Blood Pressure Overdrive: Non Drug, Nutritional Ways to Put On The Brakes
Hypertension is one of the biggest risk factors influencing the development of cardiovascular disease, and yet still one of the most confusing when it comes to treatment, somewhat because it’s difficult to talk someone that doesn’t have any symptoms into pharmaceutical therapy.1 This is certainly true with hypertension, otherwise known as elevated blood pressure. 120/80 is considered normal and healthy, but for anyone under the age of 60, pharmaceutical therapies are recommended when the elevation reaches greater than 140/90.1
Blood pressure is the force of pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries and is measured when the heart is beating, and when it is at rest2. It can change during the day as you are sleeping and when you are physically active. It can increase over time with age, with stress and tension, and with a diet high in processed foods and high sodium.2
Hypertension can double the risk for heart attack, ischemia, stroke and heart failure.3 Blood pressure typically elevates as we age and while it is prevalent in those over 65, it can be a danger for anyone. Some symptoms could include frequent headaches, vision issues, shortness of breath, nosebleeds, chest pain, dizziness, memory concerns and even GI upset.3 It sometimes comes with palpitations or feelings of a fluttering heart, but in many cases, there are no symptoms whatsoever. Inflammation and/or elevated CRP levels can represent the beginning of dysfunction.3
Genetic markers can be a possible predictor for the development of hypertension. Risk factors like smoking, waist circumference, BMI and weight, diet history and age, and a medical history of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or insulin resistance increases the risk.3
There are many lab tests that can help identify risk factors and the presence of cardio conflict if hypertension is present. These include CRP and albumin as well as typical cholesterol panels, labs that assess kidney function, and labs that assess liver function.3
Luckily, there are many things you can take charge of now to reduce your risk and/or to decrease your numbers if they’ve already started to rise.
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Considering a regular meditation practice to reduce stress
- Deep breathing,
- Making exercise and movement a regular part of your life
Foods to Plan On and Therapeutic Foods to Add
Luckily, you have the say over your foods, which plays a key role in the ability to lower blood pressure. The Mediterranean Diet and the DASH diet are two popular diet options that people can employ. Both consist of diets that are high in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and beans, and low in snacks and sweets. The Mediterranean Diet also stresses the importance of healthy fats with the use of olives and olive oil, where the DASH diet additionally limits the intake of sodium and dairy, animal meat and saturated fats.2 All factors of cardio health must be considered, however, as some diets would be more appropriate for total condition of the heart than others.
Nutritionally there are some things you can consider immediately:
- Limit salt intake. Shoot for between 1500-2400mg of dietary sodium per day.3 This might include limiting foods rich in salt like canned soups and broths, frozen dinners, chips, lunch meats, pizza and packaged foods.2
- Garlic – 1-2 cloves per day in food.2 It helps to crush or bruise the cloves first and let them sit 10-15 minutes to release allicin, the health promotive phytochemical.5
- Milk – some studies have shown that people who drink milk seem to have lower blood pressure.2 This may be due to the cardio necessary effects of calcium or that microbiota forms proteins that block enzymes that can cause high blood pressure.2
- Dark chocolate – yes, a small piece of dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao can be beneficial in reducing blood pressure! Studies have shown that it could reduce systolic by 4.7mm Hg and diastolic by 2.8 mm Hg.2 This is accomplished by a small single serving, or 10-30g daily.2
- Fiber – a meta analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials showed the intake of dietary fiber could reduce systolic by 5.95mm Hg and diastolic by 4.20mm Hg, which is pretty significant!1
- Tea – green tea can help regulate the gut microbiome5 as well as being an excellent substitution to help decrease caffeine intake from coffee, known to be a risk and contributing factor in hypertension.
- Cinnamon – reduces serum glucose and triglycerides as well as total cholesterol while it raises HDL (the good cholesterol).5
Dietary Supplements to Consider
CoQ10 is a popularly recommended supplement to reduce blood pressure at 100-200mg divided between 2 doses a day.4
Fish oil (EPA and DHA) at 1000mg/day4.
ALA is an antioxidant that helps to support glucose use in the body and protects the liver and can protect against cardiac arrythmias.5
Biotin is known to enhance insulin sensitivity and be supportive of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes. Dosing can be 2-6mg/day, taken with food.5
Calcium is another supportive nutrient for the necessity it has in all muscle tissue, including the heart. It can increase HDL, decrease total cholesterol and is most effective in those with salt sensitive hypertension.5 It can be taken between 800-1000mg/day.
If levels are low according to lab results, consider Vitamin D3 at 1000 IU/day, magnesium glycinate or aspartate at 500-750mg daily, calcium 1200 mg daily, and potassium aspartate 1.5-3mg/day.4
It is wise to get all nutrients that you can through your dietary intake. Foods come with a host of cooperative nutrients that work together. If you do decide to consider supplements, discuss all options with your doctor and/or nutritionist before you begin any new supplementation. Just because they are natural does not mean they don’t come without risks of their own.
Overall, hypertension needs to be properly identified through routine visits and then managed appropriately. Thankfully it is something that leaves each individual some say. as one can institute lifestyle changes, implement dietary moderations, and self monitor through the use of food logs and a home blood pressure monitor. There are many options to managing hypertension, and it is a matter of working with your practitioner on what is appropriate for you.
- Nicolai J, Lupiani J, Wolf A. Integrative Medicine. In: Integrative Medicine. 4th ed. Elsevier; 2018:320-333.
- Health UD of FM and C. Non-Drug Ways to Promote Health by Lowering Blood Pressure How can blood pressure be lowered by nutrition? Patient Handout. Accessed October 24, 2021. www.fammed.wisc.edu/integrative
- Stump SE. Nutrient Recommendations for Adults - The Mediterranean Diet. In: Nutrition and Diagnosis Related Care. 8th ed. Wolters Kluwer Health; 2015:49.
- Health UD of FM and C. Treating Hypertension - Handouts for Patients & Clinicians. Accessed October 24, 2021. https://www.fammed.wisc.edu/integrative/resources/modules/hypertension/
- Ross K. Nutritional Interventions for Chronic Disease: Cardiovascular. In: Presented as Part of a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition, SCNM, Tempe, AZ. ; 2021.