Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Trouble swallowing pills

I'm something of a medical mystery.  For some reason, if I swallow a certain size and shape of pill, it gets stuck - my wife panics and doctors very calmly make sure the crash carts are nearby, while displaying only intrigue at the image on the X-ray.

I've blogged about this in previous posts, so I won't belabor the point, but I decided to try an experiment and share the results for everyone's benefit.  The question to be answered: "If I can't swallow my medicine or vitamins, what then?"

The options I see are:

1) Don't take the pills.  Seriously, that's the decision I made for about 10 years.  Doctors prescribed me medicines and I never took them on a regular basis, meaning I never improved.  That changed recently with #4 below.
2) Crush them into 8-10 large chunks and mix with honey, like Mom Used To Do.  A spoonful of sugar, right?  No, Mary Poppins, modern medicine is far more sinister than you can possibly imagine.  Have you ever tasted blood pressure medicine in powder form?  There's a reason that shell's so thick.
3) Liquid forms.  This guarantees you'll taste the apocalypse that was so lovingly blended by your pharmacist.
4) Crush and mix into a drink you already want - maybe it'll dilute the taste.  Trust me, some substances' flavors don't ever dilute.  But this is the option I can experiment with.  Here are my experiences.

Theory:  Salt, sweet, bitter, sour: the basic taste groups.  Counter one with another and we may just find a balance.

Sacrificial test subjects:
  • Blood pressure medicine (Diovan) 
  • Aspirin
  • Tylenol
  • Ibuprofen
  • Vitamins (USANA supplements: MyHealthPak (MHP) including Essentials, Proflavanol C200 and Hepasil)

Mixture mediums:
  • Honey and sugar
  • Chocolate milk (Ovaltine, Quik)
  • USANA Nutrimeal (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry)
  • Juices:  orange, apple, grape, pomegranate; lemon or lime juice in water


Honey or sugar - Mixed with aspirin, tolerable.  Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Diovan tasted like the original medicine covered in a lie. The vitamins needed to be crushed to a fine, fine powder before the taste would reduce, and then not much. 

Chocolate milk - almost there.  Sweet but like the chocolate's trying to distract the taste.  Ovaltine was better than Quik, possibly because it's already mixed with a few vitamins.

Nutrimeal - Strawberry and vanilla didn't have a strong enough flavor to overpower, but I think the fiber and protein distracted taste buds a little bit.  Dutch Chocolate: bingo.  Every one of the above was reduced considerably.  A full-assault taste from the MHP completely disappear, and if crushed, they dissolve fully within minutes.  If you've ever tasted 200mg of grapeseed extract straight up, you'll know how big a deal that is.

Juices - This is interesting.  Pomegranate doesn't do a thing - too sweet. I tested the MHP with Grape and apple - only Welch's 100% Juice can counter the taste of the MHP.  Orange juice?  Only certain brands counter MHP:  Welch's Orange-pineapple-apple, Simply Orange, work well, but Tropicana from concentrate (non refrigerated) - is less effective.  It seems that better quality juice helps more.  Lemon or lime juice from a bottle don't help much either. 

I have once or twice bravely tasted the individual components of most of the MHP. The Essentials comprise the Mega Antioxidant (vitamin) and Chelated mineral (minerals).  The minerals aren't too overwhelming on their own, but the Mega AO is really intense.  I haven't tried the Hepasil yet.  Grapeseed extract is a taste you'll never forget - there's a reason they added a grape flavored coating to the pill now.  I'm impressed at the simple orange's ability to tango with the grape. 

Others not mentioned above:
  • BiOmega fish oil - as I blogged previously, this I can chew on and not taste much fish at all.  I'd say that 98% of the fish flavor is neutralized by the lemon. 
  • CoQuinone 100 - as far as I can tell, it's flavorless.  I just haven't found an way to puncture the capsule and extract its contents within a few seconds without a mess. 
  • Pure Rest melatonin - tastes like orange, and is designed to dissolve under the tongue if shipped to Canada.  If shipped to the USA, however, the exact same pill is designed to magically dissolve in no particular fashion.  Thank you for that clarification, FDA.
  • Vitamin D - It ain't a Tic-Tac, but if you take a swig o' the O-J after, you'll forget you tasted it.

Again, these are my own experiences and I am not advising you on how to take your medicine, vitamins, pills, or dissolvable tablets.  Seek proper medical attention from your own physician who knows your own situation better than some random person on the internet.  These are my opinions only and not a guarantee of performance.  However, I will go out on a limb and say:

Crushing pills usually causes them to be absorbed faster.  Sometimes that's good, sometimes it's not.  Research the medicine in question.  If it's a 'slow release' or 'delayed release' - definitely ask your pharmacist or doctor.  At the very least, hit WebMD on the web to start with.

For more information on the USANA products listed above, visit:

* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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