Q: It seems I have high blood pressure! I am healthy, I exercise and eat right, but I’ve been getting high blood pressure readings for the past several weeks. At first I ignored it since I thought, “I’m healthy, I can’t have high blood pressure!”, but since those high readings have stayed consistent, I have to come to grips with reality. Do you have any suggestions of natural things I can do to lower it? I just can’t believe it!
A: High blood pressure is often called “The Silent Killer” because it can occur without any symptoms. Risk factors for high blood pressure are obesity, lack of exercise, a diet high in salt, stress, smoking, as well as a family history of high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is a common problem, but it’s important to not ignore it because of that. High blood pressure can damage and narrow the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke. Over time high blood pressure can even cause an aneurysm, which can rupture and cause life threatening internal bleeding.
The first thing I would look to is the amount of salt in your diet. There is sodium in everything, particularly canned and prepared foods, so it could be that you don’t realize the amount of salt you’re eating. Some people are especially sensitive to salt, and you could be one of those people. Excess salt in the diet increases the amount of sodium in the bloodstream. This puts a strain on the kidneys since the kidneys as they work to maintain the body’s water and salt balance, which in turn raises blood pressure.
Start taking note of the nutrition facts on the foods you’re eating, adding up the sodium content. At first, aim to have your daily sodium count under 2,300 mg. If you do this for two weeks without noticing a change in blood pressure, reducing it to a number of 1,500 or below may be necessary to see results.
Some scientists content that salt in the diet is not the problem, but rather an imbalance in a person’s sodium/potassium balance. Increasing the amount of potassium in the diet may help to lower blood pressure. The daily recommendation of potassium per day is 4,700mg, a number most Americans don’t get anywhere near. Potassium works to balance the effect of sodium on the body, so reducing sodium in the diet while increasing your daily potassium content is especially helpful. Many common foods are high in potassium, including oats, barley, quinoa, avocado, bananas, lentils, pinto beans, potatoes, and spinach to name a few. We have a great list of potassium containing foods on our website, so be sure to look there for a more complete listing.
There are also supplements which can help with lowering blood pressure. The first I would recommend is CoQ10, a nutrient best known for its benefit to heart health. CoQ10 is often taken for cardiovascular health and for improving heart function, but recent research has extended its long list of benefits to include the ability to lower blood pressure. A review of 12 different clinical studies on CoQ10 reported that supplementation with CoQ10 was able to lower blood pressure on an average of 17 for the top number (systolic blood pressure) and 10 for the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure). CoQ10 must be taken consistently for its benefits, and scientists say it may take anywhere from one to three months to see the full difference the supplement makes.
CoQ10 may also help to lower cholesterol, balance blood sugar, and reduce periodontal disease, so it is a fantastic supplement for anyone to take. It’s important to note that CoQ10 must be taken with food for maximum absorption. For people with compromised absorption, or severe high blood pressure, the ubiquinol form of the vitamin would be a good idea. It’s more expensive than regular CoQ10, but it is significantly better absorbed.
Hibiscus tea is also a nice adjunct for people with high blood pressure. Studies have showed a modest, but impressive ability to lower blood pressure for people who drink three cups per day, with an average of about a 7 point reduction. Hibiscus tea is caffeine free, absolutely delicious, and good hot or iced. Republic of Tea has several flavored varieties which are especially amazing that contain a little stevia for added calorie free sweetness (I’ve tried almost all of the ones they have, and they are among my favorite teas).
Stress can also be a big factor for people with high blood pressure, especially chronic or constant stress. There are many very effective supplements which can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, is one that I especially recommend. Theanine helps to encourage a calm, relaxed state without tiredness. It can be taken on a regular basis, or just when you know you’ll be going in to a stressful situation. Interestingly, theanine has also been shown to increase focus and attention, something most everyone would like to have more of.
Finally, I’d suggest buying a new blood pressure monitor. Most doctors recommend replacing blood pressure monitors every three years to ensure the most accurate readings. Keeping a daily blood pressure log can also be helpful to monitor changes and to show your doctor; it’s also an easy way to monitor the effectiveness of the changes you make.