Salt is everywhere, and high blood pressure (the result of too much salt in our diets) is an American epidemic. New CDC guidelines (and decades-old Pritikin guidelines) advise that most of us should eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. We average 3,500 to 5,000 mg daily. Why are we so blasé about the massive doses of salt we’re consuming? How can we change?.
A few years ago, the federal government revised its high blood pressure guidelines after research showed that even slightly elevated blood pressure starts damaging the arteries and increasing the risk of a heart attack, stroke and kidney failure. The new guidelines specify the blood pressure numbers that indicate when a person is considered “hypertensive,” as well as a new category for “prehypertensive” people who are at risk for developing high blood pressure. The new category is a red flag to spur Americans to make the kinds of lifestyle changes that you are interested in. The idea is to prevent the upward creep of blood pressure that tends to happen with age.
Providing at least 5 servings of vegetables and 4 servings of fruits daily, which help ensure that you eat plenty of foods that are full of stomach-filling volume yet are low in calories, enhancing weight-loss efforts. Losing excess weight is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure in the short term. Eating plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables also means you’ll be eating excellent sources of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Many studies have found that foods rich in these minerals help blunt some of the toxic effects of sodium.
Being diagnosed with high blood pressure can be scary, especially if your doctor is recommending medication to keep your hypertension under control. Medication can be quite expensive. Not to mention possible side effects such as dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and erection problems. However, it is not your only option in the fight against high blood pressure.
3. Implement strategies to lower inflammation. Several cross-sectional and longitudinal studies connect high blood pressure with chronic inflammation, a driving force for nearly every disease on the planet. Lowering inflammation starts with what you put on your fork. Focus on anti-inflammatory foods like wild-caught seafood (rich in omega-3 fatty acids), freshly ground flax and chia seeds, spices like turmeric, and plenty of colorful plant foods. Good sleep, stress management, exercise, and the right nutrients can also help lower inflammation.
Those who received a placebo drink improved their reading by only 1 point. The phytochemicals in hibiscus are probably responsible for the large reduction in high blood pressure, say the study authors. Many herbal teas contain hibiscus; look for blends that list it near the top of the chart of ingredients for low blood pressure—this often indicates a higher concentration per serving.
2. Take the right nutrients. Talk with your chiropractor or other healthcare professional about the wide range of well-studied nutrients that, along with dietary and lifestyle modifications, can help normalize your blood pressure. One meta-analysis found magnesium supplements could lower blood pressure. Likewise, researchers find a small but significant decline in blood pressure for people with hypertension who use fish oil. (You can get all of fish oil’s benefits combined with anti-inflammatory flax oil and GLA in our Optimal Omega.)
It goes without saying that when you don’t sleep well, you don’t feel well, and your body just doesn’t work well. In fact, research has shown for decades that a strong link between insomnia and hypertension exists. Reevaluating your daytime decisions or nighttime routines leading up to bedtime can help you find what works best for you in getting a good night’s rest.
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.
Sleep. Short and poor-quality sleep are both associated with raised blood pressure (40). On the other side of the spectrum, excessively long sleep may also be harmful. One study found increased blood pressure in those who got fewer than five hours of sleep per night and in those who averaged more than nine hours of sleep per night, when compared with people who slept around seven hours (41). I suspect that it’s not the long sleep itself that is the problem, but that some underlying condition is both increasing sleep requirement and raising blood pressure.
If you have ever been in a hot tub with the “jets” on, you have observed a circulating system. When the pump is “on,” the water circulates from the hot tub, through pipes, into a pump, and then back to the hot tub. In this way, the water can be put through a filter to remove impurities and be re-utilized again and again. A hot tub with its pump “on” is a simple circulatory system. When the pump is “off,” the water stops circulating and stays wherever it is in the system.
Cardamom is a seasoning that comes from India and is often used in South Asian cuisine. A small study of 20 people investigating the health effects of cardamom found that participants with high blood pressure saw significant reductions in their blood pressure readings after taking 1.5 grams of cardamom powder twice a day for 12 weeks. You can include cardamom seeds or powder in spice rubs, soups and stews, and even baked goods for a special flavor and a possible positive health benefit.
In one 2009 study, every hour less of average sleep duration per night was associated with a 37% increase in the odds of developing hypertension over five years. In another report from 2015, people with sleep apnea—a dangerous condition that can cause hypertension in itself—saw reductions in their blood pressure when they were treated with continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines or mandibular advancement devices (MADs).
Research shows that turmeric can reduce hypertension by regulating the activity of angiotensin receptors and thereby preventing the blood vessels from constricting. Not only curcumin, turmeric oil fraction, and turmerone also demonstrate similar activity. Turmeric by itself is not easily absorbed into the body. When speaking with a cardiac-surgeon I know, he told me that I needed to put a pinch of fresh black pepper on my tongue. This allows the body to absorb the turmeric increasing the efficacy. A WARNING: Taking turmeric over an extended period of time can cause bleeding. My clotting factors were off when I had been on it long term postponing my surgery by 2 weeks.
A comprehensive exercise regimen, such as my Peak Fitness program, is very important in producing long-term benefits in people with high blood pressure. Nearly every program should incorporate anaerobic sprint or burst-type exercises one to three times a week, as these have been shown to be even more effective than aerobic exercises at reducing your risk of dying from a heart attack.
This technique is known to surprisingly few health professionals, though it has proved valuable in the treatment of a wide variety of health problems. Recently, this powerful technique has been shown to be an extremely effective method for allowing the body to rapidly normalize high blood pressure more effectively than any other treatment reported in the scientific literature.
A 2013 review on yoga and blood pressure found an average blood pressure decrease of 3.62 mm Hg diastolic and 4.17 mm Hg systolic when compared to those who didn’t exercise. Studies of yoga practices that included breath control, postures, and meditation were nearly twice as effective as yoga practices that didn’t include all three of these elements (24).
Dr. Goldberg teaches these patients to monitor their blood pressure at home in the mornings and evenings. This gives her a more complete picture before prescribing any medications. But there’s a hidden benefit, as well: Research suggests that keeping track of their own blood pressure may be incentive for patients to make healthy choices like losing weight and eating healthier.
Dr. Palanismy notes that a particular form of stress reduction called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been proven in research studies to reduce blood pressure. This approach to stress reduction uses meditation, body awareness and movement such as yoga to help people better observe their experiences, instead of being completely immersed in them. This helps them take a step back in stressful situations.
While medication can lower blood pressure, it may cause side effects such as leg cramps, dizziness, and insomnia. The good news is that most people can bring their numbers down naturally without drugs. “Lifestyle changes are an important part of prevention and treatment of high blood pressure,” says Brandie D. Williams, MD, FACC, a cardiologist at Texas Health Stephenville and Texas Health Physicians Group.
Exercise. Doctors recommend at least 150 minutes per week of exercise to help reduce blood pressure. Brisk walking is excellent for reducing blood pressure and improving overall cardiovascular health, but other exercises can work too. Try jogging, riding a bike, swimming, dancing, or interval training to get your aerobic exercise. Strength training is also important to your heart health and can help reduce blood pressure.
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If you suddenly find yourself with high blood pressure (hypertension) under the new guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, you might be wondering what to do. The guidelines, which were released in November, lowered the definition for high blood pressure to 130/80 from 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), meaning more women now meet the criteria for stage 1 hypertension.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about how to make changes to your diet or if you’re trying to lose weight, you may want to consider working with a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN). Some people work with an RDN if they have a health condition like type 2 diabetes. In fact, high blood pressure is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. This is partly because they share similar modifiable risk factors, like being overweight or obese, following an unhealthy diet, and having a lack of physical activity.
But the dark chocolate should be 60 to 70 percent cacao. A review of studies on dark chocolate has found that eating one to two squares of dark chocolate per day may help lower the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and inflammation. The benefits are thought to come from the flavonoids present in chocolate with more cocoa solids. The flavonoids help dilate, or widen, your blood vessels (25).
10. Increase intake of potassium: Potassium is important to keep blood pressure under control as it helps the body to get rid of sodium. Including more fresh and whole foods in your diet can contribute to healthy levels of potassium in your body. Foods rich in potassium include bananas, beans, nuts and seeds, tuna, salmon, dairy products and green leafy veggies are rich sources of potassium.
Alternative therapies are increasingly receiving more attention for treatment of everything from heart disease to chronic kidney disease (CKD) and now high blood pressure (or hypertension). The overarching principle to always keep in mind, though, is that while it might be "cool and fashionable" to treat your maladies with alternative therapies, not all such treatments are backed by hard science. Some interventions work, some don't. And yes, they could have harmful side effects as well. The best and brightest of us have fallen gullible victims to mumbo-jumbo alternative therapies for various illnesses; Steve Jobs tryst with pancreatic cancer being a case in point. Long story short, approach every treatment (including conventional medicine) as a level-headed, scientific skeptic.
Vitamins C and E. Studies indicate that these vitamins can be helpful in lowering your blood pressure. Ideally, you'll want to get the right amount of both these nutrients through diet alone. If you decide you need a supplement, make sure to take a natural (not synthetic) form of vitamin E. You can tell what you're buying by carefully reading the label. Natural vitamin E is always listed as the "d-" form (d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol, etc.) Synthetic vitamin E is listed as "dl-" forms.
Monitor your blood pressure and talk with your doctor. A medical professional can check your blood pressure by using a sphygmomanometer and a stethoscope, or you can check it yourself using an automatic blood pressure monitoring device. If you have concerns about your blood pressure, talk to your doctor to determine what treatment options may work best for you. Blood pressure is usually divided into categories, which include: