Uncontrolled hypertension is quite dangerous because it increases your risk for heart attack, stroke and premature death. But blood pressure drugs carry their own dangers and may actually shorten your lifespan, according to a University of Florida study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The authors write: “In this observational study, we have shown for the first time, to our knowledge, that decreasing systolic BP to lower than 130 mm Hg in patients with diabetes and CAD was not associated with further reduction in morbidity beyond that associated with systolic BP lower than 140 mm Hg, and, in fact, was associated with an increase in risk of all-cause mortality. More over, the increased mortality risk persisted over the long term.”
Allow us to translate the medical lingo here. “Poor outcomes” mean a lousy quality of life due to the side effects of these drugs.
This can include:
- Chronic headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Nagging cough
- Frequent urination
- Weight gain
- Erectile dysfunction
And these aren’t the worst that can happen. More serious complications include:
- Elevated blood sugar (and even diabetes)
- Congestive heart failure
- Shortened longevity
- Sudden death
Some of the side effects that blood pressure drugs produce are a direct result of the action they encourage. Beta-blockers, for example, weaken the strength of the heartbeat to decrease blood pressure. In doing so, they can weaken it too much and cause heart failure.
Other side effects occur because of indirect consequences. For instance, diuretics (or any blood pressure drug containing hydrochlorothiazide) reduce the volume of fluid in the blood by encouraging frequent urination. But this also flushes away valuable vitamins, nutrients, and minerals such as potassium, which has an important role in regulating sodium and magnesium.
Suzy Cohen, a retired pharmacist and popular author of The 24-Hour Pharmacist (HarperCollins, 2007), calls anti-hypertensive drugs “vitamin and mineral muggers” because they rob your body of the nutrients it needs for proper functioning and optimal health.
One way to protect yourself is to make sure you’re taking in more of the vitamins and minerals than are being “mugged” by these drugs. You can also replenish potassium by consuming more bananas, orange juice, figs, bran, apricots, raisins, squash, beans, baked potatoes with skins, watermelon, and spinach.
Foods rich in magnesium include dark chocolate (yum!), halibut, nuts, oatmeal and oat bran, pumpkin seeds, and artichokes. You also may choose to take a powdered magnesium supplement called Natural Calm (www.calmnatural.com) just before bedtime. Some people find it helps them sleep better, remain calmer during the day and regulates their bowels. (Too much magnesium produces a runny stool, but given the choice, it certainly beats constipation!)
Another reputable magnesium product is Magnesium Infusion (www.activationproducts.com/ magnesiuminfusion) or Dr. Norm Shealy’s Magnesium Gel at www.normshealy.com. These do not go in your mouth; instead, you rub them on your skin. Your body absorbs only the amount it needs — and there are no loose stools to deal with. Since it is applied topically, you’re able to get your magnesium level up to peak very quickly, even from a very low starting point.
Beta-blockers, another large class of blood pressure drugs, are known to decrease protective HDL cholesterol levels and increase fatty triglycerides.
Furthermore, for those with borderline or mild hypertension, reduction in blood pressure by medications alone has not been found to decrease the rate of coronary heart disease. This is contrary to what your doctor may tell you, since one of the primary goals in controlling hypertension is to reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Beta-blockers are high on our list of drugs to avoid for a lot of reasons. They contribute to fatigue. They slow down your metabolism. They can even trigger asthma attacks. And as if all that wasn’t enough, one new study shows that they’re practically useless, too.
These medications (which include Atenolol, Lopressor, Metoprolol) are designed to lower blood pressure. But after following 45,000 patients in NYU Langone Medical Center’s data registry for 44 months, researchers have discovered that the drugs don’t ward off heart attacks or stroke.
Among patients with coronary artery disease (CAD), 12.9% died of a heart attack or stroke despite being on beta-blockers. Those who didn’t take the blood pressure meds died at a rate of 13.6%, not even one full percentage point of difference.
Of the patients taking beta-blockers due to CAD risk factors (like diabetes or high blood pressure), 14.2% suffered a negative outcome — as opposed to 12 percent among those not on the drugs. That’s still only a 2.2% difference. We would not risk a bad hair day on a “success” rate like that — never mind our energy levels or waistlines.
Researchers did find a slight benefit among patients who had suffered a heart attack within the past year. But even so, it’s clear that the majority of heart disease patients have no good reason to take beta-blockers.
So why are doctors still prescribing them?
One nutrient-mugging that may occur with beta blockers is the depletion of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). The main job of this naturally occurring substance is to help convert your food into adenosine-5’-triphosphate or more simply, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the life force that animates us.
The highest concentrations of CoQ10 are found in muscle cells, particularly the heart muscle. A randomized double-blind study published in the European Heart Journal (September, 2007) found that CoQ10 supplementation (100mg three times daily) improved blood flow to the heart by relaxing blood vessels in patients with coronary artery disease. Recent research also supports this heart-healthy benefit in diabetics.