When considering certain foods and medications and how they interact with each other, it conjures up images of substances that are harmless on their own, but when mixed together can cause serious reactions — hello, chemistry class of my distant past.

The same holds true with medications we may be taking. It’s not as though we’ll have a visible reaction (usually), but more likely that medications are enhanced, or perhaps even diminished causing sometimes serious trouble beneath the surface.

What’s so threatening about a grapefruit?

It certainly isn’t the food itself — you’ve probably been eating or drinking this fruit your entire life. However, when medical management changes, grapefruit may no longer be welcome in your diet — if you want your medication and your health to be spot-on.

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, grapefruit can be a seemingly innocuous, but deadly fruit in your shopping cart, if you’re taking one of 85 different medications — 43 of which can have serious “adverse effects.”

All drugs that interact with grapefruit are taken by mouth; as discovered by researchers, older adults are most likely to be effected by this deleterious interaction.

The FDA’s take

Shiew Mei Huang, acting director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Clinical Pharmacology says: “The interaction can be dangerous.” She explains that the typical reaction with most medications results in “a higher concentration of a drug,” creating more “adverse events.” This process happens when the grapefruit increases the “absorption of the drug into the bloodstream.”

Many medications are broken down in the body with the assistance of an enzyme. This enzyme is blocked by certain characteristics in grapefruit enabling too much of the medication to be present in the body without being broken down.

With too much of the drug doing its thing in your body, there’s unintentional consequences such as: muscle breakdown, liver, and/or kidney damage.

The FDA suggests interactions can occur with the following:
• Drugs that lower cholesterol levels such as statins
• Certain blood pressure lowering drugs (antihypertensive medications)
• Certain anti-rejection medications — if you’ve had an organ transplant
• Certain anti-anxiety drugs
• Certain anti-arrhythmia drugs for your heart
• Certain anti-histamine drugs for allergies

Find another fruit

Forget about the vitamin C and potassium in a grapefruit, it can be found elsewhere.
But, here’s a pet peeve of mine as a nurse — when care providers tell people to avoid a type of food, but neglect to tell patients what’s ok to have instead. Patients will unknowingly generalize the certain food to food groups and avoid all fruits for example. This isn’t the intention here —fruits are good, fruits are healthy.

Find another fruit — grapefruit is only one fruit in the entire produce section.

Grapefruit juice won’t wield its unruly hand with every medication of course. Be sure to check in with your pharmacist and your health care provider — they can help you connect the dots between diet and medications.

To learn more on diabetes and medication complications:

Know Your Diabetes Medications
When to Update or Change Your Diabetes Medications
Beware of Diabetes Medication-Related Problems