Psychiatric medications, including anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, stimulants, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers, are just like medications for any other illness. They can be necessary and they can be life-saving. They can also come with some unpleasant side effects. If the side effects are severe, of course talk with your prescribing practitioner to switch medications or adjust the dosage. If the side effects are mild and you feel the medication is otherwise benefiting you, let’s talk about how to limit the side effects while ensuring the medication is working optimally.
First off, it’s always important to take your medication as prescribed. Don’t skip dosages or take more or less than prescribed based on how you’re feeling. Try to take the medication at the same time each day and if you’re supposed to take it with a meal, make sure to do that. And avoid drinking alcohol while taking psychiatric medication. This one is so important if you’re looking to avoid side effects.
Simple changes such as taking the medication at night instead of in the morning or with food instead of on an empty stomach may help with nausea. You may also want to experiment with the types of foods you eat with the medication. However, sometimes you’re just going to be nauseous. Ginger, chamomile or peppermint teas can be soothing and peppermint or lemon essential oils may help calm your stomach as well. If the medication is causing you to vomit, speak with your doctor about switching medications.
Many medications come with the potential for weight gain, however this is absolutely not going to happen for everyone. And the weight will not magically appear one day. You might notice an increase in appetite and food intake and perhaps a fatigue or feeling of being slowed down. This combination can lead to significant weight gain. If you start noticing you’re gaining weight on a medication, seeing a registered dietitian nutritionist can help you to keep your weight stable.
On the other hand, some people may experience a loss of appetite and weight loss. It’s important to maintain regular meal and snack times to ensure you’re eating enough when you don’t have an appetite. Try setting reminders on your phone to eat and bring snacks with you when you leave the house so there’s always something for you to eat. Again, consider seeing a registered dietitian nutritionist to help keep your weight stable. Gaining or losing too much weight due to your medications can set you up to have a disordered relationship with food and your body.
Diarrhea related to your medications may not be as affected by the foods you eat, but it’s still a good idea to stick with more bland foods. Avoid very high fat food items like fried and oily foods and avoid alcohol. Make sure you’re drinking at least 8 cups of water throughout the day to maintain hydration.
You may also experience medication induced constipation. Make sure you’re getting high fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at every meal as well as consuming adequate fluid. In addition, get moving! Make sure you’re getting in at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day. Avoid harsh laxatives; you don’t want to become dependent on these.
If you have severe drowsiness, talk with your doctor about switching to taking the medication at night. Don’t try to compensate for feeling tired by over-consuming caffeine. This certainly doesn’t help improve your mental health. In order to try to stay alert throughout the day, make sure you’re drinking enough non-caffeinated beverages, get your 30 minutes of physical activity, and step outside for fresh air. Essential oils which can help energize you include citrus, peppermint, rosemary, and eucalyptus.
When you’re feeling dizzy, staying hydrated can help. It may also help to have a snack to make sure your blood sugar is not getting too low. Aim to eat something like an apple and peanut butter which has carbohydrate and a fat or protein.
In order to manage a dry mouth, try chewing sugar free gum or hard candies which help stimulate saliva and moisten the mouth. Take sips of water regularly and limit caffeine, as it can make your mouth more dry. Avoid tobacco use and mouthwashes that use alcohol. And use saliva substitutes or mouthwash for dry mouth, as needed.
Along with excessive thirst comes excessive urination. Make sure you always have water with you and have easy access to a bathroom. By having water available, you’ll be less likely to reach for caffeinated beverages, soda, or other sugar sweetened beverages.
A Special Word About Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)
It is very important to eat foods low in the amino acid tyramine when you take an MAOI. Your doctor will provide you with a comprehensive list of foods that are okay and foods to avoid, but some basic foods to avoid include alcohol, sourdough bread, aged cheese, over-ripe fruits, fermented foods, aged foods, fava beans, and MSG. Consider working with a registered dietitian nutritionist if you find yourself having trouble managing the diet.
A Special Word About Lithium
When you’re taking Lithium, make sure you drink at least 8-10 cups of water daily. Keep your salt and caffeine intake mostly the same day to day. High salt foods include: processed meats, frozen meals, soups, snack foods, soy sauce, olives, pickles, fast foods, and many condiments. Having a lower amount of caffeine than usual can cause your lithium level to increase and having more caffeine than usual can cause your level to decrease. Avoid alcohol and take your medication with food to avoid potential side effects.