of their symptoms, or disease, and then correct that rather than taking additional medications. This would necessitate less medications, and thereby fewer side effects and drug-mugging symptoms.
LE: This information is fantastic. How can people get in touch with you or order one of your books?
SC: If you have a personal health question, “like” my fan page www.facebook.com/SuzyCohenRPh
To get my health newsletter, sign up at my website: www.SuzyCohen.com
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