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Home > Living Well > Health Library > High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) (Holistic)
Choose a diet low in cholesterol and animal fat, and high in produce, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy, with some nuts and seeds.
Add 10 grams of soy protein or 16 ounces soy milk twice daily into your diet to help lower blood pressure.
600 to 900 mg a day of a standardized garlic extract can improve heart and blood vessel health, and also has a mild blood pressure–lowering effect.
Taking 100 mg a day of this powerful antioxidant may have a significant impact on your blood pressure after one to several months.
Avoid using too much table salt, limit salty fast foods, and read labels to find low-sodium foods (less than 140 mg per serving) in your grocery store.
Supplements of calcium (800 to 1,500 mg a day) and magnesium (350 to 500 mg a day) may be helpful.
Choose a diet low in cholesterol and animal fat, and high in produce, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy, with some nuts and seeds.
Lose excess weight and keep it off with a long-term program of healthier eating and regular aerobic exercise for 30 to 60 minutes per day, four or more days per week.
Vegetarians have lower blood pressure than meat eaters, partly because of the mineral potassium in fruits and vegetables, which helps blood pressure.
Keep daily alcohol intake to two drinks or less per day, and fewer than 9 drinks per week for women to help prevent hypertension.
Approximately 90% of people with high blood pressure have "essential" or "idiopathic"
hypertension, for which the cause is poorly understood. The terms "hypertension" and "high
blood pressure" as used here refer only to this most common form and not to pregnancy-induced hypertension or hypertension clearly linked
to a known cause, such as Cushing's syndrome, pheochromocytoma, or kidney disease. Hypertension must
always be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Extremely high blood pressure (malignant hypertension) or
rapidly worsening hypertension (accelerated hypertension) almost always requires treatment with conventional
medicine. People with mild to moderate high blood pressure should work with a doctor before attempting to use
the information contained here, as blood pressure requires monitoring and in some cases the use of blood
As with conventional drugs, the use of natural substances sometimes controls blood pressure if taken
consistently but does not lead to a cure for high blood pressure. Thus, someone whose blood pressure is
successfully reduced by weight loss, avoidance of salt, and increased intake of
fruits and vegetables would need to maintain these changes
permanently in order to retain control of blood pressure. Left untreated, hypertension significantly
increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.
Essential hypertension is usually without symptoms until complications develop. The symptoms of complications depend on the organs involved.
Smoking is particularly injurious for people with hypertension.1 The combination of hypertension and smoking greatly increases the risk of heart disease–related sickness and death. All people with high blood pressure need to quit smoking.
Consumption of more than about three alcoholic beverages per day appears to increase blood pressure.2 Whether one or two drinks per day meaningfully increases blood pressure remains unclear.
Daily exercise can lower blood pressure significantly.3 A 12-week program of Chinese T'ai Chi was reported to be almost as effective as aerobic exercise in lowering blood pressure.4 Progressive resistance exercise (e.g., weight lifting) also appears to help reduce blood pressure.5 At the same time, blood pressure has been known to increase significantly during the act of lifting heavy weights; for this reason, people with sharply elevated blood pressure, especially those with cardiovascular disease, should approach heavy strenuous resistance exercise with caution. In general, people over 40 years of age should consult with their doctors before starting any exercise regimen.
Most people with high blood pressure are overweight. Weight loss lowers blood pressure significantly in those who are both overweight and hypertensive.6 In fact, reducing body weight by as little as ten pounds can lead to a significant reduction in blood pressure.7 Weight loss appears to have a stronger blood pressure-lowering effect than dietary salt restriction.8
A specific chiropractic adjustment has been shown to produce a sustained reduction in blood pressure that was equivalent to that produced by two blood pressure-lowering medications.9
Anxiety in men (but not women) has been linked to development of hypertension.10 Several research groups have also shown a relationship between job strain and high blood pressure in men.11, 12, 13 Some researchers have tied blood pressure specifically to suppressed aggression.14
Although some kind of relationship between stress and high blood pressure appears to exist, the effects of treatment for stress remain controversial. An analysis of 26 trials reported that reductions in blood pressure caused by biofeedback or meditation were no greater than those seen with placebo.15 Though some stress management interventions have not been helpful in reducing blood pressure,16, 17 those trials that have reported promising effects have used combinations of yoga, biofeedback, and/or meditation.18, 19, 20 Some doctors continue to recommend a variety of stress-reducing measures, sometimes tailoring them to the needs and preferences of the person seeking help.
Preliminary laboratory studies in animals21 and humans22, 23, 24 suggest that acupuncture may help regulate blood pressure. Most,25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 but not all,31 preliminary trials also suggest that acupuncture may be an effective way to lower blood pressure. Whether blood pressure goes back up after acupuncture is discontinued remains an unsettled question.
Auricular (ear) acupressure has been reported to be an effective treatment for hypertension,32, 33, 34 though in one case the improvement was not significantly better than use of traditional herbal medicines.35
Spinal manipulation may lower blood pressure (at least temporarily) in healthy people, according to most preliminary36, 37, 38 and controlled39 trials. However, some research suggests the effect is no better than the blood pressure-lowering effect of sham ("fake") manipulation.40 In hypertensive people, temporary decreases in blood pressure have also been reported after spinal manipulation.41, 42, 43 However, most,44, 45, 46 but not all,47 trials suggest that manipulation produces only short-term decreases in blood pressure in hypertensive people.
Several double-blind trials have shown that adding 6.5–7 grams of fiber per day to the diet for several months leads to reductions in blood pressure. However, other trials have not found fiber helpful in reducing blood pressure. The reason for these discrepant findings is not clear.
Reusing vegetable oils for frying, especially oils with high concentrations of unsaturated fatty acids (such as sunflower or safflower oil) has been associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure. Presumably, this increased risk is due to some of the degradation products (such as lipid peroxides or polymers) that result from the excessive heating of these oils. Frying with more stable oils, such as olive oil, is not associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure.
Vegetarians have lower blood pressure than do people who eat meat. This occurs partly because fruits and vegetables contain potassium—a known blood pressure-lowering mineral. The best way to supplement potassium is with fruit, which contains more of the mineral than do potassium supplements. However, fruit contains so much potassium that people taking "potassium-sparing"diuretics can consume too much potassium simply by eating several pieces of fruit per day. Therefore, people taking potassium-sparing diuretics should consult the prescribing doctor before increasing fruit intake. In the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trial, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables (and therefore fiber) and reducing cholesterol and dairy fat led to large reductions in blood pressure (in medical terms, 11.4 systolic and 5.5 diastolic) in just eight weeks. Even though it did not employ a vegetarian diet itself, the outcome of the DASH trial supports the usefulness of vegetarian diets because diets employed by DASH researchers were related to what many vegetarians eat. The DASH trial also showed that blood pressure can be significantly reduced in hypertensive people (most dramatically in African Americans) with diet alone, without weight loss or even restriction of salt. Nonetheless, restricting salt while consuming the DASH diet has lowered blood pressure even more effectively than the use of the DASH diet alone.
In a double-blind trial, supplementation with a tomato extract significantly lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, compared with a placebo, in people with hypertension. The amount of extract used was 250 mg per day (providing 15 mg per day of lycopene plus other carotenoids) for eight weeks.
Right after consuming caffeine from coffee or tea, blood pressure increases briefly. In trials lasting almost two months on average, coffee drinking has led to small increases in blood pressure. The effects of long-term avoidance of caffeine (from coffee, tea, chocolate, cola drinks, and some medications) on blood pressure remain unclear. A few reports have even claimed that long-term coffee drinkers tend to have lower blood pressure than those who avoid coffee. Despite the lack of clarity in published research, many doctors tell people with high blood pressure to avoid consumption of caffeine.
Primitive societies exposed to very little salt suffer from little or no hypertension. Salt (sodium chloride) intake has also been definitively linked to hypertension in western societies.Reducing salt intake in the diet lowers blood pressure in most people. The more salt is restricted, the greater the blood pressure-lowering effect. Individual studies sometimes come to differing conclusions about the relationship between salt intake and blood pressure, in part because blood pressure-lowering effects of salt restriction vary from person to person, and small to moderate reductions in salt intake often have minimal effects on blood pressure—particularly in young people and in those who do not have hypertension. Nonetheless, dramatic reductions in salt intake are generally effective for many people with hypertension.
With the prevalence of salted processed and restaurant food, simply avoiding the salt shaker no longer leads to large decreases in salt intake for most people. Totally eliminating salt is more effective, but is quite difficult to achieve. Moreover, while an overview of the research found "There is no evidence that sodium reduction presents any safety hazards," reports of short-term paradoxical increases in blood pressure in response to salt restriction have occasionally appeared. Therefore, people wishing to use salt reduction to lower their blood pressure should consult with a doctor.
Food allergy was reported to contribute to high blood pressure in a study of people who had migraine headaches. In that report, all 15 people who also had high blood pressure experienced a significant drop in blood pressure when put on a hypoallergenic diet. People who suffer migraine headaches and have hypertension should discuss the issue of allergy diagnosis and elimination with a doctor.
Our proprietary "Star-Rating" system was developed to help you easily understand the amount of scientific support behind each supplement in relation to a specific health condition. While there is no way to predict whether a vitamin, mineral, or herb will successfully treat or prevent associated health conditions, our unique ratings tell you how well these supplements are understood by some in the medical community, and whether studies have found them to be effective for other people.
For over a decade, our team has combed through thousands of research articles published in reputable journals. To help you make educated decisions, and to better understand controversial or confusing supplements, our medical experts have digested the science into these three easy-to-follow ratings. We hope this provides you with a helpful resource to make informed decisions towards your health and well-being.
3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2 StarsContradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
Garlic supplements, in doses ranging from 600–1,200 mg per day, have consistently been shown in randomized controlled trials to lower high blood pressure to a degree that is comparable to anti-hypertensive medications. One randomized controlled trial that included 88 participants with high blood pressure found treatment with 1,200 mg of aged garlic extract daily for 12 weeks reduced systolic blood pressure by an average of 5 mmHg. The trial identified a subgroup of 29 responders to garlic therapy whose blood pressure dropped by more than 3%; in this subgroup, systolic blood pressure was reduced by an average of 11.5 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 6.3 mmHg. Another trial found garlic extract lowered blood pressure in hypertensive patients with severe coronary artery disease: the trial included 56 participants with severe coronary artery disease who were given 800 mg of garlic extract per day or placebo for three months. Although the effect of garlic on blood pressure was not significant overall, in the 18 participants with baseline hypertension, garlic lowered blood pressure significantly more than placebo. Furthermore, garlic extract has been found to reduce arterial stiffness, improve blood glucose control, lower high cholesterol levels, decrease blood clot risk, and improve gut microbial balance, and may reduce the risks of heart attack and stroke.
Fresh garlic may also help lower high blood pressure: In an open trial, 40 participants with metabolic syndrome were given raw crushed garlic in an amount based on body weight (100 mg per kg body weight twice daily). After four weeks, blood pressures were reduced, and other markers of metabolic health, including waist circumference, triglyceride levels, fasting glucose levels, and cholesterol levels were improved. A six-year observational study found those who eat the largest amount of allium vegetables such as garlic and onion were less likely to develop high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, and cardiovascular events.
The hibiscus family of flowering plants consists of a number of related species, the most studied of which is Hibiscus sabdariffa. Hibiscus flowers may be best known for their vitamin C content and their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and multiple studies indicate hibiscus may be helpful in improving all aspects of metabolic syndrome, including high blood pressure.
Several clinical trials have shown that hibiscus can lower blood pressure. A meta-analysis of five randomized controlled trials with a total of 390 participants found Hibiscus sabdariffa lowered high blood pressure, and was more effective in those with mild blood pressure elevation. In one trial that included 125 hypertensive subjects, 320 mg of Hibiscus sabdariffa twice daily worked as well as ramipril (an anti-hypertensive drug in the ACE inhibitor family) at reducing diastolic pressure, and while it also reduced systolic pressure, this reduction was not as great as with ramapril. Hibiscus sabdariffa was also found to be as effective as the blood pressure-lowering drugs captopril and lisinopril (other ACE inhibitors) and more effective than hydrochlorthiazide (a diuretic used to treat hypertension) in randomized controlled comparison trials in people with high blood pressure.
In a double-blind study of postmenopausal women, supplementing with 10 grams of soy protein twice a day for six weeks significantly reduced diastolic blood pressure by an average of 5 mm Hg, compared with a diet not containing soy protein. In another study, men and women with mild to moderate hypertension consumed 500 ml (approximately 16 ounces) of soy milk or cow's milk twice a day for three months. After three months, the average systolic blood pressure had decreased by 18.4 mm Hg in the soy group, compared with 1.4 mm Hg in the cow's milk group. The reductions in diastolic blood pressure were 15.9 mm Hg with soy milk and 3.7 mm Hg with cow's milk. In another study of people with hypertension who were consuming a low-protein, low-fiber diet, supplementing with a combination of soy protein and psyllium (a fiber source) lowered systolic blood pressure by an average of 5.9 mm Hg. The blood pressure reduction with soy protein alone or with fiber alone was less pronounced than that with combination treatment. Other research has also shown a blood pressure–lowering effect of soy protein.
Dietary vitamin E is necessary for cardiovascular health, and observational studies have linked higher intake of vitamin E with lower risk of high blood pressure. Nevertheless, most clinical trials have found no benefit from vitamin E supplementation at doses of 200–600 IU per day in people with high blood pressure, though it may be effective in those with mild hypertension. A meta-analysis of 18 randomized controlled trials with a combined total of 839 participants found vitamin E supplementation mildly lowered systolic blood pressure but had no impact on diastolic blood pressure.
Vitamin E is a naturally occurring complex made up of multiple tocopherols and tocotrienols, each of which may have unique properties in the body. Some evidence suggests tocotrienols have greater antioxidant capacity than tocopherols and may have stronger benefits in cardiovascular and metabolic disease, but most supplements contain only alpha-tocopherol.
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Last Review: 06-08-2015
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