Do you have hypertension? The chances are strong that you do. That’s because cardiologists at the American Heart Association have established new guidelines. Anyone whose blood pressure readings are above 130/80 is now considered hypertensive (American College of Cardiology, Nov. 13, 2017). That means one out of every two adults has high blood pressure, or more than 100 million Americans. Can you lower high blood pressure naturally?
Why Should You Lower High Blood Pressure?
There’s one simple answer: high blood pressure kills people. Maybe not right away, but over the long term hypertension increases the chance that a person will have a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease or dementia.
Hypertension wreaks havoc with the body. Arteries are gradually damaged and weakened. That increases the risk for aneurysms and other blood vessel mischief. It’s hardly any wonder that physicians would want to help their patients avoid such disastrous consequences. What’s the best way to avoid or control high blood pressure?
Rounding Up The Usual Suspects:
Well-meaning health professionals often suggest the following lifestyle changes:
- Lose weight
- Exercise at least 3 to 4 times a week
- Don’t smoke
- Drink alcohol in moderation (if at all)
- Eat lots of veggies
- Avoid salt
- Keep caffeine to a minimum
- Stay calm and avoid stress
Making Progress is Hard:
You’ve heard all that before. Such recommendations are reasonable, but hard to implement. A person in a high-stress job may find it challenging to stay calm. Losing weight is incredibly difficult for almost everyone, including many doctors. And avoiding salt may not be as productive as most public health authorities think (see this link).
Most medical clinics do not provide practical support to help patients lose weight, exercise, quit smoking, eat healthy food or learn the relaxation response. As a result, doctors get frustrated when patients come back six months or a year later without having made much, if any, progress. A frequent response is to write a prescription for an anti-hypertensive medication.
Drugs to Lower High Blood Pressure:
There are dozens of drugs to control hypertension. Some work better than others. It is hard to predict which medication will be best for any given person. As a result it is often a trial and error process.
Virtually all medications to control hypertension have side effects. We have heard from thousands of patients over the last 40+ years. They report unexpected complications from a variety of antihypertensive medications. Here are some links:
Hydrochlorothiazide (HCT, HCTZ) Stories:
Are There Nondrug Ways to Lower High Blood Pressure?
A surprising number of nondrug approaches may help get hypertension under control. Some health care professionals might be surprised to learn that there is science to support many of these strategies.
People in Finland and other Scandinavian countries are devoted to their sauna baths. Rather than seeing this as a luxury, they use the sauna for hygiene and social interaction as well as for health.
A study of Finnish men showed that those who visit the sauna regularly (four to seven times weekly) are only about half as likely to develop high blood pressure as those who go only once a week (American Journal of Hypertension, Nov. 1, 2017).
Breathing to Lower High Blood Pressure:
No sauna bath handy? You can also lower your blood pressure with slow breathing or meditation. People who hate the idea of meditating may find the RESPeRATE device that helps pace respiration is useful (Journal of the American Society of Hypertension, Jan. 2015). Practicing the relaxation response can also help bring blood pressure down to normal (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, May 2018).
Hibiscus and Tart Cherries to Lower High Blood Pressure:
What you sip can also help with blood pressure. Hibiscus tea, made from red Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers, can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure about as much as common medications (Journal of Hypertension, June, 2015).
Hibiscus works through a classic mechanism. It inhibits angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). This is the way commonly prescribed blood pressure medicines such as lisinopril work. In one study, hibiscus tea lowered ACE as well as lisinopril (Indian Journal of Pharmacology, Sep-Oct. 2015).
Tart cherry juice works through an identical mechanism (Food Chemistry, June 30, 2018). In one study, volunteers drank two cups of tart cherry juice or a placebo beverage daily. Those drinking cherry juice significantly lowered both their systolic blood pressure and their LDL cholesterol (Food & Function, June 20, 2018).
Beet Juice For Hypertension:
Another beverage that has been well studied is beet juice. A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension (Oct. 2016) found that a cup of raw beet juice daily significantly lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure. It also lowered markers of inflammation and improved blood vessel flexibility.
Chocolate for High Blood Pressure?
Perhaps the tastiest nondrug approach to lowering blood pressure is dark chocolate. One study found that people eating a bit less than an ounce of high-potency dark chocolate a day lowered their blood pressure significantly (ARYA Atherosclerosis, Jan. 2015).
There are many ways to lower blood pressure with and without medications. If nondrug strategies are inadequate, doctors can choose from a wide range of effective antihypertensive medications.
You can learn more about nondrug approaches to controlling hypertension in our Guide to Blood Pressure Treatment. It describes numerous foods, herbs and supplements that can help keep your numbers where they belong.
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Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. You can also download free podcasts of the show. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. You can e-mail them via their Web site:
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