wellbeing-brand-logo

Inspired living

Natural ways to help lower blood pressure


Natural Ways To Help Lower Blood Pressure

Image: Brooke Lark | Unsplash

High blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, eye disease and even erectile dysfunction. It’s a serious health issue, but there are many natural and highly effective lifestyle choices to take your blood pressure down.

More than 33 per cent of adult Australians have high blood pressure, and that’s a problem because it is a serious condition with lots of consequences. High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes. It is also bad news for your eyes, kidneys and (in men) erectile function. You don’t want to leave high blood pressure unattended, but before we get on to what you can do it will help to clarify a couple of terms.

Firstly, “hypertension” is just another way of saying “high blood pressure” — the terms are interchangeable. Secondly, in talking about what can help your blood pressure we will be talking about your blood pressure reading. The typical blood pressure reading is something like 120/80. Your blood pressure is considered “high” if your reading is over 140/90. The first and higher number is your systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure when your heart is contracting to squeeze blood out into circulation. The second and lower figure is your diastolic blood pressure, which is the pressure that exists when your heart is refilling with blood between contractions. We will be talking a lot about things that will either decrease or increase your systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

So, armed with those pieces of jargon, let’s look at how you can keep your blood pressure down.

Diet

Healthier eating habits can make a big difference in controlling your blood pressure. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sodium can lower your blood pressure, and one of the benefits of healthier eating, weight loss, may also help lower or prevent high blood pressure. In general, shedding kilos, cutting down on sodium, boosting potassium intake and limiting alcohol are all proven ways to help control blood pressure. Vegetarian and other diets that emphasise fruits, vegetables and whole grains are effective in bringing these elements together and shaving points off a blood pressure reading.

Salt

Cutting down on salt intake is an important place to start with your diet. Reducing salt is so effective that it works even if you are on a healthy diet like the DASH diet. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets were developed by Harvard researchers and encourage fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods. They limit red meat, saturated fats and sweets. Research has shown that this diet lowered blood pressure, but lowering salt alone also achieved significant blood pressure-lowering effects.

Fruit and vegetables

A indicated by the DASH diet, fruit and vegetables are an important part of lowering blood pressure. Five servings of fruit or vegetables a day (where a serving is 80 grams of fruit or half a cup of cooked vegetables) for six months can cause drops of 4 points and 1.5 points in systolic and diastolic blood pressure respectively. This translates on a population level to a 17 per cent drop in the incidence of high blood pressure if everyone ate more fruit and vegetables.

Whole grains

Eating lots of whole grains could ward off high blood pressure. While refining grains removes their outer coating, whole grains retain their bran and germ, so they are richer in many nutrients and fibre. People who eat the most whole grains are the least likely to develop hypertension. It’s possible that this link exists because eating whole grains leads to less weight gain over time.

Tea

Despite its caffeine content, tea has the capacity to lower blood pressure due its flavonoids. Research has shown that people who drink two to three cups of green or oolong tea per day have a 46 per cent lower risk of developing high blood pressure than non-drinkers. This is probably due to the ability of tea flavonoids to open blood vessels. Similarly, researchers from the University Of Western Australia have shown that drinking black tea three times a day may drastically lower your systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Exercise

Exercise is absolutely central to maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Regular physical activity makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. If your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure. The evidence is that becoming more active can lower your systolic blood pressure by an average of four to nine points. That’s as good as some blood pressure medications. If your blood pressure is at a desirable level, exercise can help keep it from rising as you age. Regular exercise also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which is another important way to control blood pressure.

However, to keep your blood pressure low, you need to keep exercising. It takes about one to three months for regular exercise to have an impact on your blood pressure, and the benefits last only as long as you continue to exercise. Flexibility and strengthening exercises such as lifting weights are an important part of an overall fitness plan, but it takes aerobic activity to control high blood pressure.

Herbs

On top of your diet and exercise regime, there are herbs that can be used medicinally to lower your blood pressure.

Garlic

Research suggests that garlic might help with blood pressure by stimulating release of hydrogen sulphide from blood vessel cells, causing the blood vessels to relax and hence reducing blood pressure.

Hawthorn

Hawthorn is extensively used in herbal medicine for its heart benefits. The berries and flowers of hawthorn are rich sources of flavonoid antioxidants that have a protective effect on blood vessels. Research has shown that in cases of mild hypertension a dose of 500mg daily of hawthorn extract reduced diastolic blood pressure after 10 weeks.

Hibiscus flowers

The fruity tea made from hibiscus flowers has been found to be effective in lowering blood pressure. Hibiscus flowers are rich in flavonoids (similar to wine, chocolate, berries and other fruits).

Olive leaf

The leaves of the olive tree (Olea europea) have been used for medicinal purposes since ancient times, and modern research suggests that olive leaf extracts have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant actions. There is also evidence that the extracts have properties that could lower blood pressure.

Research has found that olive leaf tea acts on the lining of blood vessels to cause them to open and thus lower blood pressure. Apparently, olive leaf opens the arteries surrounding the heart, reduces spasm in blood vessels and relieves arrhythmia.

Supplements

Potassium, calcium and magnesium

Research shows that boosting levels of potassium in the diet may lower a person’s risk of developing high blood pressure and may decrease blood pressure in people who already have hypertension. Potassium is a chemical element and electrolyte that helps maintain the normal functioning of the heart and nervous system. It is found in foods such as bananas, melons and potatoes, so consuming the recommended five to seven servings a day of fruits and vegetables is the best way to get enough potassium. In isolated societies consuming diets low in sodium and high in fruits and vegetables, which have and therefore high levels of potassium, hypertension affects only 1 per cent of the population. In contrast, in industrialised societies, where people consume diets high in processed foods and large amounts of dietary sodium, one in three persons have hypertension.

Research also shows that diets containing at least 500 to 1000 milligrams of magnesium daily and more than 800 milligrams of calcium daily may help lower blood pressure and the risk of developing high blood pressure.

If you can’t get them through your diet, then supplements with these important minerals may be the way to go.

Omega-3 fatty acids

The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA from fish oil have been thought to lower blood pressure. It seems the omega-3 fatty acids act on channels in the cells of blood vessels that allow potassium to pass into the cells. DHA attaches to receptors on the channels causing them to open, with the net effect of causing blood vessels to relax.

Coenzyme Q10

This substance is also known as “ubiquinone” because it is in virtually every plant or animal cell, and that includes human cells. It works in the cell mitochondria to produce energy, and a lack of coenzyme Q10 has been implicated in a range of diseases from obesity to Parkinson’s disease. Although it is everywhere, lack of coenzyme Q10 can occur due to illness, dietary inadequacy and ageing. Studies have shown that supplementing at a level of 60mg of Q10 twice a day can dramatically lower blood pressure. One study showed that it led to an 18-point reduction in systolic blood pressure.

The mind link

Increasingly there is an understanding that your mind has a direct effect on your body and vice versa. Your mind and body are engaged in a continual feedback loop, so it is no surprise that your emotions and mental approach have a distinct impact on blood pressure.

A positive outlook

Having a positive outlook may lower blood pressure in older adults. Positive emotions like happiness, optimism and love all keep the nervous system in balance and reduce stress levels, which might be why they also reduce blood pressure. By contrast, of course, negative emotions can give blood pressure a boost.

Impatience

Do you eat quickly? Do you often get upset if you have to wait? Do you often feel pressured? Do you often feel pressured at the end of the day? People who say “Yes” to those questions tend to be two to three times more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who say “No”. So just finding a more patient outlook could lower your blood pressure.

Forgiveness

If you are holding anger and hostility within you, let them go; they are pushing your blood pressure up. This has been shown in a range of studies, and conversely if you can let your anger go and forgive in the process you will actually lower your blood pressure.

Lifestyle considerations

In addition to exercise there a few options that you can consider to get your blood pressure down, and the first of these is an often-underestimated activity: sleep.

Sleep

Yes, sleep is an activity because while you are asleep your body is engaging in many regenerative processes. Many health problems arise from lack of sleep and high blood pressure is one of them. Insomniacs who sleep fewer than five hours a night are five times more likely to suffer hypertension than people who sleep well. Making sure that you get plenty of sleep is critical to keeping blood pressure in a healthy range.

Meditation

The relaxing nature of meditation makes it an obvious candidate for lowering blood pressure, and research shows that it can do that, even in children. For instance, one year of transcendental meditation allowed people with high blood pressure to lower their medication use and also lower their systolic and diastolic blood pressure.

Yoga

Stress contributes to high blood pressure, and it causes an imbalance in your nervous system as well as under-activity of the calming neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Yoga is known to improve stress-related nervous system imbalances and to increase GABA levels. Regular yoga practice is an excellent way to get your blood pressure under control.

Act now

High blood pressure is serious so never try to treat it on your own, but if you act now you can prevent it taking hold. There are many dietary and lifestyle choices you can make to keep blood pressure at healthy levels and many of those choices will improve your overall wellbeing. So don’t delay, take the pressure down as soon as you ca



 

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.