The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1134: Can You Control Your Blood Pressure Without Drugs?

New guidelines define many more Americans as having high blood pressure. Medications to treat it may have side effects. Can you lower your blood pressure naturally?
Male doctor & female patient measuring her blood pressure
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Can You Control Your Blood Pressure Without Drugs?

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High blood pressure is an important risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. A recent change in guidelines urges doctors to treat people whose blood pressure would not have been considered particularly high a few years ago. (Here is a link to the guidelines, published in March 2018.) Most of the time, that treatment consists of prescription medications, all of which have some potential side effects. Is there a different way? The European Society of Cardiology and European Society of Hypertension have just published their new guidelines. Unlike the American medical societies, the Europeans declined to lower the threshold for treatment. It remains at 140/90 for most patients.

The Relaxation Response:

One approach that works very well for some people with hypertension is termed the relaxation response. Though it requires regular practice, people who use it can often control their blood pressure without medication. If they need medicine, they may be able to take less. What is the relaxation response, and how can you benefit?

Sitting in a Sauna:

In Finland, many people use a sauna bath as part of their routine. It even fits into their social life. Research reveals that regular sauna use can help lower blood pressure. Would that work for you?

This Week’s Guests:

Dr. Katy Bell is an National Health and Medical Research Council Senior Research Fellow in Public Health in the School of Public Health at The University of Sydney School of Medicine. That is in Sydney, Australia. Her website is here. Her article on the benefits and harms of the 2017 US guidelines for blood pressure was published in JAMA Internal Medicine (June 2018).

Randall Zusman, MD, is the Director of the Division of Hypertension at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Corrigan Minehan Heart Center and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. The telephone number for the Benson-Henry Mind Body Institute that offers relaxation response training is 617-643-6090. His article on changes in gene expression resulting from the relaxation response was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, May 2018. (The ScienceDaily report on this research is here.) His previous study on the effectiveness of the relaxation response was published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in March 2008.

Jari Laukkanen, MD, PhD, is a cardiologist and head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Eastern Finland and Central Finland Health Care District. His research on sauna bathing and high blood pressure was published in the American Journal of Hypertension in November, 2017. The research on sauna reducing the risks of Alzheimer disease was published in Age and Ageing in March, 2017. His recent review of the health effects of sauna bathing was published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (August 2018).

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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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    Learn about pros and cons of the various medicines used to lower blood pressure, as well as multiple non-drug approaches to blood pressure control such as diet, supplements and special foods.

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    I would like to know what essential he used for bringing down blood pressure

    Use HAWTHORN, it is a berry, natural and NO side effects. Good luck!

    there is nothing more irratating than the medical commercials on tv. endless endless, practically every time there is a commercial, its on medications. there really should be something we can do about it, why dont we all scream at the networks, drown them with our letters and our voices, not just complain like we are doing right now by sharing our thoughts,

    One of the guests, while discussing the usually poor techniques used for taking blood pressure, made a statement like this, “If your systolic number is 170 or more, never mind whether the technique was good or bad…you have hypertension and you should start on meds immediately!”

    Horse radish.

    I was to the doc just a few days ago, and when the tech took my BP, it was like 170//94. I insisted it be taken again before I left, and that time it was 134/83. That sort of thing often happens to me, while at home my usual results are lower 120s over high 70s or low 80s.

    Before letting anybody push you onto BP meds, insist that the measurement be done carefully by someone who knows how.

    I agree. Recently I got stung by a wasp (I’m allergic) so I road my motorcycle to the closest Urgent Care facility. They took my BP which was 160/85. This was flagged on the charts as being dangerously high. Gees, wonder if the sting, ride, and rush to take my BP had anything to do with it? When the doctor came into the exam room he was ready to put me on meds. I told him I take my blood pressure at home and it is normally much, much lower. Same happened to my wife as she hurried into the office and they immediately took her BP which was high. I also take hers at home and it normally is much lower. So here are two other cases of improperly taking blood pressure that could have resulted in more meds. When will this ever end?

    I do not smoke, not overweight, get exercise daily, eat healthy and yet have high blood pressure at times of mild stress — especially in the doctor’s office. He is a good Dr. who wants me to live a long healthy life. Like most doctors, his answer is pills. I get pill side effects like most people so have avoided BP pills after a short trial period. Recently I have found deep breathing exercises such as RESPeRATE describes, but without buying their equipment, to reduce my BP way more then pills or things like hibiscus tea and beets. And it costs nothing. I am still experimenting how frequently and how long to do these exercises before I educate my Doctor. I would like to see Peoples Pharmacy study and report on this a little more.

    I’m trying hard to reduce my blood pressure readings, Dr. has stop my medication as i had a terrible itchy skin reaction. I now listen to tapes on how to relax, follow the idea of deep breathing. Very interested to know how many cups of Hibiscus tea is safe to drink a day,and is it taken hot or cold? Wishing you all a healthy blood pressure reading.

    Hibiscus Tea brought my BP down to normal. I just had to cut out a couple of cups of coffee daily. No biggie.

    I’d rather drink a few cups of Hibiscus Tea than take Lisinopril.

    added to my diet: Beet root juice or pills; Hershey’s cocoa in my coffee and a cup of Pomegranate juice daily. This is in addition to my low dose medication

    I am slowly weaning myself from blood pressure meds by taking fish oil. I’m 76 years old and now my blood pressure is around 125/60

    I’ve valvular heart disease since childhood which cause A-fib in my middle years which over time had a great deal to do with my high blood pressure. At first my cardiologist put me on a Beta Blocker which zombified me to the extent that I mixed up doses of blood thinners. Now I take a Calcium Channel Blocker which does more to address the irregular heartbeat than blood pressure. I began taking hawthorn as a tincture to reduce high BP. It took some doing to get the dose right, but gradually the numbers came down. Now I take a hawthorn supplement. I no longer need an Ace Inhibitor to reduce my blood pressure.

    Like Ed in Florida, I too, am so tired of hearing, “ask your doctor” –but for a different reason. I see this statement preferred for even the most innocuous advice about exercise, aspirin, drinking tea! The fact is, so many insurers are cutting back on what is covered, a visit to the doctor is more expensive than it used to be — if you’re too young for Medicare you may be paying a hefty out-of-pocket fee. Whatever happened to common sense? If my parents had used their own common sense, they would have avoided Simvastatin and other drugs with severe side effects–which their doctors urged upon them.

    And so we wonder why the cost of health care in the U.S. is higher per capita than in the rest of the developed world, yet the quality of our health care is worse. It couldn’t possibly be because of overdiagnosis, overtreatment, and iatrogenic harm, could it?

    A most fascinating and thought provoking program.

    Hypothesis1: The relaxation response, sauna, red teas, diet, exercise, plant based diets…..etc help to control blood pressure by favorably adjusting REDOX BALANCE that is, to a great degree determined by the balance between the upregulation and/or downregulation of two nuclear factors: NF-kB and Nrf2 – upregulated NF-kB more likely to cause vasoconstriction due to increased “oxidative stress” and upregulated Nrf2 more likely to cause vasodilatation due to decreased “oxidative stress”.

    Hypothesis2: The addition of a chronotherapeutic application of the relaxation response and sauna to a blood pressure treatment regimen will considerably improve the anti-hypertensive and other effects of the relaxation response and sauna
    Hypothesis3: The addition of OTC’s (as melatonin) and prescription drugs (as Salsalate) to the relaxation response and sauna will significantly increase the anti-hypertensive effects of The Relaxation Response and Sauna because of their favorable effects on NF-kB and Nrf2 regulation.

    Hypothesis4: There should be favorable effects of The Relaxation Response and Sauna on vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, resistance to toxin carcinogenesis, carcinogenesis itself, wound healing, onset of diabetes, onset of diabetes complications, sudden death, development of LVH / Cardiomyopathy / Congestive Heart Failure (preceded by decreases in Cardiac Output & increase in Systemic Vascular Resistance that has a distinct diurnal pattern), inflammation induced heart disease (as caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis & Psoriasis), chronic inflammation caused cancers as in Ulcerative Colitis & colon cancer, the A to Z symptomatology of menopausal transition, mood changes and dysmenorrhea associated in some with menstrual flow, recurrent miscarriages, premature births, small for dates babies, post-partum depression, exacerbation potential of Bipolar disorder, the cognitive decline seen in Schizophrenia, the decreased social interactional skills of those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, the risk of developing ASD, the intensity of chronic pain (that is dependent on Redox Balance), neurodegenerative disease status, the outcomes of traumatic brain injuries (TBI’s), the occurrence of depression in CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), the intensity of anxiety and depression in general, racial disparities in outcomes, especially in the USA of African American Men, the intensity of an influenza pandemic…..etc…..etc…..etc where Redox Imbalance and vascular dysregulation is causing pathophysiology which is actually in 1000’s of disease states.

    Hypothesis4: The above hypotheses can be best tested in the USA along a band of counties starting in lower Missouri and extending down both sides of the Mississippi River to New Orleans BECAUSE that is where the most ominous cardiovascular outcomes exist and where there are the widest gaps in achievable outcomes. There would have to be a placebo group of counties included in such as “randomized controlled trial” because the implementation of organized attention to outcomes of a population could have a placebo effect of all populations so studied.

    Hi, I’ve had HBP for 51 years and have taken meds for it. It stayed at 170/70mmhg after 4 meds which I increased to 7 or 8 meds with no change to the 170/70 mmhg! I cleaned out my kidneys with lemonade and my HBP is now 138/80. I’m no longer on any meds! There’s a pee in the bottle test to see if you need diuretics. Range is 800 to 2000 mls/day. If your in the range, you probably don’t need diuretics. See Md.

    Re: the pharmaceutical companies being behind the new guidelines, I totally recommend reading the book: Selling Sickness: How the World’s Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients written by Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels. Has lots of very interesting details!

    I happily saw my usually ‘way too high blood pressure lowered to 130/68 in the doctor’s office where white coat syndrome also contributes to the high numbers. The only change I had made was to add hibiscus tea to my usual glasses of iced tea that I drink during the day. When I make tea each day, I put one teabag of regular tea and one teabag of hibiscus tea in water that is just at the boiling point, turn off the heat, put the lid on the pot and let it steep for about an hour before pouring it up.

    My next step is a Tai Chi class to help with balance, stress reduction, and mind control. This is great for me because, at age 75, I am running two very active community organizations, one of which has become somewhat politicized and carries a lot of both weight and pressure. Being able to reduce my blood pressure meds is wonderful.

    Why is there so little news report (compared to cancer) about research on how to improve the cardiac components/defects that result in a diagnosis of the poorly-name condition called heart failure, and the only recently-announced medication to counter it, called Entresto? Claims for it (of rolling the adverse effects of heart failure back nine years) run the danger of ‘sounding too good to be true’, which some physicians also question. Where does the public turn to find unembellished health reporting?

    Carditone from Ayush Herbs works for 90% of my patients. Hawthorn is also very helpful

    I would like to see all the advertisements for drugs and medical devices banned from TV. I am so darn tired of hearing some voice say, tell your doctor, call your doctor and ask your doctor. My doctors do not favor these adverts either so one of these days someone will listen and get rid of them. They are especially annoying at meal times. The advertising business these days is just as sick as is TV itself is.

    Greetings Ed;
    We solved the TV problem by ‘Cord Cutting’…
    We live a much simpler life without watching the evening ‘crime report’…
    It might even help lower our blood pressure by not having to worry about
    all the things that are so destabilizing…
    We saved over $100/mo on the cable bill, and now we just watch about 2 hours of steaming, and go to bed early @ 10 pm for a good nights sleep and rest…

    I have recently gotten off of one of my high blood pressure meds by using essential oils. I am still on one BP med, but am hoping to not have to take it one of these days.

    I have successfully used a devise called Resp e Rate (TM), in which helps you breathe deeply for about 15 minutes to music tones that guide you in maintaining a slow, even breath rate. When used as directed it apparently has been clinically proven to lower blood pressure, which is true in my case. Very easy, affordable and helpful for me…..

    With our doctor’s OK I took my husband off of Lisinopril and started him on Hawthorn for his blood pressure. It took a couple of weeks to stabilize, but now his blood pressure is even better than it was on the drug. He is taking 1000 mg. with each meal, but of course everyone’s situation could be different.

    Of course The European Society of Cardiology and European Society of Hypertension did not lower their guidelines for treating hypertension with medication! They are not as controlled by big Pharma like the good ol USA is! I have come off of my blood pressure medication and slowly kept my blood pressure within the 140/90 range by a series of natural methods…breathing techniques to control stress and anxiety, the use of cinnamon and essential oils, by drinking plenty of water. I am now medicine free (no more anti-depressants either) for the first time in almost 15 years. I feel awesome and will not go back to supporting pharmaceutical companies.

    Yay for you!

    Stella, Yes! good for you! That’s how we do it. By continuing to make strides toward a healthy heart lifestyle taking on the good and eliminating the bad we ( you and we) can get it to a runner’s heart rate. I wonder what a quote, unquote natural heart rate is.

    Great news. Transmit to others also to get benefit.

    Bravo me, too! It used to be illegal before the FDA fell into the pockets of Big Pharma! The FDA is who we must go after and all the senators and congressmen who accept large contributions from Big Pharma and blindly follow their lead.

    I’m interested in how you did that!

    Hmmm… seems Europe has not jumped on ” new guidelines ” on more than one topic. I’m wondering if it isn’t because pharmaceutical companies have a good deal less control over the practice of medicine over there. Let’s see… big pharma advertises to the public, seems to have a GREAT deal of power and influence in D. C. and at the FDA, funds medical schools, (thereby influencing what’s taught there), and offers powerful financial incentives to Dr.s and medical facilities. Perhaps these “new guidelines” are really about a great deal more money. Maybe it’s just me, but I think if say 80+ % of people need drugs to achieve the goal, the goal may be unrealistic or perhaps just wrong.

    Has anyone done study on health impact TV shows like soap operas or high action thrillers movies like Psycho . Such entertainment that viewers get emotionally involved with . Some Veterans have benefited from viewing war movies while others react negatively . Reason I ask is that personally I find classical music places myself in a meditative state so it has me thinking we can over stimulate ourselves with entertainment .

    Our biology takes over and we want to react to what we see and hear. . A recording of a baby crying is easy to demonstrate instinctive response . Hope my rambling makes sense.Seriously I wonder how the angst on social media platforms is affecting our health. People can express rage and the pattern can not be good yet it gets addictive. just my humble observation stimulation the question of health impact. Thank for providing well reasoned information coupled with home spun advice

    In most cases (not all, but most) when you lose weight, the blood pressure goes down. Your BMI should be in the 19 or 20 range. This is very rare so we have a nation with hypertension, heart attacks and strokes. The body is not made to be fat. But most Americans are because food is their major recreation and nothing will change that.

    Yes, something can change that (fat people in the USA) The medical society fell for the hype by the sugar industry who wrongly told people to stay away from fat and eat sugar and flour (carbs) instead. This is why we are fat, because we were told the wrong thing.

    I lowered my blood pressure by natural means. I’m not a doctor and I’m not advising other readers do this, without talking with your doctor. I’m 78 and my only med is a beta blocker, 12.5 mg twice a day for years. Because of reading Pulitzer Prize winner Dr. Louis Ignarro’s book and studies on L-Arginine, an amino acid that expands blood vessels, I have experimented with introducing this supplement in one gram doses until I reached the desired amount. By desired amount, I mean taking my BP and keeping a log of the reading before and 1/2 hour after taking L-Arginine. I have leveled off at one gram 3 x daily. My BP responds considerably, both diastolic and systolic, 1/2 hour after taking. Therefore, I was able to reduce my beta blocker to 12.5 once a day, which I choose to take in the evening before bedtime.

    I also take 200 mg of Magnesium Citrate morning and evening, as an extra support to relaxing nerves and muscles.

    In addition, I do deep slow breathing and sitting quieting in meditation at least twice a day. It’s a nice break in calming my mind and spirit. A few years ago, I took a week-end training with Herbert Benson and staff in Boston and learned much about The Relaxation Response, the title of his book. Reading it is almost as helpful as traveling to Boston and paying quite a bit.

    Of course it is important to enjoy a healthy diet and at least take a daily walk and some enjoyable forms of exercise. My cardiologist tells me most of his patients just “want to take a pill”. So he is totally supportive of my personal efforts to have good hearth health even though he doesn’t prescribe/advise supplements. No doubt because of the requirements of the system he works under. I hope that changes in the future!

    Regular I take of red hibiscus tea has lowered my blood pressure…..

    Arjuna does it for me.

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