Graedons' Pharmacy: Can acupuncture lower blood pressure?

May 21, 2013 

Q: My doctor recently prescribed atenolol for high blood pressure. The day after I started on atenolol, I felt ill. When I went back to my doctor, he asked if I had ever tried acupuncture. I had not, but I was willing to try anything.

By the third day, when I got out of bed I felt like I had risen from the dead. It has been more than a week, and I still feel better than I have in years. I do not know how much this improvement is due to acupuncture, but I am grateful.

A: Acupuncture is most often used to help people cope with pain, but one study of 32 people found that acupuncture lowered blood pressure significantly (Acupuncture and Electro-Therapeutics Research, Vol. 37, No. 4, 2012). Nitric-oxide levels in the blood also increased. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and helps lower blood pressure.

This study is preliminary, small and not placebo-controlled. Still, it's an interesting finding. We are glad you got benefit.

You might want to explore other natural approaches to lowering blood pressure, such as beet or grape juice. We are sending you our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment for a discussion of many of these tactics and medications. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 to Graedons' People's Pharmacy, Dept. B-67, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from www.peoplespharmacy.com.

Q: I bought a bottle of herbal sleep medicine. The reviews say this product does help people sleep.

I wonder, though, if these pills are safe to take and not habit-forming. The three main ingredients are fresh flowering California poppy, valerian root and passionflower. Isn't poppy the plant that narcotics are made from?

A: Although California poppies are in the same family as the opium poppy, the plant contains a different set of chemicals. The California poppy has a reputation as a mild sedative. Probably most of the power of supplement is from the valerian root, which has been shown to help people get to sleep faster.

Q: I was searching for natural asthma relief and read that turmeric could tame wheezing.

I have been swallowing spoonfuls of them both for several days. I found that together with my inhalers, they give a lot more relief for my COPD than I get from the inhalers alone. But I also have found that I bleed much more easily. Could turmeric do this? I take aspirin but no other anticoagulant.

A: We have received a number of reports from readers taking warfarin (Coumadin) that combining turmeric or its active component curcumin with this anticoagulant greatly increases its anti-clotting effect. The INR number used to measure how well the warfarin is working may climb unexpectedly.

We have not seen studies showing that turmeric has anticoagulant activity on its own, but it sounds as though you may be experiencing such an effect. You may want to reduce the dose you are using.

Joe Graedon, a pharmacologist, and Teresa Graedon, a medical anthropologist and nutrition expert, answer readers' questions in their column. Email them via their website: www.PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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