Too much booze is known to raise blood pressure. But having just a little bit could do the opposite. Light to moderate drinking (defined as one drink or fewer per day) is associated with a lower risk for hypertension in women, according to research from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Moderate drinking could play a role in heart disease prevention too, studies show.
Two-thirds of Americans have either prehypertension or hypertension, both of which are major risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of the death in the United States. However, prescription drugs may not be necessary to treat high blood pressure. Read on to learn what dietary changes, lifestyle strategies, and supplements can help lower blood pressure naturally.
The stronger the heart, the more efficiently it can perform. Those who are physically active and exercise regularly are far more likely to maintain healthy blood pressure than those who do not. According to the American Heart Association, 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity three to four times per week is all it takes on average to help reduce high blood pressure.
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.
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Loading up on potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is an important part of any blood pressure-lowering program, says Linda Van Horn, PhD, RD, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Potassium encourages the kidneys to excrete more sodium through urination, and that sodium excretion can help lower blood pressure.
Much of the salt we ingest comes from fast food, ready-made meals, bread and soft drinks – things to avoid when on a low-carbohydrate diet. This will lower your salt intake automatically. Furthermore, the hormonal effects of LCHF make it easier for the body to dispose of excess salt through urine; this can explain the slight lowering of blood pressure.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at how eating whole grains affected blood pressure in middle-aged people. British researchers compared a diet of whole wheat (or whole wheat plus oats) to a diet of refined grains. They found that eating three servings of whole grains was linked with a reduction in systolic blood pressure. Exactly why isn't clear, athough other research has pointed to beneficial effects of whole grains on cholesterol.
Americans eat far too much dietary sodium, up to three times the recommended total amount, which is 1,500 milligrams (mg) daily for individuals with high blood pressure, says Dr. Fisher. It doesn't take much sodium to reach that 1,500-mg daily cap — just 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt. There's half of that amount of sodium in one Egg McMuffin breakfast sandwich. Weed out high-sodium foods by reading labels carefully. "It is very difficult to lower dietary sodium without reading labels, unless you prepare all of your own food," says Dr. Fisher. Beware in particular of what the American Heart Association has dubbed the "salty six," common foods where high amounts of sodium may be lurking:
It is notable that relaxation and meditation, though useful for many purposes, have not been found to impact high blood pressure. Many people find this surprising, possibly since high blood pressure also is known as “hypertension.” Because of this potentially misleading term, many people have assumed that high levels of stress or “tension” are a major cause of “hypertension,” or high blood pressure. This is not the case. High blood pressure is an essentially mechanical, and not psychological, problem.
Diabetics often have lower recommendations for blood pressure, the maximum normal value being seen as 130/80-85. However, it’s questionable whether it’s a good idea to medicate your blood pressure levels down to those values. Diabetics can probably stick to approximately the same upper limit as people with heart disease: 140/90 (according to new studies and expert comments, as well as the latest recommendations from the American Diabetes Association, ADA).