Q. My doctor recently prescribed atenolol for high blood pressure. The day after I started on atenolol, I felt ill. When I went back to my doctor, he asked if I had ever tried acupuncture. I had not, but I was willing to try anything.

Immediately after the procedure I felt no better, but by the third day, when I got out of bed I felt like I had risen from the dead. It has been more than a week, and I still feel better than I have in years. I do not know how much this improvement is due to acupuncture, but I am grateful.

A. Acupuncture is most often used to help people cope with pain, but one study of 32 people found that acupuncture lowered blood pressure significantly from baseline (Acupuncture and Electro-Therapeutics Research, Vol. 37, No. 4, 2012). Nitric-oxide levels in the blood also increased. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and helps lower blood pressure.

This study is preliminary, small and not placebo-controlled. Still, it’s an interesting finding. We are glad you got benefit. You may need to continue with acupuncture sessions to keep your blood pressure under control. A single treatment of any sort does not reverse hypertension.

You might want to explore other natural approaches to lowering blood pressure, such as beet or grape juice. We are sending you our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment for a discussion of many of these tactics and medications. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 to Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, Dept. B-67, P.O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027. It also can be downloaded for $2 from


Q. My father grew up on a small island in Norway in the 1940s. In winter, the teacher in their one-room schoolhouse gave each child a tablespoon of cod liver oil daily.

When I was growing up in Ohio, my dad made me take a tablespoon of cod liver oil every winter day. Why mess with tradition? I was mad when I found out cod liver oil comes in easy-to-swallow capsules.

A. Cod liver oil is rich in omega-3 fats and vitamins D and A. Evidence suggests that it bolsters immune function.


Q. I bought a bottle of herbal sleep medicine. The reviews say this product does help people sleep.

I wonder, though, if these pills are safe to take and not habit-forming? The three main ingredients are fresh flowering California poppy, valerian root and passionflower. Isn’t poppy the plant that opium and other narcotics are made from?

A. Although California poppies are in the same family as the opium poppy, the plant contains a different set of chemicals. The California poppy has a reputation as a mild sedative. Probably most of the power of this herbal sleep medicine is from the valerian root, which has been shown to help people get to sleep faster.