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People’s Pharmacy

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Can acupuncture lower blood pressure?

By Joe & Terry Graedon
Joe and Terry Graedon
Joe and Terry Graedon are authors of The People's Pharmacy book and host an award-winning health talk show on public radio.

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.

Immediately after the procedure I felt no better, but 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.

Acupuncture is most often used to help people cope with pain, but one study of 32 people found that acupuncture lowered blood pressure significantly from baseline (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 may need to continue with acupuncture sessions to keep your blood pressure under control. A single treatment of any sort does not reverse hypertension.

Herbal sleep medicine

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 opium and other narcotics are made from?

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 this herbal sleep medicine is from the valerian root, which has been shown to help people get to sleep faster.

Turmeric’s anti-clotting effect

Q. I was searching for natural asthma relief and read that turmeric could tame wheezing. This is the main ingredient in curry powder.

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.

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.

Email Joe and Teresa Graedon at www.PeoplesPharmacy.com. Their newest book is “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”

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