High blood pressure or “hypertension” is a tough nut to crack with natural medicines. Of course, there are many etiologies to this common disease; however, most cases are because we have gotten fat, old, and out of shape. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, so don’t be hitting the comments form to send me hate mail.
Regardless, I just announced the pink elephant in the room. So as stated in my tricky little diatribe on “Chocolate Chips Better than Viagra?” we want an “elastic” cardiovascular system and not a non-compliant one. And when I say non-compliant, I am not talking about a badly behaving cardiovascular system. I am talking about elasticity of your arteries.
Alternative treatments are not as efficacious as they could be when it comes to hypertension, and diet and exercise are the key to keeping blood pressure low. The fact that you are no longer young and fit is the real problem, and we all inevitably develop hardening of the arteries known as “atherosclerosis”, which is the leading cause of high blood pressure.
While you are working to adopt a healthier lifestyle I would recommend a basic regime of a whole foods diet, magnesium, coQ10, vitamin C, potassium, and fish oil (do NOT take if you are on anti-coagulants), as these nutrients combine well with most medications (always remember to check with your naturopathic doctor or family doc before implementing ANYTHING new.)
Monitor your blood pressure three times a day while making new changes to ensure you are not over-medicating with natural remedies.
The best natural medicines for high blood pressure:
1. Magnesium: 300-500mg daily (may need to divide doses to avoid diarrhea) Magnesium is a muscle relaxant and the arteries are all surrounded with smooth muscle.
When the smooth muscle surrounding your arteries relaxes, it causes your arteries to dilate which results in a drop of blood pressure. Most people are deficient in magnesium anyway, as the richest sources are found in green veggies. I would guess about 90% of American’s are magnesium deficient.
2. CoQ10: 100 mg daily (You should be on this anyway if you have high cholesterol as statins deplete this nutrient, and the common sign is muscle weakness or pain, or in the severe form rhabdomyolyosis).
CoQ10 is depleted by statins (lipitor, lovastatin, etc) inhibition of HMGCoA reductase in the cholesterol pathway, so it is best to replete this potent antioxidant, and you may feel more energetic on your lipitor. I am just waiting for a pharmaceutical company to smartly come out with a statin that includes CoQ10. This nutrient is expensive, but it is worth the bang for the buck if you can afford it.
If you can’t afford it, remember that exercise is free and it is one of the better treatments anyway. If you have high BP check with your doc before starting a new exercise program as they may want to do an EKG or exercise stress test. Otherwise, be sure to purchase a high quality brand of CoQ10 in an emulsion (liquid capsule not tablet) form as this nutrient is fat soluble.
3. Garlic: Liberally in the diet (cooking does reduce the allicin content, so raw is best but I understand if you still need to keep a few friends around…it just means you have to eat more cooked or roasted garlic to attain the same therapeutic effect.)
Or just take garlic as directed if you are going with a supplement form. (Kyolic brand has been widely studied and shown to be efficacious according to the studies.)
Because various studies have shown garlic to be effective as an anti-hypertensive agent, I would start slow and monitor blood pressure. Garlic also lowers blood sugar, so if you are diabetic you should check your sugars more often while implementing this natural therapeutic for hypertenstion.
4. Potassium: at 24 mmol (ask your doc for a prescription, but chances are you are already on this as most anti-hypertensives are potassium depleting) If you want to get this from dietary sources, then just eat green leafies and fruits like bananas. Check with your doctor before using this as a therapeutic agent if you have kidney disease or if you are already on a potassium sparing diuretic medication (used for high BP.)
5. Vitamin C: 1000 mg twice daily. Emergen-C packets are the simplest way to achieve this along with vitamin C rich foods.
One of the cheapest and most well studied anti-oxidants by Linus Pauling: the theory with vitamin C and blood pressure is that high blood pressure typically results from a few causes.
Hyptertension is caused either by problems in the kidneys, or “atherosclerosis” or hardening of the arteries. We want arteries to be compliant as I noted in my tirade, “Chocolate Better than Viagra?”
Vitamin C is a very cheap antioxidant that helps prevent the LDL from “oxidizing” and forming the hardened plaques in our arteries that cause them to lose their elasticity. Think of vitamin C as the nutrient that keeps your pipes from rusting. Just about everyone should be on vitamin C anyways.
6. Calcium: 800 mg daily. Most Americans do not achieve this in the diet. Research has shown that calcium will slightly help to lower blood pressure…and we’ll take every little bit we can. Natural medicines work well in incremental steps and synergistically.
The goal with most of these supplements is to create an additive effect. Most people are deficient in this essential nutrient anyway, as 800mg is required for the average adult. Take your calcium and magnesium 1-2 hours before bed to ensure a good night’s sleep as they are also great muscle and nervous system relaxants.
7. Fish Oil: 1 tablespoon of cod liver oil or salmon oil daily. I frankly wouldn’t waste my time with flax oil.
Trust me, I love flaxseeds, and I put everyone on them, but if you are really trying to get a therapeutic effect you need something that is further along the anti-inflammatory pathway. If you haven’t seen the biochemistry of what I’m talking about then quit arguing with me about this.
Many nutrient cofactors and coenzymes that most Americans are also deficient in are needed to convert flax to what fish oil is. Also those of Northern European descent such as Scandinavians likely are deficient in the enzyme needed to convert flax seeds, as their traditional diet is based on cold water fish rich in Omega 3â€²s.
8. Rauwulfia: Don’t use this herbal medication without consulting your naturopathic physician. This is “big medicine” in my opinion, and should not be used without being adequately monitored. However, a randomized study showed less depression when compared to reserpine. Ask your naturopathic physician about this medicine.
9. Stevia: The herb known for its sweetness has also been shown to reduce blood pressure at 500 mg three times daily. If you have high blood pressure, you have my permission to try out some of the new stevia containing foods and beverages such as Zevia soda. I prefer the “Wisdom of the Ancients” in the green packets as my fav Stevia. Keep some packets on you and try it in your coffee or tea instead of your typical sweetener. Just don’t use too much as it is REALLY sweet!
10. L-Arginine: 2 grams three times daily. The amino acid that is famous in those late night infomercials for “Extenze” L-arginine works to enhance blood flow by being the precursor to nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide dilates our blood vessels and when we go back to the hose analogy we decrease the flow when we take our thumb off the hose. That is what L-arganine and similar nutrients do for hyptertension.
11. The Dash Diet: Involves extreme sodium reduction to 2000mg daily. But most people should be reducing sodium in the diet anyways. The best way to do this is to avoid packaged food. Salt your food with organic sea salt when it is finished cooking….not during. Salt just makes us look unnecessarily fat and bloated anyways. It is totally out of style. Eat fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and learn to cook with herbs and citrus foods to enhance the flavor of your foods. Salt and pepper as the final garnish.
12. Tai Chi: This gentle exercise is perfect for everyone trying to lose weight or reduce arthritis, stress, or just increase agility, balance and peace of mind. Tai Chi is totally fab! Find a few favorite Tai Chi moves from classes at your gym or favorite video and try to incorporate at least five to twenty minutes of these gentle stretches in to your day. Do you know when I do them? When someone says “Can you hold please?” I then put them on speaker phone and say “sure no prob.” Sometimes I can get a whole fifteen minutes in.
13. Weight Loss: Nag, nag, nag…lose weight. Yah, yah, yah….you’ve heard it. If you are over-weight you know it so I would recommend following my simple weight loss plan, and if you can’t do that then please consider investing in some long term help such as Author Mary O’malley’s enlightening work, “The Gift of Our Compulsions” to address the route underlying cause of your disordered eating issues.
Of course our metabolism gloriously slows down about 1% each year, which accounts for the 10 pound weight gain each decade.
It may be just a discipline thing. Each year we have to learn to eat 1% less, otherwise each decade we will gain at least ten pounds. How is that for a birthday present?
14. Decrease/Eliminate Caffeine: Caffeine is just like throwing gasoline on the hypertensive fire.
Now the reason why people get those “caffeine headaches” is because they are used to caffeine restricting all their blood vessels…but once the body metabolizes all the caffeine we get the painful rebound headache effect called “vasodilation” which means that our arteries dilate and cause a throbbing headache.
So why do we care about caffeine headaches? Because when we constrict blood vessels we increase blood pressure.
Remember again sticking your finger over the hose when you were a child and making the water shoot further? Well that is not necessarily a good thing in the body. A cup or two of coffee a day typically isn’t the problem, it is caffeine in excess.
If you have severe hypertension you may want to consider switching to decaf green tea, or herbal tea. Otherwise, you can likely enjoy certain caffeinated beverages socially, or moderately as long as your hypertension is within optimal range through the use of other natural modalities or prescription medicines.
15. Quit sugar: Sugar is the culprit for many diseases, and although not typically associated with hypertension may be the root cause. Try eliminating sugar or cutting back for a few weeks and track your daily numbers.
I have heard many anecdotal reports from Naturopaths about patients reducing salt and not seeing any results, so they tried reducing sugar (which we all need to do anyways!) and SHAZAM…the blood pressure goes down.
Refined sugar throws the body out of balance because it simply is just not natural. Everyone in industrialized countries should read Dr. Scott Olson’s brilliant book “Sugarettes,” to fully understand how refined sugar is destroying your body from the inside out.
16. Consider food allergies: A recent study has linked food allergies to hypertension. Food allergies can cause a myriad of problems and a food allergy elimination diet is a great thing for everyone to try at some point. I was enthusiastic as a student to try this challenge as mandated by my teacher, and surprised at the results.
Basically it entails you have to eat completely differently for about a month and then you test the foods you most commonly eat to determine if they are causing a symptom within a three day window.
What is the first thing your doctor does if they think you are having an allergic reaction? They check your pulse and BP. Low-grade allergies may go unnoticed, and high blood pressure or a rapid pulse may be the only clue.
17. Not enough good oil, too much bad oil: We want to increase our good fats such as olive, fish, and flax, and decrease fried and fatty foods.
Think of saturated fat as little cement bricks building up in your arteries and making them hard and narrow. The good fats as recommended in “The Mediterranean Diet” are what will keep your cardiovascular system running like a race car. Most men worry about changing the oil in their cars more than they do than changing the oils in their body. But, just remember impotence is better prevented.
18. Coleus forskhohlii: Ask your naturopath about this herb. I don’t recommend self treatment with herbs for high blood pressure. But the studies show it to be efficacious, and it is certainly worth trying.
19. Manage Stress: Blah blah blah stress. I can see you all rolling your eyes as you read this, but really stress is often the root cause of hypertension. Having worked eight years as a medical assistant I have seen enough cases of “White Coat Hypertension” to know that stress causes high blood pressure.
The doctor’s office may not be that thing that gets your blood pressure raging, but if you have high blood pressure you likely need to cut back on activities, work, and practice some breathing exercises shown to reduce BP such as “Square Breathing” or “Five Minutes to Zen.” Consider taking up a relaxing hobby, musical instrument, or new craft.
20. Eat celery and parsley: Who knew that garnish on your plate is an actual diuretic? Celery has been used anecdotally with many patients. If you are trying to lose weight, increase fiber, or just be healthy…celery should be a daily snack anyway.
21. Exercise: *shudder* I know. I know. You probably have high blood pressure because you don’t exercise. I put this last because it is the most important and I would like to go off on a little bit of a rampage on why none of the aforementioned natural substances or pharmaceutical medications will work in the way that diet and exercise will.
Why is that? Well hypertension is a sign that you are in poor physical condition, that is if you have the typical form of high blood pressure caused by being overweight, overage, and over the whole exercise thing. There are other forms, but the average American has high blood pressure because they are out of shape.
It is time to start eating better, exercising daily, as well as add in a few supplements to help maintain a healthy “flexible” cardiovascular system. You cardiovascular system cannot be “conditioned” without exercise for twenty minutes daily in the cardio zone which is 70-80% of your max heart rate (220-your age mine is 33) x .7= 130. Shoot for daily and then if you hit five days a week or even three days a week it will make your blog doctor happy.
Keep in mind that herbs such as dandelion that have been shown to be efficacious against anti-hypertensive medications such as furosmeide require HIGH doses in order to be effective. In order to lower pressure using dandelion, you have to literally take tablespoons of the tincture daily…and that is LEAF not root. The root serves to detox the liver and the leaf is used for blood pressure.
Be sure you are always using the correct form of the plant. Many research studies done to show herbal medicines as ineffective have been done on the wrong form of the plant, whether intentional or not. Always read the label and make sure you are purchasing the correct form of the herb you are using.
Exercise, whole foods Diet, fish oil, vitamin C, CoQ 10,magnesium, and potassium are the most benign substances on this list if you are concerned about combining them with anti-hypertensive drugs. That combined with diet and exercise should help you gain better control of your numbers.
You may at some point want to discuss lowering your blood pressure medicine if not phasing off it, as the goal is to be on as few meds as possible, and many patients do not like the typical side effects of high blood pressure medicine such as fatigue, dizziness, and so forth.
Once stable on natural meds, your blood pressure should still be monitored daily to ensure there is not an additive effect and you end up with too low blood pressure aka “hypotension” and that the BP is optimally under 120/80 if not 120/70.
If you tend towards hypertension remember that anytime you are not feeling well the first thing you should grab is your home blood pressure cuff (best brand is Omron according to my pharmacist,) unless you need to call 911 because you are having chest pain or any other cardiac symptoms such as pain in the neck, arms, flu like symptoms, sweating, and so forth. As my very wise cardiology teacher Dr. Pournadeli states, “anytime there is pain above the belly button assume MI (Myocardial Infarction=Heart Attack) until ruled out.”
Stroke, heart attack, impotence, kidney failure, and eye disease are all part of the ugly sequalae to uncontrolled high blood pressure. Prevention is key with hypertension. Try one new thing at a time and give it a few days to make sure it is not causing adverse side effects.
Thanks for stopping by my kitchen table.
Dr. Nicole Sundene is a Naturopathic Physician and a graduate of Western Washington University for her undergraduate degree, and Bastyr University for her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine.
She believes we should utilize natural medicines to treat the root cause of disease rather than just treating symptoms, as symptoms are a message of imbalance sent from the body and will persist until they are properly addressed.
Dr. Sundene’s goal with Kitchen Table Medicine is to provide readers with the missing link in their health care experience. She works hard to share with everyone her latest health-promoting finds, tips, and tircks so that they can get the most out of life. Her mottos are “No hype...only help” and “Progress not perfection right?”
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