The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Herbal Medicines Lower Blood Pressure

Scientists are excited to learn how many herbal medicines lower blood pressure. They activate a potassium channel KCNQ5 that relaxes blood vessels.
Lavender herb flower leaf sprigs with an aromatherapy essential oil dropper bottle over white background.

Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, have made a fascinating discovery (PNAS, Sep. 30, 2019). They have identified the mechanism by which some traditional herbal medicines lower blood pressure. In an intriguing twist, the botanicals they examined come from around the world and are not related to each other.

Herbal Medicines Lower Blood Pressure Through Potassium Channels:

Humans have been using plants to treat their ailments since before recorded history. While traditional medical systems in China and India did not have a diagnostic category of hypertension, practitioners treated syndromes we would associate with high blood pressure. The researchers at UC-Irvine compared herbs used to lower blood pressure to those used for other purposes.

They used extracts of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), basil (Ocimum basilicum), oregano (Origanum vulgaris) and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). In addition, they analyzed extracts of marjoram (Origanum majorana), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), ginger (Zingiber officinale) and two Chinese herbs, Sophora flavescens and Sophora tonkinensis. All these herbal medicines lower blood pressure. The scientists compared them to herbs not believed to lower blood pressure, including spearmint (Mentha spicata), tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus), wheatgrass (Triticum aestivum) and parsley (Petroselinum crispum).

Potassium Channels Relax Blood Vessels:

In the laboratory, all the botanicals used for hypertension activate a specific potassium channel called KCNQ5. This potassium channel is able to make blood vessels relax, lowering blood pressure. The small molecule aloperine is responsible for this activity in the Chinese herb Sophora flavescens. In contrast, none of the herbal medicines used for comparison had any effect on KCNQ5.

No modern antihypertensive drugs use this mechanism of action. The investigators don’t recommend herbal medicines to lower blood pressure. They believe, however, that further research on this and related potassium channels might yield some new approaches to keeping blood pressure under control.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Manville RW et al, "KCNQ5 activation is a unifying molecular mechanism shared by genetically and culturally diverse botanical hypotensive folk medicines." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sep. 30, 2019. doi/10.1073/pnas.1907511116
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My teacher in Ireland always said never eat or drink anything u can’t spell & most of the herbs have crazy names I cannot spell or say. But I do like home remedies because we used them at home (in Ireland). With 12 children you don’t go to doctors unless it’s really Bad.

Why report that “scientists are excited” to discover that herbal medicines can lower blood pressure, but then caution that “… investigators don’t recommend herbal medicines …” This sends mixed messages to your readers. Yes, I’ll talk to my doctor, and no I won’t abruptly stop taking BP-lowering meds, but come on! I WILL start taking ginger extracts and/or other herbs to see what effect they have. Anything I can do to reduce dependence on EXPENSIVE pharma is the main reason for following your column. How about a follow up (SOON) with RECOMMENDED minimum/maximum does and formulations to HELP me and others to take advantage of this discovery so we, too, can be EXCITED about it.

It seems to me that these herbal approaches would be much better tolerated by patients than the potassium-sparing drugs being touted by pharmaceutical companies and doctors supposedly to do the same thing: lower blood pressure, yet leaving patients wide open to the accumulation of too much potassium in the system with all the cumulative and dangerous side effects.

Not informative. I miss your old style. The customers reviews were great. I hope you would give more details. Used to enjoy reading but now have hard time and never interested.

I am confused by these contradictory statements:
“In the laboratory, all the botanicals used for hypertension activate a specific potassium channel called KCNQ5. This potassium channel is able to make blood vessels relax, lowering blood vessels.”
“In contrast, none of the herbal medicines used for comparison (to aloperine in the Chinese herb) had any effect on KCNQ5.”

Can you please enlighten me?

I use Indian snakeroot. BP 120/60. Doc dearly wants me on Coreg that caused chest pain and depression. (Then I could take IMGUR and Prozac!! Such fun). Yes, do not dismiss herbals. They may give you your life back.

Please continue your coverage of this, and thank you!

Hmmm so now I’m wondering if I should try Sophora flavescens! I really don’t want to take the poison my doc gives me. Has anyone had any luck with any natural remedies in reducing their hypertension?

How are these herbs used? Are they in pill form or used in cooking?

Rescue Remedy is a botanical that relieves stress, and I use it when my BP is high and it often brings it down. I am also taking capsules of powdered beet juice to keep my BP under control but in addition to BP meds. The jury is still out.

This offers exciting possibilities in determining how to get these herbs into our cuisine. We have turmeric figured out – half teaspoon with a pinch of pepper and maybe Ginger in a serving of heated almond milk.

Eat Italian!!!

I don’t understand which herbs/botanicals they are saying work/don’t work. “All of the botanicals” lower blood pressure; “none of the herbal medicines” work. But which are which? They are not clearly identified.

Please, what does KCNQ5 stand for?

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