Beta blockers are conventional drugs that block the stress hormones that trigger the “flight or fight” response. These hormones place demands on the heart muscles, nerves and blood vessels throughout your body and can contribute to disorders such as anxiety, hypertension, glaucoma, angina and cardiac arrhythmias. Some herbs act like natural beta blockers and may be useful for treating these problems. Consult your health-care provider before starting herbal treatment.
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As natural beta blockers, herbs produce various effects on your body. They relieve anxiety, lower your heart rate and reduce blood pressure. Some of these herbs work by regulating stress hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. Others, such as cardiotonics, diuretics and vascular tonics, directly affect blood circulation, water retention and coronary vessels. Check with a qualified practitioner for advice about dosage and preparation of these herbs.
Indian coleus, or Coleus forskohlii, is a perennial herb native to India. Ayurvedic practitioners use it to treat heart diseases and skin disorders. In his 2003 book, “Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine,” clinical herbalist David Hoffmann says that several heart and skin diseases involve low levels of cyclic adenosine monophosphate, or cAMP, a chemical messenger molecule that regulates epinephrine. The active ingredient in Indian coleus is forskolin, a chemical that increases cAMP levels and relaxes smooth muscles, making it useful for treating high blood pressure, asthma, congestive heart failure, glaucoma and angina. Like beta blockers, forskolin has a positive effect on your heart and reduces intraocular pressure that causes glaucoma. Do not use this herb if you have diabetes. Do not combine it with other heart medicine.
Hawthorn, or Crataegus laevigata, is a small tree native to Europe. Traditional healers use the leaves, flowers and berries as a cardiotonic. Beta blockers and hawthorn are both useful for hypertension. While beta blockers do not have diuretic action, they are often combined with diuretics to treat hypertension. Hawthorn has diuretic action due to the effects of its procyanidins and flavonoids on enzymes that regulate blood pressure and water balance. Hawthorn, like beta blockers, may also be useful for angina. Hoffmann says that hawthorn improves heart circulation and dilates coronary arteries, allowing more oxygen to reach heart tissues. Beta blockers and hawthorn alleviate angina pain caused when your heart demands more oxygen than your blood can supply. Do not combine hawthorn with other heart medications.
Indian snakeroot, or Rauvolfia serpentina, is a woody shrub native to South Asia. Herbalists use the roots to treat a range of disorders, including hypertension, anxiety, constipation, insomnia and rheumatism. Active ingredients include more than 60 potent alkaloids, such as reserpine, rescinnamine, serpentine, ajmalicine and ajmaline. Some of these alkaloids act similar to beta blockers. In their 2009 book, “Medicinal Plants of the World,” botanist Ben-Erik van Wyk and biologist Michael Wink say that Indian snakeroot is anti-hypertensive because reserpine inhibits the re-uptake of norepinephrine, causing its depletion by enzymes. Another alkaloid, ajmaline, has anti-arrhythmic action and inhibits ventricular arrhythmias. Indian snakeroot has tranquilizing effects because, like beta-blockers, it reduces the effects of the stress hormone norepinephrine. Do not combine this herb with other tranquilizers or antidepressants.