What is High Blood Pressure?
According to the American Heart Association, nearly one in three adults in the United States has high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. The upper or first number in a blood pressure reading is the systolic pressure and the lower or second number is the diastolic pressure. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute guidelines:
- Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mmHg.
- Pre-hypertension is systolic pressure that's between 120 to 139 or diastolic pressure between 80 and 89.
- Stage 1 hypertension is systolic pressure between 140 to 159 or diastolic pressure between 90 and 99 mmHg or higher.
- Stage 2 hypertension is systolic pressure higher than 160 or diastolic pressure of 100 or higher.
Lower Blood Pressure Naturally
Lifestyle changes and natural remedies may help, although there isn’t enough evidence about any supplement to recommend it as a standard treatment. It's important to work with your medical doctor, because uncontrolled high blood pressure may damage organs in the body and increase the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and vision loss.
According to the numerous studies in humans, garlic appears to lower blood pressure, particularly systolic blood pressure. In general, the magnitude of the reduction has been less than 10mmHg (less than 10%) in people with high blood pressure.
The active constituents in garlic are thought to be the sulfur-containing compounds including allicin, which may act on the body’s nitric oxide system which relaxes the arteries and lowers systolic blood pressure. Studies on the use of garlic in people with high blood pressure have used 600-2400mg of garlic powder or aged garlic extract in single or divided doses, taken for up to 12 weeks.
Garlic isn't safe for use with many common medications and conditions - learn about them in my article on Garlic for Health.
2) Fish Oil / Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids that are found in fish and some plant foods. The available research in humans suggests that they may help lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA may have greater benefits than EPA, or eicosapentaenooic acid.
Studies have generally found that the reduction in blood pressure has been small – in order to achieve clinically relevant effects, higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids may be needed, which can also cause an increased risk of bleeding in susceptible people including those with bleeding disorders or taking medications such as warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, or ginkgo. Further research is needed. Studies have generally used 2-4 grams of omega-3 fatty acids daily for up to one year. Find out more about Omega-3 Fatty Acids and how to use them.
Hibiscus tea (from the plant Hibiscus sabdariffa) and supplements have been found to lower blood pressure in human studies. A systematic review of four randomized controlled trials found that in two studies testing the effects of hibiscus tea to black tea, hibiscus tea was associated with reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Two studies comparing hibiscus extract to angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors (captopril or lisinopril) also showed reductions for hibiscus tea groups, but the effects were generally less than those of the ACE-inhibitor groups. Additional high-quality studies are needed to confirm these findings. Caution is advised when taking hibiscus, as side effects including diuresis may occur. Learn more about using hibiscus.
4) Chocolate / Cocoa Extract
Several studies in humans have shown that eating dark chocolate or chocolate or cocoa products enriched with flavonols may slightly lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or pre-hypertensive people. Consuming 50g cocoa per day is associated with a 2-3mm Hg reduction in blood pressure. Further research is needed, because not all human studies have found an effect.
Chocolate may affect the nitric oxide system resulting in vasodilation and lower blood pressure. It also may inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme. One thing to keep in mind is that chocolate also contains caffeine and sugar, among other ingredients. Large amounts of caffeine (greater than 400mg day) can increase blood pressure and the sugar content may affect blood sugar levels. Find out more about using cocoa extract for health.
The results are mixed on whether the mineral magnesium may help lower blood pressure, with a number of studies suggesting a small but significant in reduction in blood pressure. A 2012 meta-analysis concluded that magnesium supplementation reduced blood pressure by 2-3mmHg for diastolic blood pressure and 3-4mmHg for systolic blood pressure. Magnesium may be of particular benefit to people with high blood pressure who are deficient in magnesium and intravenous magnesium sulfate is commonly administered for preeclampsia and eclampsia in pregnancy. Further research is needed.
6) Vitamin D
Found naturally in fish, eggs, fortified milk, cod liver oil and produced naturally during exposure to the sun, low levels of vitamin D may have a role in the development of high blood pressure. Although research is very limited, studies note that blood pressure is often elevated when there is reduced exposure to sunlight/vitamin D (during the winter, greater distances from the equator, and dark skin pigmentation). The difference in systolic blood pressure is around 5mmHg. Learn more about vitamin D for health.
7) Green Coffee Extract
Green coffee refers to raw coffee beans (from the Coffea fruits) that have not been roasted. Some studies have found that chlorogenic acid, a component in green coffee extract, may lower blood pressure. Chlorogenic acid is also present in roasted coffee, but roasted coffee consumption has been found to increase blood pressure in some studies. Some researchers suggest that the different effects of roasted and green coffee on blood pressure may be due to a compound called hydroxyhydroquinone, which is formed during the roasting process and may block the beneficial effects of chlorogenic acid on blood pressure. Ferulic acid, a metabolite of 5-caffeoylquinic acid, may also be responsible for the hypotensive effects of green coffee extract.
Further research is needed particularly with respect to the side effects and drug interactions – for instance one study found that high doses of chlorogenic acid (2g daily) raised plasma homocysteine levels (a cardiovascular risk factor) whereas a much lower dose did not. Green coffee extract is also said to promote weight loss, which may help some people with high blood pressure. Find out more about using green coffee extract for health.
8) Diet and Weight Loss
Being overweight puts increases pressure on artery walls. If overweight, a weight loss diet to bring body weight into a healthy range may help to reduce blood pressure. In addition to a diet that emphasizes whole, fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein, juicing vegetables may help to increase one's intake of vegetables.
Vegetable juice, particularly from green leafy vegetables, can increase folic acid, a B vitamin that may help to lower high blood pressure in some people, possibly by reducing elevated homocysteine levels. Dark leafy greens are also high in potassium. A meta-analysis of five trials indicated that potassium supplementation compared to a control resulted in a large but statistically non-significant reduction in systolic blood pressure (mean difference 11.2 mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure (5.0 mm hg).
9) Tea / Reduced Caffeine Intake
Caffeine intake can result in a temporary but marked increase in blood pressure. It does this to a greater degree in people with high blood pressure compared with those with normal blood pressure. An alternative to higher-caffeine beverages is green tea, as green tea catechins have been found in some studies to reduce blood pressure. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that overweight or obese men given EGCG (a compound in green tea) extract had a reduction in diastolic blood pressure (-2.68mmHg) compared to those given a placebo.
Find out more about drinking tea for heart health.
10) Reduced Sodium Intake
Too much sodium can lead to fluid retention which can raise blood pressure, especially in people who are sensitive to sodium. It is estimated that 60% of people with essential hypertension can decrease their blood pressure by reducing their sodium intake.
Low potassium can raise sodium in cells, because sodium and potassium balance each other.
11) Alcohol in Moderation
Some studies suggest that moderate alcohol intake, particularly red wine, is linked with increasing levels of HDL and a slight reduction in blood pressure, however excessive consumption may raise triglyceride levels and increase blood pressure.