Scientists have long debated the effects of caffeine on blood pressure. But an analysis of 34 studies seems to have delivered a verdict. On average, consuming 200 to 300 mg caffeine (the amount found in one or two cups of coffee) raises systolic blood pressure by 8 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 6 mmHg. And the effects can last for up to three hours. (For reference, 8 ounces of drip coffee contain 100-125 mg of caffeine; the same amount of tea, 50 mg; an equal quantity of cola, about 40 mg.)
Basil is a delicious herb that goes well in a variety of foods. It also might help lower your blood pressure. In rodents, basil extract has been shown to lower blood pressure, although only briefly. The chemical eugenol, which is found in basil, may block certain substances that tighten blood vessels. This may lead to a drop in blood pressure. More studies are needed.
An aside: We don't much like taking medications, either. But if you end up needing blood pressure medicine to achieve a healthy blood pressure, don't be discouraged. The medicines are effective and safe, and they present only mild side effects, if any. Studies comparing older and newer blood pressure medicines found that one of the oldest and cheapest classes of drugs (the thiazide diuretics, such as hydrochlorothiazide and chlorthalidone) was as good as, or better than, the newer, more expensive ones.
While most Americans with hypertension are treated primarily with drugs, “these drugs do not come close to eliminating all the cardiovascular ills associated with the typical American diet and sedentary lifestyle,” observes Danine Fruge, MD, Medical Director at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami. Over the last four decades, the Center has helped thousands worldwide lower blood pressure naturally and significantly reduce many cardiovascular risks.
Regular visits with your doctor are also key to controlling your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is well-controlled, check with your doctor about how often you need to check it. Your doctor may suggest checking it daily or less often. If you're making any changes in your medications or other treatments, your doctor may recommend you check your blood pressure starting two weeks after treatment changes and a week before your next appointment.
A healthy diet is the first step in regaining control of high blood pressure, but don’t let the term “diet” fool you. This is a lifelong commitment to healthy eating. Based on the approach known as the DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension), patients should focus on consuming lean protein, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy. By doing so, systolic blood pressure (the top number) could be reduced by as much as 14 points. Of course, what isn’t included is nearly as important as what is when it comes to a healthy diet. Those with high blood pressure should also focus on keeping salt and sugar intake to a minimum.
Chocolate lovers can rejoice because consuming dark chocolate daily may lower high blood pressure. The flavanols in dark chocolate appear to activate nitric acid, which is a gas that allows the blood vessels to relax and widen, reports the Science Daily website. In a study published in the March 2010 issue of the "European Heart Journal," Dr. Brian Buijsse and colleagues from the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Germany found that participants who ate approximately 7.5g of dark chocolate a day had lower blood pressure and had a 39 percent less likely chance of having a heart attack or stroke.
While you shouldn't shrug off the change, there's also no need to panic. "Obviously, nothing happened overnight inside a woman's body or to her health with the release of the guidelines," says Dr. Naomi Fisher, director of hypertension service and hypertension innovation at the Brigham and Women's Hospital Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Hypertension, and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
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.