Why you’re told to eat before taking medicine

Published on: September 14, 2020 (Updated on: April 22, 2024)

It’s a very common practice to take medicine before eating. It’s said to be dangerous when you take a pill without eating first, but many people don’t understand why. Does anything bad happen when you don’t obey this rule? Is it a must for every drug? Can it even be dangerous to eat before taking some drugs?

First, not every drug should be taken after or along with food. It all depends on the drug in question.

Different medicines have different reactions. Like some are easier on the stomach, some are harsh on the stomach. This is the basis of whether you should eat before taking the drug.

Some medicines, such as aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-biotics are very unpleasant to the stomach but easier to tolerate with food. The food acts to keep the medicine suspended off of the wall until it dissolves enough to be tolerable without nausea. It may be preferable to take them with or immediately after a meal to reduce the risk of side effects such as acid reflux and gastric bleeding. It also helps for easier absorption of the medicines.

Medicines like homeopathy ones are always advisable to be taken well before food. This is because these medicines can be affected by what you eat and when you eat it. For example, taking a pill at the same time you eat may interfere with the way your stomach and intestines absorb the medicine. If you have food in your stomach at the same time as you take a medicine, it may delay or decrease the absorption of the drug.

So its what medicine you eat and for what reason. Such drug-food interactions can happen with both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, including antacids, vitamins, and iron pills.

Equally important, and sometimes dangerous, is the chance of a new medicine reacting with the one you are already taking.

Why some medicines should be taken after food

For those medicines that should be taken after food, here are the reasons:

To reduce the side effects of nausea or vomiting

It’s better to take some medicines that can cause nausea or vomiting after a meal to reduce these side effects. Examples include allopurinol, bromocriptine, and madopar.

To reduce side effects of stomach irritation, including indigestion, stomach inflammation, or ulcers

Some medicines can irritate the stomach, and taking them with food will reduce this effect. Things such as biscuits or a sandwich, or a glass of milk, are usually enough. Examples include: aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as diclofenac and ibuprofen, steroid medication (corticosteroids) such as prednisolone and dexamethasone.

To treat problems such as heartburn, reflux, or indigestion

Medicines called antacids are taken to prevent heartburn, reflux, and indigestion, which usually occur when acid is produced as food enters your stomach. Therefore, these medicines are most effective if taken immediately after, or during, a meal.

To ensure the medicine is not washed away

Preparations such as mouthwashes, liquid nystatin, and miconazole gel for oral thrush or mouth ulcers must be used after meals. This is because eating food washes medicine away too quickly.

To ensure the medicine is absorbed into the bloodstream properly

Some medications require food in the stomach and gut for the body to absorb them properly, such as the HIV medicines ritonavir, saquinavir, and nelfinavir.

To help the body process the meal

Medicines for diabetes, if taken by mouth, should usually be taken around mealtimes to reduce blood sugar levels after eating and to avoid a very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Enzyme supplements, which can be used to help people with chronic pancreatitis, should also be taken with food to help the body process the meal.