Editor’s Note: Considerable controversy exists about whether fat or cholesterol are, per se, drivers of atherosclerosis. They are implicated in some studies, while others indicate that quality of fat, and placement in a wider dietary pattern, may be more significant to ultimate impact. What seems clear, however, is that a diet high in animal products, sugar, and processed foods is often a recipe for high blood pressure and heart disease.
Magnesium supplements were found to modestly lower blood pressure—by about 2 points in both systolic and diastolic pressure—in a 2016 analysis of 34 clinical trials. A 2017 analysis of 11 clinical trials reached a similar conclusion. It looked at the effect of magnesium supplements (365 to 450 milligrams a day) on blood pressure in people with diabetes, prediabetes, or insulin resistance. But supplements aren’t necessary to get those levels of magnesium; a healthy diet supplies plenty of the mineral. For the best sources of magnesium, see the chart here.
Ginger, the spicy root often used in Asian cooking, could also help lower blood pressure. According to M. Jan Ghayur and A. Gilani from The Aga Khan University Medical College in Pakistan and published in the January 2005 issue of the "Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology," ginger can reduce blood pressure by blocking the voltage-dependent calcium channels. MedlinePlus agrees that ginger does reduce high blood pressure, but individuals who take medication for their high blood pressure should use ginger with precaution because ginger might lower it too much or cause an irregular heartbeat.
The sweet serves up flavanols that help lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels and boosting blood flow. On average, regular dark chocolate consumption could help lower your systolic blood pressure (the top number) by 5 points and your diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by almost 3 points, suggests an Australian analysis. How dark are we talking? Experts haven't been able to determine an ideal percentage of cocoa, says Vivian Mo, MD, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. But the higher you go, the more benefits you'll get.
A study1 published earlier this year discovered that those who consumed 74 grams or more per day of fructose (the equivalent of about 2.5 sugary drinks) had a 77 percent greater risk of having blood pressure levels of 160/100 mmHg. (For comparison, a normal blood pressure reading is below 120/80 mmHg.) Consuming 74 grams or more of fructose daily also increased the risk of a 135/85 blood pressure reading by 26 percent, and 140/90 by 30 percent.
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.
People who regularly check their blood pressure at home have lower overall blood pressure than those who only have it taken at a doctor’s office. Plus, examiners couldn’t catch the 9 percent of people who had high blood pressure at home but not at the office, found a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That same study found that getting tested in the doctor’s office couldn’t identify the 13 percent of people who only had high blood pressure in the office and not at home, which is probably because of the anxiety of being in a doctor’s office. Buy your own kit for an accurate view of your health. Here are other things doctors might not tell you about healthy blood pressure.