Ask The Doctor: Dizziness and Mosquitoes
I’ve been experiencing dizziness lately. Could it be a problem with my blood pressure?
Absolutely it could. If springing to your feet causes you to feel lightheaded, see black or white spots, or nearly keel over, you may have orthostatic hypotension. Put simply, orthostatic hypotension—orthostatic means “standing upright” and hypotension means “low blood pressure”—is the body’s temporary inability to adjust to changes in gravity. Usually when we stand up, our bodies automatically regulate blood flow as needed—by increasing heart rate and constricting blood vessels and veins, which increases blood pressure so blood can make it up into the brain. But when people with orthostatic hypotension stand up too quickly, venous blood pools in the legs rather than returning to the heart, blood pressure falls, and the brain does not get enough oxygen to maintain consciousness.
In the US we’re so preoccupied with high blood pressure and its risks (strokes, heart attacks, or heart failure) that we often overlook the dangers of low blood pressure (light-headedness, dizziness, occasional fainting spells). In fact, overzealous use of blood pressure–lowering medications is one of the primary causes of orthostatic hypotension.
Assuming you’ve ruled out other reasons for your dizziness—low blood sugar, dehydration, anemia, heart problems, medications—you can minimize, if not eliminate, your symptoms by making these simple changes.
Adding more salt increases volume expansion and therefore pressure in blood vessels, which is why people with high blood pressure should avoid it and those with too low blood pressure may want to add an extra dash. But that doesn’t give you license to tear into a bag of potato chips or load up on processed food. Instead, choose healthy salt sources. Swap your generic table salt for mineral-rich kosher salt, sea salt, Himalayan salt, or Celtic salt; munch on a dill pickle; or sip a cup or two of organic canned soup once a day. A handful of organic, salted nuts (cashews or almonds) also increases your salt intake—and provides plenty of healthy protein and minerals.
Eat smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day to prevent dizziness caused by low blood sugar, which exacerbates orthostatic hypotension. Be sure to balance each meal with low-glycemic carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds), and lean proteins (chicken, fish, eggs, lentils, and tofu).
Caffeine can temporarily raise blood pressure, so drink one to two cups of coffee or black or green tea in the morning, when blood pressure is at its lowest.
Drink plenty of flu ids since dehydration can cause low blood pressure, and cut back on alcohol, which can cause low blood sugar, aggravating orthostatic hypotension.
Step it up
Engage in light exercise to get the blood flowing, such as walking (stairs or a flat surface), up to a half hour a day, especially if you spend a good portion of the day standing or sitting. You can split this into intervals (10 minutes, several times a day) if it works better for you. T’ai chi and simple stretches also improve circulation.
Upside-down yoga poses like Headstand, Handstand, even The Plough, increase circulation by improving venous return (moving blood back to the heart). Just be careful coming out of the poses, so you don’t get dizzy: Go into Child’s Pose first, and then rise up on the inhalation, moving slowly. Other poses (like backbends and twists) stimulate the adrenal glands, which favorably impact blood pressure.
Wearing tights or leggings under your clothes will help keep your venous pressure from falling too low when you stand.
Don’t sit with you r legs crossed for long periods of time because it obstructs venous return.
Sleep with you r head elevat ed 3 to 4 inches. And don’t jump out of bed right away. Rise slowly, and dangle your feet over the side before standing up.
Herbs under pressure
Take 400 to 600 mg of magnesium a day (half in the morning and half in the evening) and 99 mg potassium four to six times a day. These minerals help maintain healthy blood pressure, and you may be deficient if you have orthostatic hypotension.
Supplementing with licorice root each day will raise blood pressure. Drink a cup of licorice root tea in the morning. But you should probably alert your naturopath first so she can make sure your blood pressure doesn’t get too high.
Medical consultation and treatment may be necessary if your symptoms are severe. Your doctor may prescribe small doses (5 mg, three times per day) of a beta-blocker, such as Inderal. Florinef (a corticosteroid) may also be beneficial as it helps increase volume expansion. Alternately, if appropriate, your doctor may lower or eliminate your dosage of other medications affecting your blood pressure.
Stephen T. Sinatra, MD is a Board-certified cardiologist and author of The Sinatra Solution: Metabolic Cardiology (Basic Health Publications, 2008).
Mosquitoes love the taste of me. Do any chemical-free options help repel bugs?
Most of us who grew up in the US consider mosquitoes simply a summertime nuisance. But in other parts of the world, they have long-carried serious diseases— malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever to name but a few. Today, mosquito bites in the US and Canada can have similar consequences. Since 1999, a new mosquito-borne illness, West Nile fever, has spread widely.
People infected with the West Nile virus rarely become sick enough to miss work, but about 20 percent of infected individuals experience severe headache, flu-like symptoms, or a characteristic non-itchy, non-painful rash. About one in 150 people—particularly the elderly and those with weakened immune systems— may have more severe symptoms, and some develop viral meningitis or encephalitis. In the US, West Nile season runs from late June or early July until the first hard frost in the fall, usually peaking in August. In addition to making lifestyle decisions—avoiding places where mosquitoes lurk, such as areas with standing water, and covering up with clothing and head nets, for instance—we can apply certain topical repellents to keep the bugs at bay.
Most commercial insect repellents contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-toluamide), a chemical that prevents the bites of mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks. It works by altering the insects’ sense perceptions so they no longer see humans as a potential meal. Although the Environmental Protection Agency considers DEET generally safe if you follow label
instructions, you rapidly absorb DEET through the skin, and the chemical then spreads to all the body’s organs. Some people experience skin rashes when using DEET, and overuse has caused neurological injuries. Concerns about possible low-grade systemic toxicity have led some people to look for safer and effective alternatives, such as herbs.
According to recent studies, one of them, catnip oil, may work even better than DEET. Although researchers haven’t found the mechanism that makes the oil effective, a single application may repel mosquitoes for up to six hours. If you’re concerned about ticks or biting flies, though, catnip oil may not help; it hasn’t yet been tested against these insects. Because your skin readily absorbs essential oils (which can also cause topical irritation), always dilute one part essential oil in 50 parts carrier oil (such as almond or olive oil) before applying essential oils to your skin. Or instead of making your own concoction, you can buy an herbal mosquito repellent containing catnip oil. Do not use the oil on your hands or near your eyes. If the catnip oil causes irritation, wash it off promptly.
If you already have mosquito bites, many herbal remedies can stop the itch. Natural products stores carry herbal salves with extracts of calendula flowers or plantain leaves, both of which help reduce itching and swelling. Also consider putting aloe vera gel or aloe-infused lotion on the bites. Although more famous as a remedy for minor burns, aloe can also soothe bites and rashes.
Paul Bergner is the director of the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism and editor of Medical Herbalism Journal.