Doctors spent a good part of the past year debating among themselves what is the ideal blood pressure that people should strive for. An important clinical trial called SPRINT (for Systolic blood PRessure INtervention Trial) revealed that people who were treated intensively to bring systolic blood pressure down to no more than 120 were 25 percent less likely to experience a heart attack or stroke. However, they were more likely to suffer side effects such as fainting, dizziness, low blood pressure, electrolyte imbalance and kidney problems (New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 26, 2015).
Lowering systolic blood pressure aggressively in older individuals has been shown to increase the risk of cognitive decline, something no senior wants to contend with (JAMA Internal Medicine, April, 2015). But that is when the blood pressure is controlled with multiple medications. It is likely that keeping blood pressure at a reasonable level with dietary approaches is much less likely to have undesirable consequences.
Hibiscus Tea and Blood Pressure:
Q. I have started drinking hibiscus tea. The last time I went to the doctor, my blood pressure was 10 points lower. I hate taking pills, and was pleased when my doctor said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep it up!”
A. Tea made from the beautiful red flowers of Hibiscus sabdariffa is valued all around the world. In the Caribbean it is called sorrel and in Mexico it is agua de Jamaica.
How Hibiscus Tea Controls Blood Pressure:
A review of studies notes that daily consumption of hibiscus flower tea lowers blood pressure about as well as the medication captopril (Fitoterapia, March, 2013). A more recent study in Nigeria found that it worked as well as lisinopril (Indian Journal of Pharmacology, Sep-Oct., 2015). That may be because red compounds in this tea (anthocyanins) inhibit an enzyme (ACE) in a similar manner to many popular antihypertensive medicines (including captopril and lisinopril) (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Jan. 8, 2010).
Another study suggests, however, that the main way hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure is by relaxing the lining of the blood vessels (Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, June 2014). Such an effect on the endothelium (blood vessel lining) is also responsible for the ability of both beets and cocoa polyphenols to reduce blood pressure.
Here is what one reader reports:
“Besides having the medicinal properties mentioned, this is a most refreshing beverage, either hot or cold. Called Sorrel in Jamaica, Rosella in other Caribbean islands and Flor de Jamaica in México, the dried petals are readily available all year round and the drink easily prepared. My favourite is cold with a touch of ginger and sweetened to taste, usually served during the Christmas season, when the plant flowers and the fresh petals can be collected.”
Carol points out that hibiscus is readily available in two popular teas that can be found in nearly any supermarket:
“Anything to help improve our health without drugs is a great thing to know about! I have tried Red Zinger and Lemon Zinger and wondered why it made me feel better. Now I know.”