What Time Of Day Should You Take Your Meds?
If you regularly take any kind of medication, you've probably heard a lot of advice about the best way to take it: with water, with food, at the same time each day. But a new field of science is pointing out that, for some meds at least, the time of day you take your medication may have a very real impact on how well it works. If you pick the right moment to take your medication, you could get the most out of it; but only certain meds work like this. Which medications does this apply to, and what's the best time to take them?
Timing is a factor because the body functions differently at different points over the course of 24 hours. As the day goes on, things ranging from our blood clotting ability to our lung function and metabolism shift; it's part of the reason why we feel so absurdly awful when we're jet lagged or "out of sync" with the rhythms of our environment. Some medications, like antidepressants, don't come with any recommendation about a particular time of day being the "best" to take them; it may be that it doesn't really matter when you take them, or that you have to experiment to see which timing fits your personal needs best. People on sleep-inducing medications, like some antihistamines, have to work things in around their sleep schedule. But what about other serious drugs, like the flu vaccination, or the pill? It turns out that when you take them can sometimes seriously impact on how well they work.
This doesn't mean that you should panic if you've been taking them at the "wrong" time — rather, if you're on any of them, now is the time to talk to your health provider about looking at timing as a way to make things better and more effective.
Below are three drugs where evidence suggests that the particular time of day when you take them makes a serious difference.
1. The Flu Shot
New evidence suggests, interestingly, that if you're off to get your influenza vaccination, it's likely to be more effective if you make the appointment in the morning rather than the afternoon. The BBC reported on a study which involved looking at 276 subjects and what time they got their flu shot.
The researchers measured the antibody levels in the patients a month after they got their shots, and the results were pretty interesting. If the subjects had had their shot in the morning, between 9am and 11am, researchers found that they had produced more antibodies for two of the three flu strains of the vaccine than the people who'd gone in the afternoon. (The flu vaccine, like most vaccines, works by giving you a small dose of various flu strains so that your body can develop antibody resistance against them, lowering your risk of infection from the strains later on.) It's an interesting result, but it's small and limited; and since the study only included people over age 65, we're still not quite sure how that applies to young people or children.
Still, it's looking likely that the day of your flu jab is not a good one to sleep in.
2. Birth Control Pill
The specific time of day when you take your birth control pill may not matter all that much; rather, it turns out that for some pills, just sticking to a regular schedule is absolutely essential.
If you're on a combined pill, Women's Health Magazine explains, it's important to take the pill at the same time each day, but a little leeway in timing is acceptable; taking a pill a few hours early or late won't matter all that much.
The exception? The mini-pill, or progestin-only pill. It's crucial to your continued protection against pregnancy that this specific kind of pill be taken at roughly the same time every day, due to its short working cycle in the body; if you miss the window by a few hours, the progestin isn't topped up soon enough, and you stop being protected from pregnancy. If you're on the mini-pill, it's necessary to pick a time to take it where you'll remember and have access to your pills every day, or the birth control won't be effective.
3. Arthritis And Cancer Treatments
This is part of the new vanguard of chronotherapy — that is, the study of medication to see whether the time of day it is administered has an effect on its effectiveness. Arthritis, cancer and asthma are the new big frontiers for chronotherapy, and the evidence is building that the body's circadian rhythms can play a definite role in how well a medication works or how many side effects it creates.
Back in 2014, the BBC investigated chronotherapy treatments in Europe, and found that a lot of diseases have their own sleep-wake cycles in cells or bodily processes — and that targeting those cycles could be the key to making treatment better. When treating rheumatoid arthritis, some medical professionals have been administering medication on a particular 24-hour cycle since 2011, when studies showed that this treatment method seemed to encourage fewer symptoms and even, in some cases, remission.
And since the 1990s, many asthmatics have been prescribed a bronchodilator, a treatment taken at night to help with the fact that very early in the morning is often the most difficult time of day for asthmatics, due to circadian drops in lung function. But a 2015 article in Nature Reviews Rheumatology pointed out that, even if everybody seems to know it could be effective, chronotherapy still isn't in a lot of professional guidelines for dealing with disease, and it has yet to be more widely accepted.
When it comes to cancer, chronotherapy involves trying to tailor particular treatments to different people, because, as this 2013 study pointed out, everybody's got a slightly different "body clock", and that impacts how toxic or efficient certain cancer drugs are on the body. (Cancer drugs can have some horrible side effects due to toxicity, and anything that can make that less of a problem is a big deal.) We're getting closer to pinpointing the best time to take cancer drugs for each specific patient, but it's not a uniform thing. And it's currently not very widespread; cancer chronotherapy is a very rare thing in the US, as it's expensive (you wear a drug-dispensing pump instead of actually going and sitting in a hospital to receive chemotherapy).
If you think adjusting your medication timing might help you get the most of it, go check it out with your GP or a specialist. It may be that you've discovered a new way to get your body working for you.
Images: Andrew Zaeh/ Bustle, Giphy