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Market in Abeokuta, Nigeria. (Omotayo Tajudeen/Unsplash)

There are significant downsides if you try to help your medicine go down faster.

Musa, an innovative professional in the realm of culinary health, embarked on a daring experiment to manage his acid reflux. He transformed his nightly eba dinners into more than just meals; they became a vehicle for his medication, blending culinary practice with medical treatment in an unconventional method aimed at combating his persistent discomfort.

However, as Musa’s experiment progressed, his condition worsened, marked by frequent episodes of heartburn and indigestion which significantly degraded his quality of life. Concerned about these developments, he sought the guidance of his healthcare team. They suggested that the starchy, dense nature of eba might be interfering with the effective absorption of his medication, exacerbating rather than alleviating his symptoms.

Heeding the advice of his doctor, Musa discontinued his practice of mixing medication with his food and began taking it with water instead. This change markedly improved his symptoms, enabling him to enjoy his meals without the previous discomfort.

In many parts of the world, staple dishes like eba, fufu, and amala are not just popular but are essential components of daily nutrition. However, concerns are rising about the implications of combining these starchy foods with medications, as they may compromise drug effectiveness.

The interaction of some medications with food, or even the mere presence of food in the digestive system, can significantly reduce the efficacy of both prescription and over-the-counter drugs or increase the risk of adverse effects.

It is essential to consult a healthcare professional before deciding to mix medication with food, emphasizes Yusuf Hasan Wanda, a pharmacist I spoke with. Some medications are designed to dissolve quickly in the mouth or to be absorbed under the tongue; integrating them into food could circumvent these critical processes, he explained.

Dr. Abubakar Yusuf, a pharmacologist, provides further insight into the formulation of medications, noting that they are designed for absorption at specific rates which food can disrupt. He explains that the heavy, dense characteristics of swallowed foods might alter the release and absorption rates of medication, potentially derailing the intended therapeutic effects.

“The consistency and timing of food intake can affect drug absorption. High-fibre foods like amala might bind with certain drugs and reduce their absorption. This doesn’t mean one cannot eat these foods at all, but timing matters. Taking medication with water and consuming meals a little later is usually advisable,” explains Abubakar Yusuf.

Dr. Fuad-deen Olabisi Kekere-ekun points out that while mixing drugs with food can facilitate easier swallowing, this method can lead to digestion delays. “Incorporating drugs on swallow foods like eba, fufu, is done to ease the swallowing of the drug most times and it helps a great deal.”

“In extreme cases, the drug may pass entirely undigested through the gastrointestinal system and be excreted in the feces still intact. This suggests that the drug was not metabolized at all, which is a critical failure in terms of treatment efficacy,” he explains. “Therefore, when choosing to mix drugs with food, it is crucial to select foods that are light and easily dissolvable to ensure that the medication does not exit the body undigested.”

Mutalib Jibril is a third-year Pharmacy student at Usmanu Danfodio University, Sokoto, Nigeria. He's an active member of the campus journalism community, contributing to the News Digest Press at UDUS as both a writer and columnist. Mutalib pens articles under the banner of 'Health Stack,' focusing on various health-related topics. Many of his pieces have been featured in the Nigerian Tribune.