When to take your medicine

Many people who are taking tablets or other medicines, either on prescription or over-the-counter, are not sure about the best time to take them, especially in relation to meal times.

Should tablets be taken before, during, or after meals?

There is no simple answer to this question. However, as a general rule you should take medicine on an empty stomach (one hour before eating or 2 hours after).

This is because many 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.

There are many exceptions to this rule. Some medicines, such as aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs, are easier to tolerate with food. 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 is sensible to ask your doctor or pharmacist whether it's okay or preferable to take your medicine with a snack or a meal.

As well as affecting your body's ability to absorb medicines, some foods can react with the ingredients of a medicine you are taking, stopping the medicine from working the way it should.

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 one you are already taking.

Some simple rules can make the taking of necessary medicines safer.

  • Read the label on the container and, if you don't understand something or need more information, ask the doctor or pharmacist.
  • If a doctor prescribes a medicine for you, make sure the doctor knows all the other medicines you are taking. This includes any prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines, as well as any herbal preparations.
  • Read directions, warnings and interaction precautions printed on all medicine labels and packages. Even over-the-counter medicines can cause problems.
  • Take medicine with a full glass of water.
  • Don't stir medicine into your food, chew or crush tablets, or pull capsules apart (unless your doctor tells you to do so), because this may change the way the drug works.
  • Don't take vitamin pills at the same time you take medicine, because vitamins and minerals can interact with some drugs.
  • Don't mix medicine into hot drinks, because the heat from the drink may destroy the effectiveness of the drug.
  • Never take medicine with alcoholic drinks.
Last Reviewed: 19 November 2010
Your Doctor. Dr Michael Jones, Medical Editor.

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References

1. Pharmaceutical Benefits Branch. Be wise with medicines ... the facts. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing; 2000. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/657227C1D2513BD9CA256F1800468315/$File/bewise.pdf (accessed 15 Nov 2010).
2. Therapeutic Goods Administration. You and your healthcare products. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing, 2008. http://www.tga.gov.au/meds/healthcare.htm (accessed 15 Nov 2010).
Dr Michael Jones

Dr Michael Jones

Medical Editor, Your Doctor.