Alternatively Speaking: Calculating caffeine

Alternative medicine enthusiast Natalie Marx answers your questions: Does drinking less coffee help reduce blood pressure? Any remedies for good memory?

Coffee  (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Q.  I used to suffer for a long time with headaches, but since stopping drinking coffee (I used to take 4 or 5 mugs a day) the headaches have cleared completely. Also, I note that my blood pressure is down significantly. Does this make sense?
A. A small cup of coffee or other limited amounts of caffeine don't have any affect on your blood pressure readings, although under certain circumstances larger amounts can. The amount of caffeine that can affect your reading is about 200 mg to 300 mg, that's approximately the amount found in two cups of coffee. Although a change in blood pressure is possible, it's not always inevitable.
If you have normal blood pressure, caffeine can increase it noticeably, but the increase is temporary and only lasts a short time. According to research from the Mayo Clinic, the increase generally includes the systolic and diastolic pressure readings, increasing each by approximately 4 to 13 mm Hg, or millimeters of mercury. That means if you have a normal blood pressure reading of 120 mm for your systolic pressure and 80 mm for your diastolic pressure, caffeine can increase it up to about 133 over 93.
If you have high blood pressure to begin with, the chances of caffeine increasing it are even greater, according to Columbia University Health Services'. The research did not mention how much higher your blood pressure can soar if you already suffer from hypertension, it did note that the increase was much greater than for those who usually have normal blood pressure readings.
There are a few explanations as to why our blood pressure may rise from caffeine intake. One is that caffeine may cause your arteries to constrict by blocking a hormone that usually keeps them wider. Another is that caffeine may boost your adrenal glands' release of more adrenaline, with the greater amount of adrenaline leading to the increase. In either case, the increase is always temporary rather than resulting in long-term increase in pressure.
Remember that coffee is not the only food or beverage that contains caffeine and, therefore, the ability to increase your blood pressure. Cola, chocolate, tea and other soft drinks, such as energy drinks, can also contain varying amounts of caffeine. If you already suffer from hypertension, then cutting down on your caffeine intake as you did can help keep your blood pressure from soaring even higher. Drinking a cup of coffee or otherwise consuming caffeine before a blood pressure test can also artificially raise your blood pressure and result in inaccurate readings on the test.
Q. Do you have any recommendations for natural remedies good for the memory?
A. Eating nutritiously most certainly keeps the brain healthy and the memory clear. Foods rich in antioxidants contribute to the overall health of your body, and also appear to work in helping memory functions. I recommend antioxidant-rich food as part of your daily diet, including nuts, berries, carrots and especially green tea. Green tea is an excellent source of antioxidant, and along with black tea, appears to greatly boost a person's ability to remember.
Gingko biloba extract, one of my favorites, helps with the flow of blood throughout the body. It appears to have a positive affect on memory function as it also improves the flow of blood to the brain. The improved flow of blood to the brain brings with it more oxygen and should also help improve memory.
Another supplement that helps improve memory is rosemary, which helps stimulate the brain and therefore the memory too.
Soy is another wonderful food product that can be found in foods such as tofu and soy milk and offer many health benefits  to the brain.
Try drinking sage tea. The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database describes sage's antioxidant and anticholinesterase properties that enable it to protect brain cells and increase acetylcholine, thereby enhancing brain cell function. A 2003 British study found indications that sage may improve memory in younger adults.
I have selected a few other herbs below which enhance the brain's neurotransmitters, others improve the flow of blood to the brain, which in turn supply the nutrients it needs to perform effectively:
Hawthorn - facilitates oxygen and nutrient transport to the brain. It has strong OPC antioxidants, cleaning out brain toxins and strengthening blood vessels and tissues.
Schisandra - improves memory as well as sense of well-being and mental awareness.
Gotu Kola - native to Asia and Europe, gotu kola improves brain circulation, as well as mental performance and retention.
Q. My father has been diagnosed with prostate problems. Can you recommend any natural herbs or supplements that are good for prostate health?
A. Saw palmetto is the most popular and researched prostate herb and one that I love to prescribe. It contains beta sitosterol, a powerful compound that interferes with the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Studies show that saw palmetto shrinks enlarged prostates and relieves urinary problems.
I highly recommend using the herb Red Clover. As a member of the pea family, red clover contains powerful antioxidants that fight off cancerous growths. Red clover inhibits DHT formation, therefore inhibiting enlargement of the prostate gland and the symptoms that accompany it.
An important mineral for many bodily processes is Zinc. You should check if you have a zinc deficiency since this predisposes the prostate gland to infection, which could eventually lead to enlargement.
Along with zinc, Vitamin B6 regulates the hormone that converts testosterone to DHT, and helps prevent swelling of the prostate.
Finally, stock up on tomatoes! Lycopene - an extract from tomatoes contains powerful antioxidants that may be able to reduce prostate inflammation.
This column is brought to you as general information only and unless stated otherwise is not medical advice nor is it based on medical experiments. This column is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. For more information about specific problems, please contact a doctor.
Ask Natalie: If you have a health query and would like an alternative answer then email Natalie with your question at [email protected]
Someone Once Said: "While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us."
- Ben Franklin