It’s a common question among our guests at the Pritikin Longevity Center, who are taught how devastating the high-salt U.S. diet is to our blood pressure and overall health. Searching for alternatives, people often ask: What about salt substitutes with potassium? And what about MSG? Isn’t it a bad choice? Here are answers, some of which may surprise you.
For example, eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can limit dense low-density lipoprotein (LDL) deposits along the artery that contribute to high blood pressure. Limiting intake of processed foods can lower sodium intake and total cholesterol. This, in addition to exercise, can also help lead to weight loss. Research indicates that losing as little as nine pounds can have substantial impacts on blood pressure.
Coconut water finds itself high on the list of home remedies for high blood pressure. One of the causes for high blood pressure is an imbalance of electrolytes in the blood. Because coconut water contains an adequate supply of minerals and salts, it can help counter this imbalance. Modern researchers say the potassium content in coconut water plays a huge role in lowering blood pressure. Both potassium chloride (seen in supplements) and potassium citrate (seen in foods) can help lower blood pressure. Potassium helps balance out the level of sodium in your blood and keeps your body functioning properly.
1. Isometric handgrip exercises. An American Heart Association study found that squeezing a spring-loaded handgrip for two minutes, over a period of 12 to 15 minutes three times a week, can help lower blood pressure. Why? The study found that blood flow returns to your hands after the isometric exercise, improving blood vessel function. Another study reported in the journal Hypertension found this exercise produced a 10% drop in both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) readings when practiced six times a day, five days a week for four weeks.
“Moderate coffee intake doesn’t seem to make much of a difference in blood pressure levels,” says Dr. Bisognano, “but I do see more and more people drinking huge amounts of highly caffeinated beverages—and that very likely has a negative effect.” A few cups of coffee a day is fine for most people, he adds, but “if you measure coffee in pots, you could be in trouble.” Watch out for energy drinks, too, which have been shown to spike blood pressure and cause irregular heart rhythms.
There are other reasons you may want to spend more time in the great outdoors, though. A 2014 study found that when the skin is exposed to sunlight, a chemical reaction causes blood vessels to widen and blood pressure to drop. And in a 2010 study, people who spent time in nature—walking in the forest as opposed to in an urban environment—saw greater reductions in their blood pressure, pulse rate, and stress hormones.
To calculate your target training heart rate, you need to know your resting heart rate. Resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when it's at rest. The best time to find your resting heart rate is in the morning after a good night's sleep and before you get out of bed. Typically, an adult’s resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute. However, for people who are physically fit, it's generally lower. Also, resting heart rate usually rises with age.
As much as I want, these alternative therapies do not replace traditional approaches for blood pressure control (low salt diet, medications). The best way to look at them is as strategies to complement what your doctor has already been prescribing you for your high blood pressure. This could really help if you have mild hypertension, where alternative therapies could potentially help you get off your blood pressure medications, but I highly doubt anyone with severe hypertension is getting off their Norvasc just because they started doing transcendental meditation.
As simple as it sounds, breathing is an effective technique to lower blood pressure. Slow breathing and meditative practices such as yoga can help decrease the stress hormones that elevate renin — a kidney enzyme that raises blood pressure. "Sit in a comfortable chair with armrests. Your body should be as relaxed as possible. Place one hand on a part of your chest or preferably your abdomen. Watch your hand rise and fall with each breath...feel the breath as it moves into your abdomen,” Dr. John M. Kennedy, a cardiologist in Los Angeles, Calif., and author of the book The Heart Health Bible told Medical Daily in an email. This should be repeated seven times and can become a daily habit by doing deep breathing 10 minutes in the morning.
Exercise can also lead to lower blood pressure. Although performing moderate to vigorous exercise leads to higher blood pressure during activity, it is lowered afterwards. A wealth of studies indicate that getting 150 minutes per week of exercise—whether walking, cycling, gardening, dancing, or weights—can lead to significant drops in blood pressure over time. Try to exercise every day, but even three or four times per week can bring on big improvements.
There are a large number of prescription medications that are commonly used to help lower and maintain blood pressure within a healthy range. These include diuretics, beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and many more. And, while the right medication can be a great tool in fighting high blood pressure, there are many other ways in which some patients may be able to control their condition naturally.
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