People's Pharmacy

Viagra can help with altitude sickness, report says

I have heard that Viagra is effective for altitude sickness. Is this true?

Viagra is best known as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. But there are reports that it has off-label uses in treating a number of other conditions, including pulmonary hypertension (elevated blood pressure in the artery to the lungs).

People who climb mountains may develop high-altitude pulmonary edema, which can be quite dangerous. In this condition, fluid accumulates in the lungs and makes breathing difficult. The sufferer may have rapid heart rate, shallow, rapid breaths and start to turn blue. Drugs such as Viagra (sildenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil) can increase nitric oxide levels in the blood vessels of the lungs and help them relax, according to a 2010 report in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. This can reduce the fluid that is leaking into the lungs.

Don't try to treat yourself for altitude sickness, but discuss this issue with your doctor before you travel, since such drugs have side effects.

My son has Raynaud's phenomenon. I heard that eating more bananas and potatoes could help because the magnesium in them is supposed to relax constricted blood vessels. Is this true?

Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition in which cold or stress triggers vasoconstriction of the fingers and toes. They turn white or even blue and become painful with exposure to cold.

Swedish researchers concluded in a 1994 Clinical Physiology study that magnesium plays a significant role in Raynaud's phenomenon. We can imagine that taking a supplement might help. Neither bananas nor potatoes are especially rich in magnesium, however. Try whole grains, leafy green vegetables (spinach, chard), nuts and blackstrap molasses. We have also heard from other readers that cinnamon extract or astragalus root can ease the symptoms of Raynaud's.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist, and Teresa Graedon is an expert in medical anthropology and nutrition. http://www.peoplespharmacy.com.

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