It affects an amazing one-third of American adults, and is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney disease. In 2008, it was a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 347,000 Americans.
What is it? High blood pressure, a condition in which the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries is considered to be high enough to put you at risk of disease. Here are the numbers:
- Normal blood pressure: 120/80 and lower
- Pre-hypertension: Between 120-139/80-89
- High blood pressure: 140/90 and higher
According to the American Heart Association, we’re losing the fight. They estimate that by 2030, the number of people suffering from high blood pressure could increase by nearly 10 percent. That translates to 27 million people. From 1998 to 2008, the death rate from high blood pressure increased by over 20 percent.
If you go to the doctor and he diagnoses you with high blood pressure, likely you’ll walk out of the office with a prescription. But are there other ways to bring those numbers down?
Though it’s always best to check with your doctor, a trial period of making changes in your diet and lifestyle may be warranted to see if you can get your numbers down without drugs. These foods may help.
- Blueberries: According to a study of over 150,000 men and women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries have natural compounds called anthocyanins that protect against hypertension.
- Oatmeal: Harvard University researchers found that whole-grain, high-fiber cereals like oatmeal, oat squares, bran flakes and shredded wheat can reduce the risk of high blood pressure.
- Beet Juice: A London study found that drinking a glass of beet juice can lower blood pressure within just a few hours. The nitrate in the juice has the same effect as taking a nitrate tablet.
- Dark Chocolate: Harvard researchers analyzed 24 chocolate studies and concluded that eating a one-ounce square of dark chocolate daily can lower blood pressure, especially in people who already have hypertension.
- Potatoes: According to a 2011 study, potatoes reduce blood pressure without causing weight gain. Participants ate purple potatoes with the skins still on them.
- Bananas: According to a study published in the late 1990s, two bananas a day can help control high blood pressure. People who ate two bananas a day for a week had their numbers drop by 10 percent.
- Soybeans: The American College of Cardiologists released a 20-year study in 2012 that showed a diet heavy in isoflavones—a key compound in soy foods like tofu, soy milk, soy nuts, and soybeans—can help reduce high blood pressure.
Herbs, Spices, & Supplements
For those days when your diet isn’t up to speed, add these herbs and spices to help bring down blood pressure. Though studies are preliminary in most, they may still offer some benefit.
- Garlic: Australian researchers found that study participants given four capsules of garlic extract a day had lower blood pressure than those on a placebo.
- Cinnamon: A 2010 study found that 2 grams of cinnamon for 12 weeks helped lower blood pressure in diabetics.
- Hawthorn: In one study, patients with type 2 diabetes who were also taking prescribed medications took 1,200 mg hawthorn extract daily or a placebo for 16 weeks. Those taking hawthorn had lower blood pressure than those on placebo.
- Skullcap: Animal studies suggest that Chinese skullcap may help reduce symptoms of hypertension. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which are helpful in reducing the risk of heart disease.
- Magnesium: A 2012 study found that magnesium supplements offered small but clinically significant reductions in blood pressure. These results confirmed those of other, earlier studies. The doses used in the study ranged from 120 to 973 mg.
- CoQ10: Many small clinical trials have shown that CoQ10 supplements can lower blood pressure.
- Potassium: According to the Harvard Medical School, potassium has been proven to lower blood pressure.
Do you prevent or treat high blood pressure by natural means?
“High Blood Pressure Facts,” Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm.
“Foods that Reduce High Blood Pressure,” AARP, http://www.aarp.org/health/medical-research/info-04-2011/6-foods-fight-high-blood-pressure.2.html.
“Potatoes reduce high blood pressure in people with obesity and high blood pressure,” American Chemical Society, August 31, 2011, http://portal.acs.org:80/portal/acs/corg/content?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=PP_ARTICLEMAIN&node_id=222&content_id=CNBP_028109&use_sec=true&sec_url_var=region1&__uuid=851cb43a-9204-4ad0-a4ca-fd1fce70c9b4.
“Two bananas a day keep blood pressure at bay,” BBC News, January 28, 1999, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/264552.stm.
Dan Piller, “Cardiologists’ study links soy to lower blood pressure,” Des Moines Register, March 26, 2012, http://blogs.desmoinesregister.com/dmr/index.php/2012/03/26/cardiologists-study-links-soy-to-lower-blood-pressure/.
Helen Briggs, “Garlic ‘remedy for hypertension,” BBC News Health, November 16, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11767440.
Akilen R, “Glycated haemoglobin and blood pressure-lowering effect of cinnamon in multi-ethnic Type 2 diabetic patients in the U.K.: a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind trial,” Diabet Med 2010 Oct; 27(10):1159-67, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20854384.
“Hawthorn,” University of Maryland Medical Center, http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/hawthorn-000256.htm.
University of Hertfordshire (2012, March 13). Magnesium lowers blood pressure, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/03/120313230354.htm.
Marcia Wyman, “Coenzyme Q10: A therapy for hypertension and statin-induced myalgia?” Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, July 2010, Vol 77 (7): 435-442, http://www.ccjm.org/content/77/7/435.long.