Triamterene is a potassium-sparing diuretic (in other words, it inhibits the urinary excretion of potassium). Diuretics increase urinary water loss from the body and are used to treat high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, and some kidney or liver conditions. Triamterene is available as a single agent and in combination products.
A review of the research literature indicates that triamterene may increase calcium loss.1 The importance of this information is unclear.
Herbs that have a diuretic effect should be avoided when taking diuretic medications, as they may enhance the effect of these drugs and lead to possible cardiovascular side effects. These herbs include dandelion, uva ursi, juniper, buchu, cleavers, horsetail, and gravel root.2
Use buckthorn (Rhamnus catartica, Rhamnus frangula, Frangula alnus) or alder buckthorn for more than ten days consecutively may cause a loss of electrolytes (especially the mineral potassium). Medications that also cause potassium loss, such as some diuretics, should be used with caution when taking buckthorn or alder buckthorn.3
Preliminary research in animals suggests that triamterene may inhibit the urinary excretion of magnesium.4 It is unknown if this same effect would occur in humans. Persons taking more than 300 mg of magnesium per day and triamterene should consult with a doctor as this combination may lead to potentially dangerous increases in the level of magnesium in the body. The combination of triamterene and hydrochlorothiazide would likely eliminate this problem, as hydrochlorothiazide may deplete magnesium.
Triamterene is a weak folic acid antagonist that has been associated with folic acid-deficiency anemia in people already at risk for folic acid deficiency.5 However, people treated long term with triamterene, without additional risk for folic acid deficiency, were found to have normal folic acid levels and no signs of folic acid deficiency.6 The use of multivitamin supplements containing folic acid appears to diminish the occurrence of birth defects associated with triamterene. According to one study,7 pregnant women who took folic acid–containing multivitamin supplements in addition to their prescription drugs had fewer babies with heart defects and deformities of the upper lip and mouth.
One study showed that people taking diuretics for more than six months had dramatically lower blood levels of folic acid and higher levels of homocysteine compared with individuals not taking diuretics.8 Homocysteine, a toxic amino acid byproduct, has been associated with atherosclerosis. Until further information is available, people taking diuretics for longer than six months should probably supplement with folic acid.
As a potassium-sparing drug, triamterene reduces urinary loss of potassium, which can lead to elevated potassium levels.9 People taking triamterene should avoid potassium supplements, potassium-containing salt substitutes (Morton Salt Substitute, No Salt, Lite Salt, and others) and even high-potassium foods (primarily fruit). Doctors should monitor potassium blood levels in patients taking triamterene to prevent problems associated with elevated potassium levels.
However, some medications (for example, Dyazide, Maxzide) contain the combination of the potassium-sparing drug triamterene and the potassium-depleting drug hydrochlorothiazide. With the use of these combination medications, potassium excess and potassium depletion are both possible. People taking these drugs should have their potassium levels monitored by a doctor to determine whether their potassium intake should be increased, reduced, or kept the same.
Diuretics, including triamterene, cause increased loss of sodium in the urine. By removing sodium from the body, diuretics also cause water to leave the body. This reduction of body water is the purpose of taking diuretics. Therefore, there is usually no reason to replace lost sodium, although strict limitation of salt intake in combination with the actions of diuretics can sometimes cause excessive sodium depletion. On the other hand, people who restrict sodium intake and in the process reduce blood pressure may need to have their dose of diuretics lowered. People taking triamterene should talk with their prescribing doctor before severely restricting salt.
1. Werbach WR. Foundations of Nutritional Medicine. Tarzana, CA: Third Line Press, 1997, 246 [review].
2. Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Institute, 1997, 102–3.
3. European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP). Frangulae cortex, frangula bark. Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter, Centre for Complementary Health Studies, 1997.
4. Devane J, Ryan MP. The effects of amiloride and triamterene on urinary magnesium excretion in conscious saline-loaded rats. Br J Pharmacol 1981;72:285–9.
5. Jackson EK. Diuretics. In Goodman & Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, 9th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1996, 706.
6. Mason JB, Zimmerman J, Otradovec CL, et al. Chronic diuretic therapy with moderate doses of triamterene is not associated with folate deficiency. J Lab Clin Med 1991;117:365–9.
7. Hernández-Díaz S, Werler MM, Walker AM, Mitchell AA. Folic acid antagonists during pregnancy and the risk of birth defects. N Engl J Med 2000;343:1608–14.
8. Morrow LE, Grimsley EW. Long-term diuretic therapy in hypertensive patients: effects on serum homocysteine, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and red blood cell folate concentrations. South Med J 1999;92:866–70.
9. Jackson PR, Ramsay LE, Wakefield V. Relative potency of spironolactone, triamterene and potassium chloride in thiazide-induced hypokalaemia. Br J Clin Pharmacol 1982;14:257–63.
Last Review: 02-05-2013
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