If you’re one of the millions of Americans taking statins, and you’re a fan of grapefruit, you should talk with your medical provider. Statins are a class of medications designed to lower cholesterol. When you take some statins in combination with grapefruit, problems can occur.
Grapefruit affects the way your body processes statins, and can leave you with too much of an active form of medication in your bloodstream, or too little.
“Grapefruit can interact with an enzyme in the lining of the intestine that is responsible for metabolism of the medicine,” said Dr. Diaa Alaoua, a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist. “The grapefruit makes this enzyme ineffective at breaking down the medication.”
Potential side effects
The problem with too much active medication in your bloodstream is that it produces a greater chance for side effects. Those side effects may include muscle and joint pain or more serious effects like liver and muscle damage. On the other hand, too little active medication in your system will not be effective in lowering your cholesterol.
Not every statin interacts the same way with grapefruit, and some statins are fine to take along with grapefruit. There also are other drugs that can be affected by the presence of grapefruit in your diet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration put together a brief list of medications that may interact with grapefruit, available here.
“The enzyme that the grapefruit works on also is responsible for metabolizing about 50 percent of the drugs we take,” Dr. Alaoua said. “There are a large number of medications that can be affected by grapefruit.”
What you can do
If you are about to start taking a statin but you love grapefruit, Dr. Alaoua suggests talking with your medical provider.
“The best route would be to eliminate grapefruit from your diet if you are on one of these medications,” he said. “But if you absolutely love grapefruit, try to significantly reduce the amount you are consuming.”
Dr. Alaoua also suggested looking for another similar medication that won’t interact with grapefruit. If that is not possible, Dr. Alaoua recommended taking the medication at least four hours before consuming grapefruit so it has time to be processed by the body before the grapefruit can interfere.
If you have questions about your medications, it is best to talk to your care team.