Q. I am concerned about my sister, who takes pills for high blood pressure. She seems more forgetful now than before she started taking medicine. I read in a magazine that blood pressure drugs destroy the brain, so I am frightened for her. The article suggests an Asian herb, Rauwolfia, instead of drugs. Should my sister take this instead?
A. Rauwolfia serpentina is native to India, where it was used in traditional medicine. Indian doctors prescribed it for high blood pressure and “insanity.”
In the mid-1950s reserpine, a chemical from Rauwolfia root, became the first treatment for hypertension in the U.S. It was also used to treat mental illness.
Although still available, reserpine is not commonly prescribed because of side effects such as sedation, low blood pressure, digestive upset, depression, stuffy nose and difficulty concentrating.
Some medicines can cause forgetfulness, but blood pressure pills do not destroy the brain. Untreated high blood pressure is far more likely to cause lasting damage.
We are sending you our Guides to Drugs and Older People and Blood Pressure Treatment so you can learn more about drugs that cause forgetfulness and how to work with the doctor to find medicine that does not cause troublesome reactions.