Diuretics work by keeping the kidney from reabsorbing salt (sodium) and water from the urine. The amount of sodium your body retains dictates how much water stays in your system. As sodium is allowed to leave, it takes water along with it. The increase in urine (body fluids) can be helpful in lowering high blood pressure and in decreasing swelling in different parts of the body. Unfortunately, losing too much sodium or other minerals (like zinc, potassium, magnesium, etc.) that leave with the urine can lead to serious new problems.
One-fifth of those people who take diuretics lose too much sodium from their blood. This causes problems like confusion, falls, fits, lightheadedness and fainting type spells when rising from a sitting or stooped position and even temporary muscle weakness on one side of the body.
Diuretics can also lead to a serious loss of potassium. (Hopefully, in this day and age, your doctor is well informed enough to warn you about this danger and have you take potassium supplements. By the way, eating a banana a day is not enough to make up for the potassium you lose. Potassium gluconate is available in most health food stores and generally the recommended dosage is 500 mg. to 1,000 mg. daily.) Low blood levels of potassium can cause extreme fatigue, irritability, inability to stay awake or concentrate and even worse, an abnormal heart beat or even heart failure.
Diuretics, especially in the elderly, have a tendency to increase blood levels of uric acid. (This is the waste product that comes from protein metabolism and causes gout problems!)
Diuretics also raise blood cholesterol levels, disrupt carbohydrate metabolism and can lead to diabetes mellitus in elderly patients. They cause inflammation of the pancreas and gallbladder, deafness and loss of bladder control. Some researchers now fear they may even be linked to cancer of the kidney.
Magnesium is another mineral lost when you use diuretics. When magnesium (and calcium) levels are normal, your chance of having high blood pressure and heart disease are less. This partially explains why communities with hard water (rich in calcium and magnesium) often have few heart attack victims. Increasing magnesium can correct problems with irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) and often eliminate the symptoms associated with mitral valve prolapse.
If you take diuretics and your doctor regularly monitors your electrolyte or mineral levels, he/she may overlook magnesium. It is not routinely checked like sodium, potassium, etc.
If you’re taking diuretics, it’s probably for one of two reasons — high blood pressure or fluid retention.
At a worldwide conference on blood pressure held in Kyoto, Japan, it was discovered that more than any other country, doctors here in the United States frequently prescribe diuretics as their first choice to control high blood pressure. They do so for two reasons. They’ve been doing so for 30 years and it’s a habit; and secondly, diuretics are inexpensive when compared to other blood pressure medications. Fortunately, there are numerous alternatives to diuretics and other medications to control blood pressure. I have previously reported exactly how exercise, weight loss, salt reduction, specific nutritional supplements and several other techniques can lower high blood pressure naturally.
The problem with fluid retention is very often directly linked to weak adrenal glands (hypoadrenia). Your adrenal glands produce over 50 different hormones which includes the group called mineralocorticoids. These hormones regulate the sodium and potassium levels in your body by controlling the kidneys. Diuretics, excess sugar, stress, etc. deplete the mineralocorticoids and lead to problems like swelling in the hands, feet and ankles.
Weak adrenals can also cause temporary high blood pressure readings and cause some doctors to mistakenly prescribe diuretics.
If you have weak adrenal glands, it’s very common to experience a dizzy or black-out-type feeling when you stand up quickly. Normally, your adrenals release a hormone when you change positions which causes the heart to beat a little faster and pump blood up to your head. If they’re weak, and cannot produce enough of this hormone, you experience the dizzy, black-out type sensation. Sometimes when this happens, your body senses a problem and quickly overreacts by raising the systolic blood pressure (the top number) to a very high level. Thinking you always have high blood pressure; some doctors make the mistake of prescribing diuretics, which makes the problem even worse. For this reason, it is always recommended that your doctor take your blood pressure in three different positions (lying, sitting and standing) as I have previously written about before prescribing any medication that changes blood pressure! The link to the article is listed below.
Although diuretics are very serious medications, I’m not recommending that you stop using them, unless your doctor tells you to do so. There are alternatives, and it might be a good time to consider them. It’s highly possible that natural diuretics like vitamin C (with bioflavanoids), vitamin B6 (with magnesium) or correcting weak adrenal glands or high blood pressure problems could totally eliminate your need for diuretics altogether.
An interesting side note comes to mind while we’re on the subject of natural diuretics. In the 1500’s, a Dutch pharmacist developed an extract of juniper berries and marketed it as an inexpensive diuretic. The drink became popular socially in British circles, especially in tropical colonies like India. The drink was called "Gin" from the word geneva for juniper. Even today, the popular Bombay Gin advertises the wide assortment of herbs used in its creation: Juniper berries and iris root from Italy, coriander seeds from Morocco, Angelica root from Sacony, Cassia bark, licorice and almonds from Indochina and lemon peel from Spain.
If you and your doctor find you need diuretics, make sure you take additional minerals like zinc (15-30 mg.), potassium (500-1,000 mg.) and magnesium (250-750 mg.) along with a good multivitamin/mineral supplement. And whatever you do, make sure your doctor regularly checks your electrolyte and mineral levels. It would be ridiculous to take diuretics to control life-threatening high blood pressure and at the same time create a potassium deficiency that could end up causing heart failure.
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(Age Aging 83;12:77-80.)