Blood pressure-lowering drugs save lives. They also have side effects like nausea, dizziness, fatigue, agitation, thinning hair, dry mouth, and constipation.
Taking medications is one way to treat hypertension, but they’ve done little to reduce the number of people with high blood pressure. Dietary and lifestyle changes are other treatments which have been shown to work, but not for everybody and sometimes just not enough.
It’s easier to prevent hypertension than to treat it, and easier to take a pill than to change your habits. But to see results, diet, exercise, stress reduction techniques, and supplements all need to be a part of your blood pressure-lowering program.
Tune Up Your Diet
As you know, a healthy diet helps lower blood pressure. It consists of plenty of vegetables, easily digested vegetarian proteins and fish; whole grains; and fresh fruits. Keep your animal protein low except for fish, which contains beneficial essential fats.
The whole grains are important for some people. Researchers recently took nearly 29,000 women aged 45 or older who had no history of heart disease or hypertension and followed them for 10 years. Here’s what they found: There was no association between eating refined grains and high blood pressure.
However, they did find a correlation with eating whole grains. The women who ate the highest quantity of whole grains had a reduced risk for high blood pressure.
So while eating white flour and white rice might not raise your blood pressure, eating more brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and whole grain breads and crackers could help prevent hypertension. And, in doing so, it lowers your risk for heart disease. This is good news during the holiday season.
Make Lifestyle Changes
If you’re not exercising, begin today. People who don’t exercise consistently have a 35 percent greater risk for hypertension than people who do. Start with a 10-minute walk every day and increase your time until you’re walking 30-60 minutes, six days a week. Be gentle, but persistent with yourself. If you don’t feel like walking for half an hour or more, walk for 10 minutes rather than skip a day.
Lowering stress will most often lower your blood pressure. Deep breathing exercises, stretching or gentle yoga, relaxation and visualization techniques, and meditation are all ways to reduce stress. Integrate some form of stress reduction into your daily regime.
Forgiveness can lower your blood pressure, according to Dick Tibetts, head researcher of a study recently conducted at Florida Hospital in Orlando. A group of hypertension patients took an eight-week forgiveness training program. The control group did nothing. At the end of the study, the patients who took the forgiveness training had lower blood pressure than the control group. The greatest reductions occurred in people who began the program with a lot of anger. Forgive people who have hurt you, and forgive yourself.
Vitamins, minerals, and other supplements
Magnesium is one of the most important nutrients you can take because it dilates (opens up) and relaxes your blood vessels. In one study, low magnesium was the strongest predictor for hypertension out of 61 dietary factors. Begin taking at least 400-600 mg of supplemental magnesium a day along with a diet high in magnesium-rich foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
Low magnesium often means low potassium. Eat plenty of high-potassium foods – two to four servings of vegetables and fruits a day.
Excess calcium can also contribute to hypertension. Keep your total calcium intake from supplements and diet to 600-800 mg/day. A typical high-potency multivitamin contains 500 mg, leaving you with just 300 mg to get from your diet — easy to get if you’re eating whole grains and green vegetables.
Vitamin C reduces hypertension. A group of people were put on a vitamin C-deficient diet for one month, followed by a high-vitamin C diet for another month. When their vitamin C was reduced, their blood pressure rose. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables. If you’re eating a lot of fresh produce, you may be getting enough vitamin C from your diet. If not, take 500 mg twice a day until you improve your diet. Orange juice is high in both vitamin C and potassium.
Essential fatty acids reduce blood pressure. These include both omega-3 (fish) and omega-6 (evening primrose and flax) oils. A combination of these fats has been found most effective in lowering blood pressure, like the fish oil, flax oil, and borage oil.
All cells need Coenzyme Q10 to help produce energy and to function. In one study, 39 percent of patients with high blood pressure were deficient in CoQ10. It helps lower blood pressure in one to three months and works indirectly by correcting a metabolic abnormality that then lowers blood pressure. In another study, over 100 patients with nine years of hypertension were given 225 mg of CoQ10 a day with their anti-hypertension medications. All were gradually able to reduce their drugs. Fifty-one percent of them completely discontinued their drug therapy in four to five months.
How to make CoQ10 even more heart protective
As good as CoQ10 is, you can make it work even better. A group of Italian researchers discovered that when you take Pycnogenol® with CoQ10, the combination strengthened the heart of 53 heart patients with mild to moderate hypertension.
The combination of Pycnogenol with CoQ10 increased blood volume output and improved physical fitness in these patients. The supplements also reduced their hypertension.
Pycnogenol is a patented extract made from the French maritime pine tree bark. It’s a recognized antioxidant that clinical studies say improves blood flow and reduces the stiffness in arteries that can lead to atherosclerosis. When it’s combined with CoQ10, it becomes even more effective.
In this study, the researchers gave patients either a placebo or 15 mg of Pycnogenol with 50 mg of CoQ10 all at once in the morning after eating. At the end of three months, the group taking the supplements had a reduction in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate. Their physical abilities improved, as well. The supplemented patients could walk more than three times longer than the control group.
But that’s not all. The patients taking these two nutrients reported an overall improved quality of life. Their edema decreased and they needed less help and medical assistance than before.
Each of these supplements has passed stringent testing in dozens of studies for heart disease. However, this study shows that when you combine them, the effect becomes stronger — just like the heart.
The following are among a number of herbs used to reduce blood pressure. Choose one or two for a three-month trial.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), used extensively in Europe for cardiovascular problems, has mild blood-pressure-lowering effects. Take 100-250 mg of an extract containing 10 percent procyanidins three times a day.
Garlic can help lower blood pressure. One study of 47 people with mild hypertension took 600 mg of a garlic powder, or a placebo, for three months. Within two months, there was a significant decrease in blood pressure for those who took garlic.
Arjuna Bark (Terminalia arjuna) is the bark of an Indian tree used in Ayurvedic medicine for a number of cardiac problems including congestive heart failure, angina, and hypertension. Patients who took 500 mg of Arjuna every eight hours for two weeks reduced blood pressure and improved other signs of heart disease.
Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) – Researchers recently published a meta-analysis of hibiscus studies in the Journal of Hypertension. The researchers were trying to synthesize the current information regarding hibiscus's effects on blood pressure. They focused on randomized controlled trials that looked at hibiscus on its own rather than comparing it to antihypertensive drugs. They were able to identify a total of five studies for the analysis that included 390 participants in all. The studies investigated hibiscus in a variety of forms, including tea, aqueous extract, and powdered extract. And the durations of the studies ranged from 15 days to six weeks.
After the analysis, the researchers determined that on average, the studies showed that hibiscus lowered systolic blood pressure by 7.58 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.53 mmHg. The higher the participant's blood pressure was to begin with, the more it dropped.
If you’re taking antihypertensive medications, don’t stop taking them. Begin to make changes in your diet, lifestyle, and supplement program that will lower your blood pressure. After you’ve made these changes for three months or more, speak with your doctor about reducing your medications. It’s easier to prevent hypertension than to treat it, but if your blood pressure is already high, it’s far safer to control it naturally. The diet, exercise, stress management, and nutrients needed to lower your blood pressure do much more. They increase your total health, as well.
Anderson, Judith, ARNP, PhD, and Cathy R. Kessenich, ARNP, DSN. “Cardiovascular disease and micronutrient therapies,” Medscape Nursing, 1(2) 2001.
Block, G. “Ascorbic acid, blood pressure, and the American diet,” Ann NY AcadSci, April 2002.
Blumenthal, Mark. “Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs,” Integrative Medicine Communications, 2000, 877-426-6633.