YOU can drink alcohol while taking antibiotics says Sydney University pharmacy guru Professor Andrew McLachlan who is on a medication myth-busting crusade.
However, if you believe the drug company hype that painkillers can target specific parts of the body you are mistaken.
Professor McLachlan will bust the six most common medication myths during a talk at Sydney University on Tuesday.
The man who heads the University’s Faculty of pharmacy and who works at Concord Hospital says many people are making themselves sick because they don’t understand how their medicines work.
“As a pharmacist who works at a university and is based at a hospital I see people using medications in ways that surprise me,” he says.
Too many people think because they are taking a cholesterol lowering statin medication they don’t need to change their lifestyle to beat heart disease, he says.
“The idea that it’s all about cholesterol is only part of the story, the benefits we get from statins come from studies where people took medication and made lifestyle changes that improved their diet and included moderate exercise,” he said.
“Rarely is a simple tablet a magic cure all,” he says.
Professor McLachlan has authored more than 185 research papers on how drugs are absorbed and metabolised by the body including one that found paracetamol did not cure lower back pain.
He says it’s a myth that you can’t drink alcohol when you are on antibiotics.
“There is only one class of antibiotics you can’t use with alcohol,” he said.
“The vast majority of people who take antibiotics are not influenced by alcohol at all,” he says.
“The reason you may feel sensitive to antibiotics and alcohol when you are not well is because of the illness,” he said.
There are some medications that affect the central nervous system, and anxiety medications which don’t mix with alcohol, but you can’t generalise he says.
Marketing can mislead consumers into buying medicines they don’t need.
“For example, consumers can pay a lot more for pain relievers that claim to work on specific parts of the body, but the truth is they can’t target specific types of pain,” he says.
Another common problem is patients who stop taking their medications when they feel better.
While this is appropriate for many medicines like antibiotics and pain killers those with chronic conditions like blood pressure and cholesterol need to keep taking their drugs.
“With chronic or long term conditions you are mitigating your health risks, avoiding a train crash in the future like a heart attack by taking your medicines,” he says.
The common belief that complimentary medicines like herbs and vitamins are safe because they are natural is also a problem.
Herbal medicine can interact in a profound way with prescription medicines, he says.
The herbal antidepressant St John’s wort has been shown in studies to reduce the impact of cholesterol lowering statins drugs.
Some juices like grapefruit, apple and orange juice can increase the effect of prescription medicines.
Patients must always inform their doctor about any complimentary medicines and vitamins they are taking, he says.
Patients who are wary of using generic versions of medications have no scientific basis for their fear because in Australia these cheaper brands must contain exactly the same amount of active ingredient as the brand name version.
The way people respond to their medicines can depend to a large degree on the placebo effect, even the colour of the pill can have an influence he says.
Studies have found patients in pain find a red pill more effective than a white pill, he says.
If you need a sedative a blue tablet seems to be more effective than a white tablet.
And many people feel better simply by taking a pill, they feel their pain subside after taking a tablet even before it has had time to work, he says.