Does food prevent medication from kicking in sooner?

Ever wondered why your doctor scribbles instructions on your prescription on how your medication should be taken, ‘twice a day on an empty stomach’ or ‘one capsule with food’.  Does the presence of food prevent drugs from kicking in sooner?

Turns out it depends on the drugs – and sometimes on the food, too. Since most medication is swallowed and ends up in the same digestive tract as the burger you had for lunch, it makes sense that drugs and food would have a specific relationship. When we have a meal, several things happen in the gut.

There are two main reasons these instructions are given:

To make sure you absorb the proper amount of medication.

Drugs are large chemical structures that can be sensitive to the conditions in the stomach. For example, didanosine is destroyed by stomach acid and therefore should always be taken on an empty stomach. The medication might be affected by the presence of certain nutrients in food. Unless you know the exact chemical make-up of your meal, you’re better off taking these meds without food, as that will give the best chance to reap the therapeutical benefits
In contrast, saquinavir is best absorbed if it is taken within two hours of a meal or a substantial snack.
Always try to follow these instructions to make sure you absorb your medications properly.

To reduce side effects involving the stomach.

Sometimes food can protect the stomach from getting irritated. Therefore, some drugs such as ritonavir or zidovudine (AZT) may be taken with food to lower the risk of stomach upset or nausea. Ask your pharmacist if you are not sure about the food requirements for your medications.

Health experts also advise that consistency is vital – whether you take your meds with food or without, a consistent routine can help get the most out of them.

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Holly Konig

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