What are ACE Inhibitor Drugs?

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health
Last Reviewed 02/14/2014

What are ACE Inhibitor Drugs

If you have cardiovascular problems, you may already be familiar with ACE inhibitor drugs, including Capoten, Altace, Vasotec, Lotensin, or Monopril.

These drugs slow the activity of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), a protein produced in the lungs that converts angiotensin I—a harmless molecule—into angiotensin II, the most potent blood vessel constrictor known to science.

ACE is pathologically overactive in people with arterial disease. Used for more than 25 years to treat high blood pressure levels, ACE inhibitor drugs relax blood vessel walls, reduce energy consumption in the heart, and lower blood pressure levels. They also help protect the membranes of heart muscle cells from oxidation.

ACE inhibitor drugs are typically prescribed if you’ve had a heart attack. After a heart attack, your left ventricle may have wall motion abnormalities, meaning that the scarred areas are not contracting with the rest of the muscle tissue. Echocardiograms have shown that ACE inhibitor drugs support the left ventricle so that it works more like a healthy heart, improving pumping ability and ejection fraction (the amount of blood pushed forward with each heartbeat).   

The primary side effects of ACE inhibitor drugs include:

  • Decreased kidney function; 
  • Decrease in sexual function;
  • Dizziness, headache, fatigue, and depression;
  • Liver damage;
  • Increased potassium levels, which can lead to serious cardiac problems (of particular concern for those taking potassium preparations or potassium-sparing diuretics).
  • Some patients (more often women than men) taking ACE inhibitor drugs may also develop a troublesome dry, hacking cough as a side effect, but this may be alleviated by switching to a newer generation of the medication. 

Fortunately, there are natural alternatives to ACE inhibitor drugs for treating high blood pressure levels. These include:

  • Hawthorn berry (500 mg two to three times per day) increases blood flow in smaller vessels, acting much like ACE inhibitor drugs, as it decreases blood pressure.
  • Garlic (500–1,000 mg daily)
  • Calcium (1,000 mg daily), magnesium (400 mg daily)
  • CoQ10 (100–300 mg daily in divided doses)
  • Fish oil  (2–4 grams per day)
  • L-arginine (2–3 grams three times per day
As always, I encourage my patients to stick to a smart cardiovascular nutrition plan and to find natural ways to lower blood pressure and other heart risk factors so that they limit their chances of ever having to take an ACE inhibitor drug.
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