Older women who take certain types of medication to combat high blood pressure may be putting themselves at greater risk for developing breast cancer, according to a new study. This August, the prestigious medical journal JAMA reported that women who had used calcium channel blockers for 10 or more years had a higher risk of breast cancer. The study is the first to observe that long-term use of this class of blood pressure drugs, which include Amlodipine (Norvasc), Felodipine (Plendil), and Nifedipine (Adalat), are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
It has long been established that significantly elevated levels of blood pressure increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. But what is the most effective way of lowering not only blood pressure, but cardiovascular risk? Recently, a patient came into my office asking just that question.
Georgia, 67, had been diagnosed with high blood pressure by her MD and had started amlodipine a year ago. Her blood pressure was still not optimal and she was looking at having to take a second medication. She also has a history of breast cancer which was treated two years prior. The blood pressure drug she was on is part of a class of drugs called calcium channel blockers. These drugs lower blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels. They interfere with the normal flow of calcium into the muscles of the blood vessels, which reduces the firing of those muscles. Unfortunately, this same mechanism may give cancer cells an advantage.
I counselled her and explained that there are other classes of pharmaceutical drugs that are not associated with increased cancer risk. Beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics have not been associated with cancer risk. Calcium channel blockers have a unique effect on cancer cells. There is a growing understanding that one of the culprits in cancerous processes is disruption of the calcium ion channel in cells throughout the body. Cancer prevention depends on proper functioning of the calcium channel. I recommended that she switch to an ACE inhibitor for now and that we engage a thorough program of cardiovascular health promotion to lower her blood pressure, and her cardiovascular risk in a real and lasting way.
Nutritionally, I recommend a diet that is low in both refined carbohydrates and animal fat. Refined carbohydrates, like sugar, bread, pasta etc., increase inflammation in the blood vessels and drive up blood sugar, both of which harm blood vessels. Consuming high amounts of saturated animal fat, such as butter, full fat dairy, red meat, prawns, chicken with skin, etc., increases inflammation in the blood vessels and causes arteries to harden, which is a driving factor in most cases of high blood pressure. High antioxidant foods, like fruits and vegetables, help protect arteries.
Exercise has been shown in countless studies to lower blood pressure. Georgia had not been exercising, and over 6 months of coaching she worked up to the recommended 175 minutes of cardiovascular exercise per week (that’s about four 45 minute sessions per week). She incorporated interval training into her work outs – alternating her intensity from mild to intense throughout the workout.
I recommended that she supplement her diet with some of the top natural medicines for blood pressure. Magnesium has been shown in a large meta-analysis to decrease blood pressure. Fish oil, along with a long list of cardio-protective effects, also has a mild positive effect on blood pressure. I recommend all my heart patients take a good B complex to lower homocysteine, co-enzyme Q10 to strengthen the heart, and Hawthorne extract to protect the heart and lower blood pressure.
Georgia’s blood pressure came down significantly during the six months of intensive coaching. She felt she was ready to try going off her medication. I recommended she consider a strong, prescription herbal medication called Rauwolfia serpentine to continue to lower her blood pressure. With the help of this safe and effective medicine, and her heart healthy lifestyle, she was able to maintain her blood pressure at an average of 125 / 83, and know that she is also on a program that supports an anti-cancer lifestyle.