Vasodilation: Definition, Side Effects, Uses, Drugs, Foods, And Supplements

Vasodilation is a term often used in the healthcare space and is not part of the knowledge-base of most people.

In this article, I plan to provide you with the essential information about vasodilation you would need in an easy-to-understand format.


What Is The Definition Of Vasodilation?

A vasodilator is a medication that promotes the dilation of your blood vessels, also known as vasodilation. During vasodilation, the muscles in your arteries and veins relax and widen.

Vasodilation is achievable by:

  • Blocking calcium from entering blood vessel walls (preventing the constriction of the blood vessels) OR
  • Acting directly on the vessel walls (actively dilating the blood vessels)

Vasodilation also helps improve blood flow due to the lower vascular resistance and elevated cardiac output. The body is capable of naturally optimizing vasodilation to function regularly. However, some health issues require vasodilators to better control blood flow.

Most often, vasodilators are used to treat cardiovascular conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) and vasodilation can lower blood pressure.

What’s The Difference Between Vasodilation And Vasoconstriction?

Vasodilation is the process in which your blood vessels dilate and widen. Vasoconstriction is the exact opposite process in which your blood vessels constrict and narrow.

This restricts your blood flow and elevates your blood pressure. Situations in which this is critical is when someone is known to have low blood pressure (hypotension).

Vasodilation Vs Vasoconstriction

What Causes Vasodilation?

  • Exercise:
    Exercising causes your muscles to burn up energy and nutrients in the cells while increasing carbon dioxide levels in the muscles. Higher carbon dioxide levels result in vasodilation which supplies the muscle tissue with the oxygenated blood and nutrients that are needed.
  • Consuming Alcohol:
    Consuming alcohol can speed up vasodilation. It’s the reason we feel warm and flush while drinking.
  • External Temperature:
    The external temperature affects the vasodilation process. Higher external temperatures can cause the body to redirect more blood to the skin to help dissipate the heat.
  • Inflammation:
    The body causes vasodilation that increases blood flow to certain areas when some injuries, conditions or diseases cause inflammations. The increase in blood flow to the area is also why we notice the inflamed skin becoming red and feeling warm.
  • Vasodilators:
    Some medications and supplements contain ingredients that promote vasodilation. Most vasodilators are designed to prevent, treat or improve the symptoms of high blood pressure, and heart failure.

When Do Doctor’s Prescribe Vasodilators?

Prescription grade vasodilators are different from OTC vasodilators as they work quickly and come with some potent effects.

Most people don’t require prescription vasodilators. Taking them without a doctor’s consent may cause potential side effects. 
As for prescription vasodilators, doctors prescribe these to patients who have or are at risk of:
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure
  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
  • Eclampsia (high blood pressure during childbirth)
  • Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs’ arteries)

Drugs That Promote Vasodilation:

  • Hydralazine:
    This type of drug is the most common vasodilator that dilates the blood vessels by relaxing the muscles in the blood vessels.
  • ACE Inhibitors:
    This type of drug inhibits an enzyme from producing angiotensin II which is required to constrict blood vessels and raise blood pressure.
  • Minoxidil:
    This type of drug provides the effects of vasodilation but is more popular because of its ability to promote hair growth (like with Rogaine).

Vasodilation Drugs

What Are The Potential Side Effects Of Vasodilation?

  • Headache
  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Joint pain
  • Flushing
  • Dizziness
  • Nasal congestion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Edema (fluid retention)
  • Nausea
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Swelling around the eyes
Note that most people don’t experience these side effects when using non-prescription vasodilators.

However, prescription vasodilators may be potent enough to cause these side effects in those who are taking the medication off-script.

Is Vasodilation Safe For Those With Low Blood Pressure?

Hypotension is when you have low blood pressure.

Vasodilation Can Be Dangerous For Those With Hypotension

Those with this condition should be careful around medication and supplements that cause vasodilation. This is because vasodilation can cause a drop in their blood pressure, which is already on the lower side and has a tendency to drop as well.

When blood pressure gets abnormally low, people can experience dizziness, nausea, and fainting. In fact, not taken care of the situation promptly may cause brain damage or coma.

Other than your body’s tendency to be hypotensive, blood loss, severe infection, dehydration, and anaphylaxis can also lead to hypotension.

What Are The Benefits Of Vasodilators In Supplements?

  • Lower Blood Pressure:
    BP medication and supplements are effective because of vasodilators.
  • Combats Erectile Dysfunction:
    Vasodilators are proven to be effective at combating ED in male enhancement supplements.
  • Promotes Hair Growth:
    Supplements with vasodilators allow more blood flow to the scalp, improving hair follicle health and promote hair growth.
  • Helps Manage Type II Diabetes:
    Vasodilators help promote healthy blood flow with those with type II diabetes, promoting better blood glucose control.
  • Reduces Muscle Soreness:
    Studies have shown vasodilators capable of reducing muscle soreness by up to 40%.
  • Improve Workout Performance:
    L-Arginine and L-Citrulline are popular in performance-boosting supplements due to their benefits in vasodilation.

Vasodilation Promotes Workout Performance

Do You Need To Take Any Precautions Before Taking Vasodilators?

While vasodilation due to OTC supplements is generally safe, you should talk to your doctor before taking any prescription vasodilators.

It’s also a good idea to talk to your doctor in case any of your current medication may cause an adverse reaction with the vasodilator you are considering. You should also let your dentist know when you are on a vasodilator.

It’s also important for women who are pregnant or plan to get pregnant to let their doctor know before taking vasodilators.

This is because some of these drugs can have negative effects on unborn babies. The vasodilator can also be passed to the breastfeeding child too, which is also something you need to consult the doctor about.

Be sure not to self-medicate in case you have high blood pressure as vasodilators don’t cure this condition but only give you the ability to control and manage your high blood pressure.

Vasodilators can also cause some people to feel dizzy, so take care while driving or operating heavy machinery when on this medication.

And if you need medication that causes vasodilation, you may have to avoid drinking alcohol. While alcohol is a vasodilator, the medication may negatively react with the alcohol causing unexpected results.

Doctors don’t usually prescribe vasodilators for most under 18s. In fact, under 18s should avoid both the prescription and non-prescription variants of vasodilators.

What Are The Foods That Promote Vasodilation?

  • Ginger:
    This medicinal root is clinically proven to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, inhibit ACE, and reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Onions:
    This vegetable contains flavonoid antioxidants that have shown to boost blood flow and dilate the arteries.
  • Pomegranate:
    The nitrates and polyphenol antioxidants in Pomegranate are potent vasodilators that are proven to boost blood vessel diameter, blood flow, and workout performance.
  • Cayenne Pepper:
    The phytochemical capsaicin in Cayenne pepper is proven to boost nitric oxide levels, promoting vasodilation and blood flow to the muscles.
  • Beets:
    This vegetable is a well-researched nitric oxide booster and has been proven to lower blood pressure and blood vessel inflammation.

Vasodilation Is Promoted By Eating Beets

Note that there are a lot more foods that are beneficial for promoting blood flow, lower blood pressure, and support healthy vasodilation. Some of these include caffeine, dark chocolate, salmon, tomatoes, grape seed, and berries.

Final Word On Vasodilation:

Vasodilation is part of the regular functioning of the human body. You can support it by eating the right foods and taking the right supplements.

Vasodilators are also beneficial for controlling blood sugar levels and stabilizing conditions like high blood pressure.

And along with the health benefits, vasodilation also allows men and women to improve their workout performance and maximize their body’s potential.


About Mikael Gomez

Mikael is a health nutrition expert and loves mountain biking. Mikael started his health product research journey in 2016 and still loves doing it. Apart from spending time on his study, research & literature, he plays basketball regularly and is a fitness freak. Follow Mikael on Linkedin