5 reasons to think twice before taking blood pressure drugs

By Robyn Chuter

  • High blood pressure dramatically increases the risk of stroke, kidney damage, eye disease and dementia.
  • Various classes of blood pressure medications have side effects including an increased risk of diabetes, cardiac arrhythmias, and lung cancer.
  • Even if antihypertensives successfully lower blood pressure, they aren’t very effective at preventing strokes and heart attacks in most people.
  • Aggressive lowering of blood pressure in people who have coronary artery disease dramtically increases the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and dying from it.

High blood pressure (hypertension) kills. It is the most significant risk factor for stroke and congestive heart failure; in fact, people with high blood pressure have 4 times the risk of stroke compared to people with normal blood pressure.

In addition, it accelerates the build-up of atherosclerosis, a fatty plaque lining the artery walls, and increases the likelihood that one of these plaques will rupture, triggering a heart attack or embolic (clotting) stroke.

High blood pressure also damages the kidneys, and since the kidneys play a huge role in regulating blood pressure, this damage generates a vicious circle of escalating blood pressure and organ destruction, which may eventually result in kidney failure and the need for dialysis.

The tiny arteries feeding the eyes can rupture due to the effects of constant high blood pressure, causing blurred vision and even blindness.

And high blood pressure accelerates dementia.

So high blood pressure obviously requires urgent treatment. But are prescription drugs the answer?

All classes of antihypertensive (blood pressure-lowering) drugs present serious hazards, including these:

#1. Diuretics (commonly used as first-line therapy in hypertension) increase the risk of developing diabetes and arrhythmias.

An analysis of 22 clinical trials including 143 153 participants who were free of diabetes at enrolment, found that those who were prescribed a diuretic (such as Moduretic, Chlotride or Lasix) had a significantly higher likelihood of developing diabetes (1). Having diabetes dramatically increases your risk of both stroke and heart disease – the very conditions that antihypertensive medications are intended to reduce!

Diuretics can also cause abnormal heart rhythms (known as arrhythmias) which increase the risk of sudden cardiac death (2).

#2. Beta blockers (also commonly used as first-line therapy in hypertension) also increase diabetes risk, increase the risk of stroke and death in newly-diagnosed diabetics, and DO NOT lower the risk of either complications or death in simple hypertension.

Beta blockers (such as Inderal, Visken and Betaloc) raise the risk of developing diabetes by around 30%, with the risk rising the longer you stay on them (3). Since patients are usually told they will have to take antihypertensives for the rest of their lives, this should give serious pause for thought.

Beta blockers are commonly prescribed to lower heart rate in patients at high risk of heart attack, but a metanalysis of over 70 000 such patients found that those heart rate was lowered the most by beta blockers, had the greatest risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure and death (4).

Beta blockers DO NOT prevent heart failure in people with high blood pressure, and compared to other classes of antihypertensives, they raise the risk of stroke by 19% in elderly patients (3).

The authors of a major review on beta blockers concluded that

“despite the blood pressure lowering effect, beta-blockers have little, if any, efficacy in reducing stroke and MI [heart attack] in hypertensive patients as was shown in a variety of prospective, randomized trials and meta-analyses” (3).

#3. Calcium channel blockers dramatically increase the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, especially when combined with diuretics.

The Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study tracked over 30 000 women with hypertension but no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD), and compared the outcomes of women on a variety of different antihypertensive medications.

Women treated with calcium channel blockers (such as Norvasc, Adalat and Isoptin) alone had a 55% greater chance of dying from CVD than women treated with diuretics alone; while those on a combination of a calcium channel blocker plus a diuretic had a massive 85% greater risk of CVD death compared to those treated with a diuretic plus a ß-blocker. Even worse, when women with diabetes were excluded from the analysis, the risk rose to 116% greater! (5).

#4. Angiotensin receptor blockers increase cancer risk.

Angiotensin receptor blockers (such as Neosartan, Micardis and Pritor) affect hormone receptors involved in several factors relating to cancer growth: regulation of cell proliferation, angiogenesis (the development of a new blood supply, allowing a tumour to grow), and tumour progression. Researchers found an 11% increased risk of cancer in patients who had been on an angiotensin receptor blocker for at least 1 year, while lung cancer risk was 25% higher (6).

Old fashioned drug bottle with label, isolated, clipping path.
#5. Over-aggressive treatment of high blood pressure by any drug increases the risk of death in people with coronary artery disease (which is virtually everyone over the age of 60 who has eaten the typical Australian diet).

An analysis of 22 576 patients with hypertension and coronary artery disease found that the patients whose diastolic blood pressure was lowered to 60-70 mm Hg had almost double the risk of death or nonfatal heart attack or stroke compared to those with a diastolic pressure of 80-90 mm Hg, while those diastolic BP was pushed down to 60 mm Hg or less had triple the risk! (7).

Given these extremely worrying findings, what is a person with high blood pressure supposed to do? If you have recently discovered you have high blood pressure but are not yet on medication, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of adopting a comprehensive blood pressure lowering program, incorporating dietary change, regular exercise and stress management.

Many of my clients have achieved phenomenal results after just a couple of weeks on my program, lowering their blood pressure to the point where their GP told them they no longer needed medication.

Obviously, if you are already on blood pressure medication, you cannot simply stop taking it abruptly. I advise clients who are taking antihypertensives to buy a home blood pressure monitor when they commence my blood pressure-lowering program. They take their BP regularly, present the results to their GP, and as their blood pressure drops (which it invariably does), the GP can gradually reduce their antihypertensive medication.

Several of my clients have experienced such dramatic drops in blood pressure that they had to halve their medication in the first week of following the program, because their blood pressure dropped uncomfortably low!

The bottom line: if you have high blood pressure, you need to be on an integrated program that addresses all the factors that cause blood pressure to rise in the first place, and therefore lowers your risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke – not a drug that simply forces your blood pressure down, while increasing your risk of dying!