Lowering High Blood Pressure Naturally
High blood pressure is generally a silent disease, producing few or no symptoms, while increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, vision problems, and kidney disease. There are two basic types of high blood pressure (also known as hypertension): Primary (essential) and secondary. Secondary hypertension has an identifiable cause such as kidney disease, adrenal tumors, and drugs. This type of hypertension is relatively rare compared to the much more prevalent primary hypertension. Primary hypertension is considered to have no identifiable cause. From a naturopathic perspective, however, most people with primary hypertension do have an identifiable cause: diet and lifestyle.
All of the following are known risk factors for high blood pressure. Addressing these factors can lower blood pressure in many people.
Reduce salt — Too much salt in the diet causes the body to retain water which raises the blood pressure. About 1/3 of the people with hypertension are salt sensitive and will see a reduction in blood pressure when they reduce salt intake. Salt, or sodium, is found in most processed foods, especially soups, sauces, cheese, chips. All nutrition labels indicate the amount of sodium in foods. People with high blood pressure should limit their daily intake of sodium to less than 1500 mg per day (the average American consumes 3300-4200 mg daily).
Reduce alcohol — While alcohol in moderation may lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, alcohol in excess can raise blood pressure. In general, men should limit alcohol to drinks per day or less and women to 1 per day or less. Those with high blood pressure may benefit from further reductions.
Quit tobacco — In addition to raising blood pressure, tobacco raises the risk of heart attack and stroke in other ways, such as by increasing the risk of forming blood clots. For help with tobacco cessation, call the Quitline at 1-877-YES-QUIT.
Increase physical activity — In addition to raising blood pressure, physical inactivity tends to cause weight gain and inflammation – both of which are risk factors for heart attack and stroke. The minimum guideline for physical activity is 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise. Optimal is 45-60 minutes per day.
Increase fruits and vegetables — Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium and fiber, both of which lower blood pressure. Countless studies have found that those with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables are at the lowest risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, most cancer, and many other chronic diseases. The minimum intake is 5 servings per day, while optimum intake is 8-10 servings per day.
Decrease sugar and flour — High glycemic foods such as sugar and flour can increase blood pressure in addition to raising cholesterol, weight, and inflammation. All of these are risks for heart attack and stroke. Those who have high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, or are overweight are especially likely to benefit from this. Added sugars such as dessert, soda, and maple syrup should be eliminated, and all grains should be whole grains and limited to once daily.
Lose weight — Being overweight tends to increase blood pressure, cholesterol, and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Physical activity, avoiding sugar and flour, and eating lots of fruits and vegetables are great ways to promote weight loss.
Decrease caffeine — Studies on the impact of caffeine on blood pressure are mixed. Some people with high blood pressure may benefit from reducing caffeine intake.
Avoid food allergens — In some people food allergies may contribute to high blood pressure. Blood allergy testing, which is available through most naturopathic physicians, is an easy way to determine if you are allergic.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension), which combines many of the recommendations listed above, has been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure by 10 or more points. For information on the DASH diet, go to http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf
In addition to the above dietary and lifestyle factors, nutrients such as coenzyme Q10, L-arginine, magnesium, and vitamin C and a variety of herbal medicines including rauwolfia can be effective at lowering blood pressure. For most people with primary hypertension, however, addressing the dietary and lifestyle factors listed above will be adequate to lower blood pressure.
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