Seniors  |  Adults  |  Medication safety  |  Medicines

Grapefruit and Medicines: Can They Mix?

The Bottom Line

At least 85 drugs are known or thought to interact with grapefruit. Grapefruit products can cause those drugs to stay in your system much longer than usual. The effects are like a drug overdose. They can include dangerous heart rhythms, kidney damage, muscle damage, respiratory depression, and bleeding from the stomach or intestines.

The Full Story

Do you love that morning glass of grapefruit juice? If you take certain medicines, it might not love you back. The list of medicines known to interact with grapefruit has grown longer.

We've known for twenty years it's not safe to mix grapefruit and some prescription drugs. Eighty-five drugs are known or suspected to interact with grapefruit. More than half of them can cause very serious effects. These include dangerous heart rhythms, kidney damage, muscle damage, respiratory depression, and bleeding from the stomach or intestines.

Perhaps the most well-known example is muscle damage caused by some statins. These are drugs used to treat high cholesterol. Atorvastatin (Lipitor®), lovastatin (Mevacor®) and simvastatin (Zocor®) are known to interact with grapefruit. The muscle damage results in muscle pain and tenderness. Breakdown products from damaged muscles may damage the kidneys.

Erythromycin, a common antibiotic, can cause a dangerous heart rhythm if taken with grapefruit. Nifedipine (Procardia®), taken for high blood pressure, can interact with grapefruit to cause very low blood pressure. Hallucinations and seizures can result from combining dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant, with grapefruit.

At least ten chemotherapy drugs can interact with grapefruit. In these cases, the risk is a dangerous, irregular heart rhythm (Torsade de pointes), plus muscle damage. Some of these cancer drugs are erverolimus, dasatinib, and vemurafenib. Other types of drugs that interact with grapefruit include some pain relievers, sedatives, and drugs for prostate enlargement.

These problems can occur with grapefruit, grapefruit juice, even marmalade with grapefruit in it. Grapefruit inactivates an enzyme that metabolizes many drugs. Because grapefruit permanently prevents the enzyme from breaking down the drugs, the body must manufacture more enzymes. This can take 36 hours or more. For that reason, it doesn't help to stagger the timing of medicines and grapefruit.

For some drugs, a typical amount of grapefruit or juice can cause problems. For example, a single glass of grapefruit juice every day for three days caused the blood level of simvastatin (Zocor®) to increase more than 300 percent.

If you take a drug that interacts with grapefruit - and you really love grapefruit - there may be a work-around. Sometimes, another drug that has the same action can be substituted. Check with your doctor to see if that might be possible for you. In any case, don't stop taking a medicine without asking your doctor first.

What happens if you take grapefruit together with an interacting drug? It would be the same as taking an overdose of the medicine. Treatment would be the same as for an overdose.

When a prescription drug is filled, the label usually states if you should avoid any particular foods. If you aren't sure, ask your pharmacist or doctor.

And if you think you might be having a reaction between a medicine and grapefruit or grapefruit juice, call Poison Control right away. The 24-hour number is 1-800-222-1222.

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist

For More Information

Drugs that can interact with grapefruit juice


Bailey DG, Dresser G, Arnold JMO. Grapefruit-medication interactions: forbidden fruit or avoidable consequences? CMAJ. 2013;185:309-316.


CALL 1-800-222-1222

Prevention Tips

  • Look at your prescription medicine bottle. If there's a sticker warning you about grapefruit, don't eat or drink any grapefruit products.
  • If you're not sure, ask your pharmacist if it's safe to take grapefruit with your medicine.

This Really Happened

Case 1: A 52-year-old man normally takes sertraline and bupropion for depression. One day after being on these medications for a long time, he drank a large amount of grapefruit juice. The following day, he developed a severe headache. He called Poison Control because of his symptoms. There is a known drug interaction between sertraline and grapefruit juice; when they are taken together, there is an increased risk of side effects or toxicity from the sertraline. The patient was advised to discontinue his sertraline for a few days. After doing so, his headache resolved. 

Case 2: A 50-year-old woman takes amlodipine, atenolol, and clonidine for high blood pressure. She started drinking about 6-8 ounces of grapefruit juice with every meal for 2 days. On the third day, the patient started experiencing lightheadedness, dizziness, and nausea. The grapefruit juice was interacting with her amlodipine; this made her blood pressure drop too low. Poison Control recommended that she stop drinking the grapefruit juice. She followed Poison Control's directions and her symptoms resolved in 3 days.