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Unexpected Items That Actually Raise Blood Pressure

Would you imagine that antimicrobial mouthwash could raise blood pressure? So can licorice, decongestant nasal spray and pain relievers.
Unexpected Items That Actually Raise Blood Pressure
Man check blood pressure. Self care heart rate monitoring with digital pressure gauge.

Are you unknowingly consuming everyday products with the power to raise blood pressure? If so, you might be hindering your own efforts to maintain good health. What should you know about preventing hypertension?

Products That Raise Blood Pressure:

Q. It was fascinating to read in a recent column that mouthwash might raise blood pressure. I found that is true in my own case, though I realize each person is different.

Coffee also elevates my blood pressure. What other common foods or OTC pharmaceuticals might raise blood pressure? I’m trying my best to avoid such things, but it would help to know what they are.

Why Antiseptic Mouthwash Could Cause Trouble:

A. The antiseptic mouthwashes you are referring to kill a variety of oral bacteria. There is growing recognition that the ecology of the mouth is important for good health. Although the benefits and risks of antiseptic mouthwash remain controversial, some experts worry that disrupting the mouth microbiome may increase the risk for cardiovascular complications (Intensive Care Medicine, Jan. 2021).

Bacteria that convert nitrate from foods like spinach or beets into nitric oxide help control the flexibility of blood vessels (International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Oct. 13, 2020). Products that interfere with this conversion appear to raise blood pressure.

Coffee and Hypertension:

Coffee drinking is also controversial. Some studies suggest that coffee and caffeine can raise blood pressure, at least in the short term. Then again, other research demonstrates no effect (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Oct. 2011).  As you suggest, individuals appear to vary in their response (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, May 30, 2018).

Pain Relievers Can Boost Blood Pressure:

Many people take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or naproxen (Aleve) on a regular basis. Such medications could raise blood pressure (European Heart Journal, Nov. 21, 2017). People who frequently need pain relief might consider using nondrug approaches, when these are feasible. They might also ask their primary care provider whether acetaminophen (paracetamol) would be appropriate. Any connection between this pain reliever and increased blood pressure is uncertain (Praxis, June 6, 2012).

Snack Foods Can Raise Blood Pressure:

Processed foods high in salt and sugar are prime suspects. Young people with elevated blood pressure that has not crossed the threshold into hypertension are more likely than their peers to indulge in fast foods, especially salty or sweet ones (Journal of Basic Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, Dec. 18, 2013). Diets rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts seem to help lower blood pressure (Advances in Nutrition, Jan. 15, 2016).

Watch Out for Licorice:

You might not imagine that candy could raise blood pressure, but licorice is actually notorious for this. While a cup of licorice tea or a bite or two of black candy may be okay, regular consumption could get a person into a lot of trouble (Journal of Human Hypertension, Nov. 2017).

Don’t Mess With Decongestants:

You will also want to avoid decongestants. These constrict blood vessels and raise blood pressure. They’re found in some hemorrhoid products as well as cold and allergy medicines. A person who is “hooked” on nose spray might find it very difficult to get hypertension under control (Stroke and Vascular Neurology, Feb. 24, 2018).

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Blot S, "Antiseptic mouthwash, the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway, and hospital mortality: a hypothesis generating review." Intensive Care Medicine, Jan. 2021. DOI: 10.1007/s00134-020-06276-z
  • Pignatelli P et al, "How periodontal disease and presence of nitric oxide reducing oral bacteria can affect blood pressure." International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Oct. 13, 2020. DOI: 10.3390/ijms21207538
  • Rodríguez-Artalejo F & López-García E, "Coffee consumption and cardiovascular disease: A condensed review of epidemiological evidence and mechanisms." Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, May 30, 2018. DOI: 10.1021/acs.jafc.7b04506
  • Mishra S et al, "Association of diet and anthropometric measures as cardiovascular modifiable risk factors in young adults." Journal of Basic Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, Dec. 18, 2013. DOI: 10.1515/jbcpp-2013-0128
  • Ndanuko R et al, "Dietary patterns and blood pressure in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials." Advances in Nutrition, Jan. 15, 2016. DOI: 10.3945/an.115.009753
  • Penninkilampi R et al, "The association between consistent licorice ingestion, hypertension and hypokalaemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Journal of Human Hypertension, Nov. 2017. DOI: 10.1038/jhh.2017.45
  • Spence JD, "Controlling resistant hypertension." Stroke and Vascular Neurology, Feb. 24, 2018. DOI: 10.1136/svn-2017-000138
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