To make matter even worse, research suggests that a drug commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure carries frightening health risks of its own. Studies have shown that hydrochlorothiazide, or HCTZ, is associated with an increased risk of lip and skin cancer – with alarming implications for the ten million Americans using HCTZ every year. (Fortunately, there is a way to avoid problems.)
Danish researchers: Blood pressure drug help responsible for significant number of skin cancer cases
In a review published in Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Danish researchers evaluated over 80,000 skin cancer cases and reported that hydrochlorothiazide – one of the most commonly used diuretic and antihypertensive drugs in the United States and Western Europe – substantially increased the risk of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma.
In fact, the evidence against HCTZ was so strong that study leaders theorized the drug could account for up to 11 percent of all Danish cases of squamous cell carcinoma.
The team found that cancer risk was associated directly with duration of use. People who took the drug daily for at least six years were 29 percent more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma – and almost four times more likely to get squamous cell carcinoma.
Warning: Long-term HCTZ use raises cancer risk even higher
Among those who had used HCTZ for decades, the cancer risk skyrocketed.
For example, patients who had taken HCTZ daily for 24 years experienced a 54 percent increase in their risk of basal cell carcinoma – and an astounding seven-fold increase in the risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
Study lead Anton Pottegard, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Southern Denmark, said that he hoped the results would lead to a reconsideration of the use of HCTZ. However, he warns against abruptly discontinuing HCTZ without medical guidance – and advises talking to your doctor.
Both basal cell cancer and squamous cell carcinoma are non-melanoma skin cancers with low mortality rates, and usually respond well to treatment. However, there is a small but real risk of squamous cell cancer spreading to other parts of the body. In addition, notes Dr. Pottegard, the surgery carries a “certain risk of impairment.”
The Danish team partnered with Dr. Armand B. Cognetta, Jr., chief of the Division of Dermatology at Florida State University. Noting that HCTZ makes the skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, Dr. Cognetta reported that he had already noticed a “suspicious” prevalence of skin cancer among his patients who took HCTZ.
HCTZ linked to seven-fold increase in risk of lip cancer
In a study published last summer in the Journal of Internal Medicine, researchers found that HCTZ raised the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the lip.
As with the Danish study, the team found that increased risk coincided with duration of use. Patients who had taken HCTZ for over three years had a four-fold increase in risk, compared with those who had never taken the drug.
More than ten years of cumulative HCTZ use raised the risk of lip cancer seven-fold.
Researchers became aware of the danger of HCTZ after earlier research showed that a combination of HCTZ and amiloride, another antihypertensive drug, raised the risk of lip cancer.
Further studies excluding amiloride yielded similar results – causing the team to conclude that HCTZ substantially increased the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the lip. Keep in mind, the International Agency for Research on Cancer currently classifies HCTZ as a “possible human carcinogen.”
Good NEWS: You CAN lower blood pressure – naturally
Fortunately, certain foods (and supplements) can help lower blood pressure naturally – and safely.
Eating sweet, refreshing watermelon can cause beneficial drops in blood pressure. In a study published in American Journal of Hypertension, researchers discovered that watermelon significantly reduced blood pressure in overweight patients. Watermelon is rich in citrulline and arginine, a pair of amino acids that cause blood vessels to dilate and relax. (If watermelon is out of season in your area, you can take citrulline malate as a supplement).
Vitamin D suppresses the expression of renin, a hormone that can spike blood pressure. One study showed that vitamin D supplementation in wintertime helped lower the blood pressure of hypertensive patients who had low blood levels of the nutrient.
If you believe you are deficient in the “sunshine vitamin” (many people are!) — talk to your integrative doctor about supplementation. Natural health experts may advise 5,000 IU (or more) a day of vitamin D to help manage blood pressure. (depending on your current vitamin D status)
Pomegranate juice is rich in beneficial polyphenols, including anthocyanins, tannins and ellagic acid. These powerful antioxidants have been shown to help reduce blood pressure, while discouraging blood clots by decreasing the “stickiness” of blood platelets.
In one study, participants with blocked carotid arteries consumed pomegranate juice daily for three years – and experienced significant reductions in blood pressure.
Finally, buckwheat can be helpful in maintaining healthy blood pressure. Its “big gun” against hypertension is its content of rutin, a flavonoid shown to improve cardiovascular health.
This healthy grain is also rich in magnesium, a natural antihypertensive agent. In fact, in one study, buckwheat caused blood pressure to drop by 36 percent – a dramatic decrease.
Other foods with inherent blood pressure-lowering abilities include kale, garlic, beets, bananas, blueberries and the natural sweetener stevia.
Of course, if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you may not be able to rely solely on foods to control it – and you shouldn’t stop taking your prescribed medication without consulting with your healthcare provider. But, if you are one of the 10 million Americans currently taking hydrochlorothiazide, it’s probably a good idea to discuss the situation with your doctor.
Sources for this article include: