Rx FAQ: Why do I have to take some medications with food?

A toddler feeds her father a piece of her croissant.

“Take your medication with food.” It’s a simple instruction you’ve probably seen or heard many times, but have you ever wondered why it’s so important to follow?

To help your medication be absorbed into the body

Having food in your stomach greatly improves how quickly and efficiently some medication is absorbed into your bloodstream. In the absence of food, proper absorption may not be achieved.

To avoid side effects

Many medications can irritate the stomach, causing inflammation, indigestion, heartburn, and even ulcers. The presence of food can protect your stomach lining and ward off these unpleasant side effects. Medications that can cause these issues include aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen, and steroids.

Other medications, including certain antidepressants and some antibiotics, can cause nausea or vomiting. Having food in your stomach may reduce the risk of experiencing these side effects as well.

To better treat certain conditions, such as acid reflux or severe indigestion

Some medications designed to treat specific conditions are most effective if they’re present when those conditions are likely to occur. Think about heartburn and indigestion: Conditions such as these arise when acid is produced as food enters the stomach. Therefore, medications for these conditions will be at their peak effectiveness if taken during or right after a meal.

To help your body process a meal

Many people take medications specifically because their body needs help breaking down and digesting food. For example, if you’re taking an oral medication for diabetes, it’s best to take it with food in order to reduce blood sugar levels after eating. This should lessen the chance you experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugar level). Other conditions, such as chronic pancreatitis, also require medications or supplements that aid the body in processing food.

The right amount of food to take

In addition to why it’s important to take some medications with food, you might also be wondering how much food to take. Is a small snack enough? What about a glass of juice? Does it need to be a full meal?

The answer depends on the specific medication you’re taking, as well as your doctor’s instructions. But in most cases, it’s best to take your medication within 30 minutes of a full meal to help with absorption. However, if you’re trying to avoid irritating or upsetting your stomach, a smaller snack or glass of milk or juice may be enough.

Taking medication on an empty stomach

Of course, some medications should be taken in the exact opposite manner — on an empty stomach. You should take these medications at least a half hour before eating or two hours after eating. This is because a full stomach can negatively impact the absorption level of some medications.

The instructions you receive and the reasoning behind them will vary depending on the specific medication you are taking. It’s always best to follow your doctor’s instructions exactly.

If you’re starting a new medication and don’t understand how to take it, ask a pharmacist. Our pharmacists are available 24/7 to talk you through any questions or concerns you may have about your medication and treatment plan. You can also find helpful information about your medication on the medication label and any paper handouts that come with it.

Posted date: July 11, 2023

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