Controlling Hypertension Naturally
The World Heart Organization estimates that at least 970 million people worldwide have high blood pressure. Are you one of them? If you are, or have someone in your family that has the condition, then please read on because we are going to explore how we can control hypertension naturally.
But before we do that, let’s see what exactly hypertension or high blood pressure is.
What is Hypertension or High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure, also known by its medical term as hypertension, increases your risk of developing other chronic illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and metabolic syndrome.
Basically the condition develops when your blood vessels have raised pressure all the time, and this puts them under tremendous stress. Your heart pumps blood into the blood vessels every time it beats and the force of the pressure of the blood against the walls of the blood vessels or arteries is called blood pressure. So, the higher this pressure becomes, the harder your heart has to pump; overtime it puts extra stress on the heart.
Risk Factors in Hypertension
Some risk factors such as your age, ethnicity and familial history of high blood pressure are beyond your control while others like your lifestyle and diet are totally controllable. It is through these controllable factors that we’ll see how to prevent high blood pressure and lower it if you’ve already got this condition.
So, how do we control hypertension naturally?
We will look specifically at 3 natural methods in controlling hypertension naturally; each should be used in concert with the others:
- Changing to the DASH diet
- Supplementation with specific nutrients
- Stress reduction and exercise
The DASH Diet
DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.
The DASH diet was developed by the United States’ National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to lower blood pressure without medication. If you’re on this diet, it will help lower your blood pressure but it doesn’t mean you can stop taking your hypertension medication especially if your blood pressure is very high because your risk of getting a stroke is also high.
Of all the diets that were developed to treat hypertension and other chronic diseases, the DASH diet is the easiest to follow and adhere to. This is because the emphasis is on foods that are low in saturated fat, high in essential fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy. In fact, the DASH diet has been named the number 1 best diet by U.S. News & World Report in January 2016.
This diet meets most health authorities’ guidelines for sodium content with all the macronutrients i.e. protein, carbohydrates and fats in place. It is high in fiber and low to moderate in fat. The diet also supposedly lowers cholesterol and enables weight loss.
This is probably the most researched diet and there are tons of studies like this one to show its effectiveness in controlling not hypertension, but also in weight loss, lowering of cholesterol and diabetes management.
In this large scale study involving 88,517 female nurses over a span of 24 years, the DASH diet not only proved to be effective against hypertension, it was also shown to lower the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes because of its emphasis on plant rather than animal proteins, high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains.
In another study involving 144 people, it was shown that the DASH diet when combined with weight loss and exercise produced much greater reductions in blood pressure than just the using the diet alone.
Top Foods in the DASH Diet
Unprocessed whole grains like oat bran, rice bran, wild rice, brown rice, 5 grain rice, buckwheat, quinoa, rolled or steel cut oats, spelt, barley, amaranth, millet, rye contain fiber. Studies have shown
that a diet high in whole grains lowers blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic recommends 6 – 8 servings of unprocessed whole grains a day for those with hypertension and on the DASH diet.
Vegetables are high in antioxidants, fiber, vitamins C, K and numerous other phytochemicals. The Journal of American Medical Association published a study which reported that vegetarians have lower blood pressure readings than those who eat meat.
The Mayo Clinic recommends 4 – 5 servings of vegetables per day on the DASH Diet. Potassium counteracts the effects of sodium, so go for vegetables, fungi and roots that are high in potassium like spinach, kale, beet greens, sweet potatoes, fennel, Brussel sprouts, pak choi (Chinese cabbage), mushrooms, bamboo shoots, parsnips, artichokes, broccoli, watercress, beets, carrots, cauliflower, okra, celery.
Fruits, like vegetables, are also high in antioxidants, fiber and phytochemicals. The Mayo Clinic also recommends 4 – 5 servings of fruits on the DASH diet. Go for fruits that are high in potassium like bananas, avocados, guavas, passion fruit, melons, cherries, kiwi fruit, persimmons, apricots, figs, nectarines and grapes.
Nuts, seeds, beans and legumes that are high in essential fats, fiber and proteins like roasted soy beans, navy beans, yellow beans, French beans, pinto beans, black beans, split peas, lentils, mung beans and chickpeas, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews and macadamias. Chia and flax seeds are high in fiber, antioxidants and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a plant based omega 3 fatty acid.
These foods are great for folks who want to replace animal proteins with plant proteins, which is a good way to eat healthily following the DASH diet if you cannot find or are unable to get good quality animal proteins like grass fed beef, wild caught fish and free range poultry and eggs near your location.
The Mayo Clinic recommends 4 – 5 servings of nuts, seeds and legumes a week. Although raw nuts provide essential fats and proteins, they are high in calories so please go easy on them if you need to lose weight.
Lean meat, poultry and fish by going for lean cuts of meat, trimming off extra fat and removing the skin from poultry. The Mayo Clinic recommends 6 servings of these animal proteins a day.
My recommendation is to get pasture or grass fed beef, free range chicken and eggs and wild caught fish. The reason why I recommend these kinds of animal proteins is because what is available from your supermarket or wet market (if you live in Asia) isn’t exactly healthy: beef and poultry from regular commercial sources are often treated with hormones, antibiotics and other drugs. Milk and meat from cows treated with bovine growth hormones contain high levels of insulin growth factor or IGF-1 which has been directly linked to cancers of the colon, prostate and breast.
Cows, pigs and poultry are also often treated with drugs like ractopamine, salbutamol and clenbuterol so as to increase lean meat. Salbutamol and clenbuterol are anti-asthma drugs while ractopamine is a feed additive to promote growth in livestock.
Fish from fish farms are fed pellets containing ethoxyquin or other similar toxic fish food. Ethoxyquin was first developed in the 1950s as a pesticide so you can imagine what this will do to our health in the long run every time we eat farmed fish.
Low fat dairy includes low fat milk, cheese and yoghurt. The Mayo Clinic recommends 2 – 3 servings of dairy a day on the DASH diet.
Go for milk from pasture or grass fed cows or goat’s milk, hard cheese and Greek yoghurt. Please do not go for milk from conventional sources because even if your country has outlawed the use of bovine growth hormones, chances are the cattle are still fed antibiotics and GMO feed; this means that conventional cow’s milk will contain traces of these substances that will damage our health in the long run.
Goat’s milk is a much better alternative because goats aren’t fed growth hormones, antibiotics and GMO feed. Also, the lactose in goat’s milk is easier to digest and folks with lactose intolerance tend to fare much better on goat’s milk.
For yoghurt, please go for Greek yoghurt where there’s no sugar added. You can eat it with fruits and it’ll taste great. If you eat it plain and want a tinge of sweetness, you can add some raw honey.
For cheese, go for hard cheese like cheddar, parmesan etc. Avoid slice cheese because it’s heavily processed. Please go easy on cheese – the sodium levels are still high and if your hypertension is bad, I would suggest avoiding them altogether; if you must eat cheese, then go for cottage cheese which has the lowest amount of sodium.
Low sodium foods because excessive sodium intake will raise blood pressure. Limit your sodium intake to a maximum of 2,000 mg of sodium per day; if your hypertension is bad, your daily sodium intake should be lower with a maximum of 1,500 mg.
Foods to Avoid in the DASH Diet
Foods high in sodium – this would be all processed foods e.g. soy sauce, bacon, ham, salami, beef jerky, turkey ham, sausages, Chinese barbecued beef and pork slices, Chinese salted vegetables and salted fish, Japanese and Korean seaweed snacks etc.
You can reduce sodium further by using herbs and spices in place of salt and not adding salt when cooking whole grains like brown rice.
Sugar – table sugar has been directly linked not only to hypertension but also to most chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer. In fact, several studies such as this one find that sugar is worse than salt in raising blood pressure and contributing to heart disease.
Caffeine – caffeine, when taken in excess can elevate blood pressure. If you have hypertension, please reduce your caffeine intake buy cutting down on coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
Trans fats and Omega 6 – these fats will increase inflammation and blood pressure levels and they are found in vegetable oils, margarine, processed foods and meats.
Alcohol – taking alcohol increase blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, more than 3 drinks at one sitting will increase your blood pressure temporarily while long term binge drinking can lead to hypertension. The Mayo Clinic also cautions that if you’re a heavy drinker, you need to reduce your alcohol consumption gradually over weeks; stopping suddenly will entail the risk of having severe high blood pressure for several days.
I would highly recommend The Dash Diet Action Plan by Marla Heller. It is an excellent book on the DASH diet and a very detailed guide on how to implement the diet effectively. It also includes a chapter on the type of exercises suitable for those with hypertension. The book is available on my Amazon store.
Supplements That Can Help Normalize Blood Pressure
Medication for hypertension can give unpleasant side effects. The US National Library of Medicine lists these as common side effects of such medication.
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Erection problems
- Feeling nervous
- Feeling tired, weak, drowsy, or a lack of energy
- Nausea or vomiting
- Skin rash
- Weight loss or gain without trying
If you want to avoid medications and use only natural healing methods, then besides the DASH diet, the following supplements will also help in normalizing blood pressure. Please get the okay from your doctor if you are already on hypertension medication.
Magnesium relaxes the blood vessels and can have an immediate positive impact on high blood pressure. 500 mg every night is the recommended dose by most naturopaths. I personally take 500 mg in the morning rather than at night.
Fish Oil contains DHA and EPA, the two Omega 3 fatty acids that have proven in study after study to fight inflammation and prevent chronic illnesses like heart disease, strokes, diabetes and high blood pressure. 1 gram (1,000 mg) of omega 3 daily is all you need to get your blood pressure down. WebMD has listed the various dosages that have been used effectively for chronic conditions.
Garlic is excellent for hypertension as well because it is a natural vasodilator i.e. it dilates and opens up blood vessels. In fact, aged garlic has been proven to lower blood pressure and reduce arterial stiffness for those with uncontrolled hypertension. Garlic supplements come in handy if you have hypertension but don’t eat enough garlic.
Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is needed if you’re on hypertension and cholesterol lowering medications because these drugs lower CoQ 10 levels in the body. CoQ 1o is a natural vitamin like substance found in our bodies; the cells in our bodies manufacture CoQ 10 on their own but aging and taking medications like statins, beta blockers and some anti-depressants deplete it. CoQ 10 has been used to prevent heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The University of Maryland Medical Centre’s recommended dose for CoQ 10 is between 30 mg to 200 mg.
All these supplements are available from my Amazon Store if your local health food store doesn’t have any one of them. If this is your first time buying from Amazon please read my page on how to order if you are not residing in the US.
Stress Reduction and Exercise
Other than dietary changes and supplementation with specific nutrients, lifestyle changes in the areas of stress reduction and physical activity need to be consciously made to control and normalize your blood pressure.
No matter how busy you are, if you have hypertension, you must find the time to relax and exercise in order to lower blood pressure naturally, together with the DASH diet and supplements that I mentioned.
Different people reduce stress differently; some folks tell me they relieve stress by smoking and drinking; please don’t use these methods because such activities will only worsen the problem.
Listening to soothing music, playing with your pet dog, meditation and prayer – these are all very effective stress relievers at the end of a busy work day. Going for after dinner strolls can do wonders as well, and so is practicing yoga or qigong which will also double up as exercise.
Good exercise options are brisk and power walking, both of which I highly recommend because I’ve found power walking extremely beneficial both as an exercise and stress reliever. You don’t have to join a gym or go for a class; all you need is a good pair of walking shoes. The only times that I won’t recommend an outdoor walk is when there’s a thunderstorm and raining heavily and when there’s smog and the air quality is bad.
Cycling either on a real bike or a stationary bike is also excellent for those of us who are over 50. Swimming is also a fantastic choice if you have access to a pool where you can do laps every day.
On days that you’re pressed for time, you can weave activities like walking to the train station and climbing stairs of your apartment block or office into your schedule for exercise.
Food and exercise are medicines in themselves for almost all chronic diseases i.e. if you eat healthily and pursue an active lifestyle.
Please let me know how the DASH diet and the supplements work out for you by using the comments column below. If you know of someone who has hypertension, please do that person a favor by sharing this article with him or her.