What to Know About Medications and Low-Carb Diets

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You've heard it a million times: "Before you start a new diet or exercise program, check with your doctor." Before starting a low-carb diet, it's important to discuss your plans with your doctor—especially if you are being treated for certain health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.

Why? When you make changes to what you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat, your medications may be affected. Additionally, some medications are prescribed based on the amount of carbohydrates that are being consumed.

As long as your doctor is aware of the changes you intend to make, they can help ensure your medications remain safe and effective. The dosage of some medications may need to be changed, or your doctor may want you to take it at a different time of day.

In some cases, it may be best for you to stop taking certain medications—but only if your doctor instructs you to.

Low-Carb Diets and Specific Conditions

If you have certain medical conditions, your doctor may suggest a low-carb diet to help control your symptoms or prevent the condition from getting worse.

Conditions Positively Affected by a Low-Carb Diet

In people who have these conditions, a low-carb diet may help (but always check with your doctor first):

  • Obesity
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Elevated blood glucose or prediabetes
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Metabolic syndromes (high cholesterol, high blood pressure)
  • Glycogen storage disease
  • Glucose transporter 1 (GLUT1) deficiency syndrome (a rare genetic condition)
  • Conditions affecting the brain, including epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease

Some research explores whether low-carb or ketogenic diets may be beneficial for people with certain types of cancer. Several studies have investigated whether reducing insulin levels could help slow the growth of cancerous tumors or keep cancerous cells from spreading, with promising results demonstrated in animal studies.

More human studies are necessary to determine the efficacy of low-carb diets for cancer. Discuss the option of diet changes with your oncologist before adopting a low carb or ketogenic diet.

Conditions Negatively Affected by a Low-Carb Diet

In these cases, a low-carb diet may not be beneficial and may even be harmful. Ask your doctor before starting a low-carb diet if you:

  • Are underweight or malnourished
  • Have a history of disordered eating
  • Are pregnant or nursing
  • Are very physically active
  • Are recovering from surgery, injury, or serious illness, or are immunocompromised
  • Have chronic medical conditions affecting your heart, kidneys, or intestines, or other major organ systems

Diabetes Medications

If you're taking medication to treat diabetes, such as insulin, you're already aware of the direct relationship between carbohydrates in the food you eat and how much insulin your body needs.

It's imperative to notify your doctor of dietary changes if you're taking insulin. Major dietary changes need to be coordinated carefully with your physician and/or dietitian.

Insulin

If you have diabetes and are taking insulin your doses may need to be adjusted if you are making drastic changes to your diet. This will depend on the type of diabetes you have, the type of insulin regimen you are on, and whether or not your change in diet causes weight loss.

Hypoglycemic Agents

Many other medications for diabetes (particularly Type 2 diabetes) are intended to help control blood glucose. Three of the most commonly prescribed are:

  • Glucophage (metformin)
  • Avandia (rosiglitazone)
  • Januvia (sitagliptin phosphate)

If you have been eating a higher-carb diet and switch to a low-carb one, you will likely need to change how much medication you take.

Over time, some people with diabetes eating a low-carb diet find they are better able to control their blood glucose with diet and exercise alone.

In some cases, you may be able to stop taking medication. In fact, continuing to take the same dosage could result in hypoglycemic episodes. For example, metformin, which should not cause hypoglycemia, has been known to affect some individuals with diabetes when they change their diet.

Blood Pressure Medications

High blood pressure can sometimes be partially treated with a low-carb diet. If you're already taking medication for hypertension, making changes to your diet (such as reducing your salt intake) could cause your blood pressure to go too low.

There are different types of medications used to treat hypertension. They are divided up into many drug classes, including:

  • Diuretics
  • Vasodilators
  • Beta-blockers
  • Alpha-blockers
  • ACE inhibitors
  • Central agonists
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Alpha-2 receptor agonists
  • Angiotensin II receptor blockers
  • Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors
  • Combined alpha and beta-blockers

Here are the brand names of the commonly prescribed blood pressure medications. While not an exhaustive list, talk to your doctor before you make changes to your diet if you're taking these or other medications to treat high blood pressure.

  • Lasix
  • Diuril
  • Lopressor
  • Toprol-XL
  • Levatol
  • Lotensin
  • Monopril
  • Diovan
  • Vasocor
  • Minipress
  • Tenex
  • Apresoline

Psychiatric Medications

Drastically reducing your carb intake, like on a keto diet, has a profound impact on your brain chemistry. In some cases, conditions like epilepsy are treated with very low-carb diets.

If you are taking any medications for depression, anxiety, or other mental health conditions, talk to the doctor who prescribes your meds before making changes to your diet.

Specific psychiatric medications that may be affected by a low-carb diet include:

  • Risperdal, Abilify, and Seroquel, and other antipsychotic drugs
  • Possible increase in side effects if taking Lithium
  • Anticonvulsants, including Depakote, Zonegran, and Topamax

A Word From Verywell

Everyone's unique experience with low-carb diets, medical conditions, and medication will be different. For your safety, always enlist support from your doctor, and your therapist or dietitian if necessary, before making any changes.

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