Is Your Medication Making You Sick?

Could the medication you are taking to heal or manage an illness be causing its own health problems?

In a 2009 interview with Dr. James Dykens, Director of Investigative Cellular Toxicity at Pfizer Drug Safety Research & Development and author of the 2008 book, “Drug Induced Mitochondrial Dysfunction”, Dr. Dykens reported pharmaceutical drug toxicity could be a cause of mitochondrial damage.

While studying why individuals have different effects from drug toxicity, Dykens’s team determined mitochondrial damage occurs across the board, in different degrees depending on a person’s ability to metabolize the drug. Damage is also dependent upon the build-up of a drug or drugs in the liver. People with mitochondrial disease may have an even lower threshold for certain drugs.

Several commonly prescribed classes of drugs such as antivirals, antibiotics, statins, as well as drugs to treat diabetes have shown various degrees of mitochondrial toxicity. Between 1960-2009, there were 44 drugs that were withdrawn from the market which demonstrated idiosyncratic mitochondrial dysfunction. There are another 384 drugs that are listed by the FDA as Black Box Warnings, where toxicity to mitochondria is higher than expected.

“It is known that the HIV antiviral drugs do in fact damage mitochondria and can induce mitochondrial disease symptoms. Use of these drugs means that physicians and patients must weigh the risks versus the benefits to determine which ones to use,” reported Dykens.

Dr. Dykens’s mission is to get the FDA to test all drugs for mitochondrial dysfunction. Fortunately, several new laboratory tests are now available to test medications for mitochondrial dysfunction during drug development. Until then, Dykens recommends patients advocate for themselves – “any time a new drug is prescribed for a mitochondrial patient, they should look the drug up on Pubmed on the Web – typing in the drug’s generic name and ‘mitochondrial dysfunction’ to see if anything is known about liability/toxicity. Many drugs have not been tested yet, but this is a start.”

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