Beet juice lowers blood pressure

The Baltimore Sun

Is there anything in the way of vitamins or herbs that a person can take instead of a prescription drug for high blood pressure? I've heard about garlic, but I don't like it much. Is there anything else?

The newest candidate for natural blood pressure control is beet juice. A study in the journal Hypertension (online Feb. 4, 2008) showed that 2 cups (500 milliliters) of beet juice lowered blood pressure by about 10 points. That is better than many prescription drugs. The effect lasts up to 24 hours.

Beets are high in dietary nitrate and increase the amount of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps blood vessels relax, lowering blood pressure. It has anti-inflammatory activity and discourages blood-clot formation.

A diet rich in vegetables and even dark chocolate also can lower blood pressure. Pomegranate and grape juice, magnesium supplements and breathing exercises can be beneficial.

How much calcium is too much? I take 1,500 milligrams per day, and my doctor wants me to add another 500 milligrams for my thinning bones. I drink milk and wonder if I may be overdosing.

Too much calcium (2,000 milligrams per day) can lead to "milk-alkali syndrome." The extra supplement might make you vulnerable to this complication, which increases the risk of bone fractures and kidney stones.

Can Preparation H raise blood pressure? I have been using Preparation H for a few weeks for a hemorrhoid problem. During that time, it seems that my blood pressure has been going up. My pressure has always been in the normal range of 120/80 or lower, but now I'm seeing systolic numbers in the 130 to 140 range. I noticed that in the Prep H warning it mentions to ask your doctor before using it if you have high blood pressure.

One of the active ingredients in Preparation H is phenylephrine, a vasoconstrictor. This is the same drug that is used as a decongestant in some nasal sprays and oral cold medicines.

Vasoconstrictors work by contracting blood vessels and shrinking swollen tissues. One possible side effect is increased blood pressure. Anesthesiologists sometimes use phenylephrine to raise blood pressure during surgery if a patient's blood pressure drops too low.

The rectum is well-supplied with blood vessels. That is why suppositories are effective for delivering drugs into the bloodstream. When phenylephrine is absorbed from these delicate tissues, it may raise blood pressure. One reader ended up in the ER with a blood pressure of 206/98 after using Preparation H for several days.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of this newspaper or e-mail them via their Web site: peoplespharmacy.com.

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