An article published three days ago in Health.com, the online version of Health Magazine, a popular magazine offering advice and “up-to-date health and medical information for consumers”, listed 30 herbal remedies to avoid if suffering from heart problems. Many of the herbs listed are actually effective, natural treatments for many cardiovascular-related conditions such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The article, which does not offer any attribution, vilifies not only several well-studied herbs, but a few common foods such as garlic, alfalfa sprouts, ginger and cayenne peppers.
The real problem, which many of the readers commented on, is not the herbs themselves, but the prescription medications used to treat heart disease — and how they, when combined with a certain herb or food, may produce adverse effects such as increased bleeding. Risk factors and side effects are already clearly indicated for most of these commonly prescribed medications.
Common prescription heart medications can be broken down into three main categories (retrieved from the American Heart Association website):
- Diuretics – chemicals which promote fluid excretion from the body. Examples of prescription diuretics include:
- chlorthalidone (Hygroton)
- chlorothiazide (Diuril)
- furosemide (Lasix)
- hydrochlorothiazide (Hydrodiuril)
- indapamide (Lozol)
- metolazone (Zaroxolyn)
- Beta-blockers – chemicals which slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. Prescription examples include:
- acebutolol (Sectral)
- atenolol (Tenormin)
- betaxolol (Kerlone)
- bisoprolol fumarate (Zebeta)
- metoprolol tartrate (Lopressor)
- metoprolol succinate (Toprol-XL)
- nadolol (Corgard)
- ACE-inhibitors – chemicals which help blood vessels relax and open up. Prescription examples include:
- benazepril hydrochloride (Lotensin)
- captopril (Capoten)
- enalapril maleate (Vasotec)
- fosinopril sodium (Monopril)
- lisinopril (Zestril)
- quinapril hydrochloride (Accupril)
Diuretics simply increase fluid output and urination. Obvious possible side effects include dehydration, loss of minerals like potassium, magnesium and sodium, as well as gout (inflammation of the lower limbs due to uric acid deposits). The conventional medical response to these adverse effects is additional prescription medication and/or supplementation. However, natural diuretics such as parsley, dandelion leaves, horsetail and juniper berries, along with foods such as asparagus and artichokes are proven to help alleviate fluid retention, with little to no side effects. (See HighBloodPressureInfo.org for a more comprehensive list)
Beta-blockers help lower blood pressure. Possible side effects of prescription beta-blockers like those listed include; insomnia, cold hands and feet, fatigue, depression, slowed heart rate and even impotence. Again, additional prescriptions are used to control these effects. Of course, there are natural supplements which also help lower blood pressure without the harmful effects of chemical beta-blockers. Herbs such as astragalus, garlic and hawthorn berry have all been shown to help improve heart function.
ACE-inhibitors also lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. Known side effects of prescription ACE-inhibitors include; chronic cough, skin rash, loss of taste and possible kidney damage. While there are no known herbal equivalents to these types of chemicals, several common herbs are used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease because they are vasodilators, meaning they help open blood vessels and lower blood pressure naturally. Examples include; cayenne pepper (capsicum), butcher’s broom and gingko biloba. (See HighBloodPressureInfo.org for more details)
Supporting Research –
- Natural Diuretics for High Blood Pressure
What Herbs Help with Swollen Ankles and Knees?
University of Maryland Medical Center: Alternative Medicine Index
Journal of Ethnopharmacology: Herbal medicines as diuretics…
Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology: Effects of Gingko biloba Extracts on Blood Pressure…
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine: Butcher’s Broom as a potential treatment for OH…
Bioresource Technology: Phenolic compounds, antioxidant activity and in vitro inhibitory potential against key enzymes relevant for hyperglycemia and hypertension of commonly used medicinal plants, herbs and spices in Latin America
Talk to your doctor if you are considering natural therapies such as herbs or other natural supplements, especially if you are currently taking prescription medications. While most of the herbs listed here can also be found on the US FDA’s GRAS list (botanicals generally recognized as safe), they may interact with or increase side effects of certain medications. Do not hesitate to discuss herbs and supporting research with your health care provider. If necessary, seek a second opinion. As always, remember that complementary treatments such as herbal remedies should be used in conjunction with, and not in place of conventional medical care.
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