How Grapefruit Affects Prescription Drugs

Image Credit: Liz West / Flickr. This image has been modified.

How Grapefruit Affects Prescription Drugs

Does grapefruit in particular help people lose weight?

If someone eats half of a grapefruit three times a day before each meal for a couple months, they may lose about two pounds — but that’s no more than if they ate three apples or pears a day. In one study, the grapefruit eaters not only saw their weight go down, but their waist got slimmer, and their body fat melted away. If, however, we repeat the experiment and instead ask people to drink a half cup of water before each meal, we get the same result. So this belief that grapefruit has some special fat-burning quality appears to be just a long-held myth.

The researchers reported that grapefruit consumers had a drop in weight, a significant drop in cholesterol, and a significant drop in blood pressure. They concluded that consumption of grapefruit daily for six weeks does not significantly decrease body weight, cholesterol, or blood pressure, though. That made me do a little double take, but again, it’s because the grapefruit didn’t do any better than placebo.

Other studies have found a legitimate cholesterol-lowering benefit of grapefruit, and even a little dip in triglycerides, especially eating red as opposed to white . For example, one study showed a decrease in cholesterol, but only from one life-threatening cholesterol level to another life-threatening cholesterol level. To prevent heart disease, we really have to get down to a total cholesterol of around 150, which is the average cholesterol of those eating diets composed exclusively of plant foods, not just grapefruits (See, for example, One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic).

Even though grapefruits alone don’t do much, the researchers suggest that people might be more likely to stick with them than cholesterol lowering drugs, noting that most people with heart disease stop taking their statin drugs within a couple years because of the adverse side effects (see Statin Muscle Toxicity). While grapefruits alone don’t have any side effects, ironically, combining grapefruits and drugs can make drug side effects even worse.

If we eat lots of fruits and vegetables, we hopefully won’t need a lot of drugs (Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants), but certain phytochemicals in plants can affect the metabolism of drugs in the body. Grapefruit is the poster child, described as a “pharmacologist’s nightmare.” Natural phytochemicals in grapefruit suppress the enzymes that help clear more than half of commonly prescribed drugs, and less drug clearance means higher drug levels in the body. This may actually be good if we want a better caffeine buzz from our morning coffee, or our doctors want to help us save thousands of dollars by boosting the effects of expensive drugs instead of just peeing them away.

But higher drug levels may mean higher risk of side effects. Women taking the Pill are normally at a higher risk of blood clots, but even more so, perhaps, if they have been consuming grapefruit. Taking the Pill with grapefruit juice may increase blood drug concentrations by 137 percent.

If suppressing our drug clearance enzymes with grapefruit juice elevates levels of ingested estrogen, what might it be doing to our own estrogen levels? A study associating grapefruit consumption with breast cancer freaked out the medical community, but subsequent studies on even larger groups of women found no evidence of a link. The Harvard Nurses’ Study even found a decreased risk of the scariest breast cancer type, so it doesn’t look like we have to worry about grapefruit affecting our natural chemistry.

For those prescribed unnatural chemistries, it may be a good idea to discontinue grapefruit consumption for 72 hours before use of a drug that may interact with it. If you don’t want to give up your grapefruit, you can ask your doctor about switching from a grapefruit-affected drug like Lipitor to one of the citrus-proof alternatives (the replacement drug chart can be seen in my video, Tell Your Doctor If You Eat Grapefruit).

Other videos on citrus include:

And another video on the risks associated with taking estrogens: Plant-Based Bioidentical Hormones.

Can’t eat grapefruit without sprinkling sugar on top? Try erythritol instead to avoid so many empty calories: Erythritol May Be a Sweet Antioxidant.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 – 2015 presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

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Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


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