Perhaps you were one of the lucky ones who had an indication something was wrong and you were able to get to the hospital on time. Or maybe you were surprised on a routine visit when your doctor said your blood pressure was high. Either way, it can be startling to think about the consequences of a sudden heart attack or stroke which are more likely to occur as your blood pressure rises.
High blood pressure is a serious health risk, but there are many natural ways to lower blood pressure. Let’s take a closer look at what high blood pressure is and how to lower your blood pressure with some simple lifestyle changes and supplements.
Even when you are resting, your heart is hard at work circulating blood through your body. In fact, your heart started beating 22 days after you were conceived (even though no one could hear it yet) and will continue to beat until your brain stops sending signals to it(1).
Your heart is working to circulate blood, carrying oxygen from your lungs, to every cell in your body. It does this with the help of the arterial blood vessels which maintain the pressure in your circulation system even as you shift from resting to activity and back again.
The average human has 9-12 pints (4-6 liters) of blood circulating in their bodies. Your arteries automatically contract or expand to exert the right amount of pressure for the state your body is in. These adjustments are the result of signals from your brain, and they do not require your attention or awareness.
When you are resting, your heart beats at a normal rate (for you) and your blood flows smoothly. When you are exercising heavily, your heart beats faster and your vessels adjust according to a complex set of signals that are influenced by your activity, diet and environment.
Although your heart rate and blood pressure are components of the same circulation system, it is a myth that the two are always linked, or that there is a standard value for each one(2). What is normal for you may be a crisis for someone else. It is important to learn about your own body and what is normal for you, than to compare your rate, progress or treatment with someone else’s.
The so-called “normal” blood pressure for a healthy resting adult is considered to be 120/80 mmHg. What does that mean?
Blood pressure is typically measured with a pressure cuff that squeezes your arm while a small gauge records the pressure. The unit of measurement — mmHg — stands for “millimeters of mercury,” which is the unit the pressure cuff gauge works in.
Two readings are taken and given to you as your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg then:
It is important to note that every person is different. While “normal” blood pressure is stated as 120/80 you may have a variation of normal. The only way to know is to measure your blood pressure in a repeatable way, such as first thing in the morning when you are resting, or at the same time of day when your activity level is predictable.
Remember your blood pressure will rise and fall with various activities, food, drinks, excitement, and medications throughout the day. This is normal. What is not normal, is for your blood pressure to remain high over extended periods of time.
There are different stages of high blood pressure ranging from elevated (120-129/80), all the way to hypertensive crisis (over 180/over 120). High blood pressure is also called hypertension.
The chart below, based on the American Heart Association categories of blood pressure(3), illustrates the different stages of high blood pressure, and how the systolic and diastolic numbers (your blood pressure readings) can vary at each stage. You can use the chart to look at where your blood pressure readings fall within the different categories of low, normal or high blood pressure.
According to the American Heart Association(4), risks from high blood pressure include:
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for heart attack and stroke. Observational data from more than 1 million people has been analyzed to determine that for every 20 mmHg systolic or 10 mmHG diastolic increase in blood pressure, mortality from heart disease and stroke doubles(5).
High blood pressure is a hidden health problem. You may not feel anything, or show any symptoms, and yet your doctor has told you there is a risk to your health because your blood pressure is too high. That can feel frustrating.
Learning that you have elevated or high blood pressure should be seen as a call to action. There are time-proven strategies that can help you lower your blood pressure and your risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.
Although there are exhaustive lists of all the foods, drinks and factors that can influence your blood pressure, they all boil down to six categories of actions you can take. Whether or not you are using prescription medications to manage your blood pressure, these factors will contribute to your overall success:
Your heart is a muscle. Moving your body is critical to helping your heart get strong and stay strong.
For years studies have shown that aerobic exercise can lower blood pressure and reduce your risks of heart disease. A 2020 summary in the Textbook of Sports and Exercise Cardiology states(6):
“The value of regular physical activity in decreasing blood pressure (BP) and improving several other cardiovascular risk factors has been demonstrated in a large number of studies. For this reason, irrespective of the level of BP, all professional organizations and committees recommend lowering of BP and prevention of hypertension in the first instance by lifestyle changes, including exercise.”
What is the recommended amount of exercise to lower blood pressure?
Any exercise is better than no exercise. But the greatest benefits to lowering your blood pressure come from sustained aerobic exercise.
This could include brisk walking, biking, swimming, running, and even weight lifting or resistance training or dancing. Anything that gets your heart pumping quickly on a regular basis can count.
Your goal should be to exercise at least five days out of seven for a total of 150 minutes each week(6). Varying the type of activity you do can keep exercise interesting and your motivation high.
There are many examples of eating a healthy diet(7). The American Heart Association recommends a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy oils and lean meats(8). Reducing the amount of processed food in your diet can be beneficial to both your health and overall weight.
A heart-healthy diet should be considered an essential factor for successfully lowering your blood pressure and keeping it lowered.
Smoking and drinking alcohol have long been known to increase blood pressure. If you have serious hypertension, talk to your doctor about help to quit these heart-damaging habits.
In general, limiting alcohol to one drink a day or less will have the most benefit in lowering your blood pressure.
It’s also important to skip the energy drinks. In a double-blind, controlled study using 32 healthy volunteers, average systolic blood pressure increased by 5 mmHg and diastolic pressure increased by 4 mmHg following the consumption of 32 oz of a caffeinated energy drink(9). This sudden shift may be enough to send some individuals to the emergency room. If your blood pressure is a concern, then energy drinks should be off the menu entirely.
Your health is the culmination of many factors, not just popping a pill or jumping on a treadmill. Your mental state, stress levels, amount ofsleep and relationships all play a role in how easily you will be able to lower your blood pressure.
Take a look at your overall well-being and find ways to increase your joy and satisfaction with your life. While exposure to conflicts, such as in a difficult marriage, may increase your blood pressure, a recent study suggests that it is the individual’s behavior that matters most and not necessarily the situation itself(10).
There are many ways to increase your well-being and build personal resilience, including developing friendships, finding a hobby, reducing stress with yoga or meditation, or even getting a pet.
Your heart has to work harder the bigger you are. If you are overweight, then taking action to reduce that weight, even by a small amount, can reduce your blood pressure and risk factors for heart disease.
A 46 year study of Swedish men showed that for every unit increase in body mass index (a height and weight calculation) there is a 1.15 times increase in the risk of heart disease(11). Carrying extra weight is an additional factor that affects your blood pressure and long term health outcomes.
Consult your health care provider for help in determining the right weight-loss program for you. You can also considersupplements that have been shown to support weight loss.
Although a heart-healthy diet is key to long term success in managing blood pressure, natural supplements have been shown to lower blood pressure for some individuals. The following natural supplements have proven track records for lowering blood pressure.
Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium
All three minerals are necessary for proper muscle contraction and relaxation, including the muscles that control your arterial blood vessels (i.e. the ones that influence blood pressure). A diet rich in these minerals, ortaking natural supplements, can result in reduced blood pressure over time.
For example, systolic blood pressure can be reduced by 4-8 mmHg by doubling potassium intake(13). Consult a health care provider for guidance on dosage for your individual situation.
Supplementing 500 mg. of Vitamin C daily was shown to reduce systolic blood pressure as much as 4.84 mmHg over an 8-week period in hypertensive individuals(14).
Folic acid and Vitamin D may also reduce blood pressure in some individuals, but more studies are needed.
Supplements from plant roots
Garlic is perhaps the best-known natural supplement for lowering blood pressure. A comprehensive review of human trials shows that aged garlic supplements can lower systolic blood pressure by an average of 8.3 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by as much 5.5 mmHg, which is on par with many blood pressure medications (15).
A 2019 study of ginger root supplements showed a reduction of 6.326 mmHg and 2.12 mmHg for systolic and diastolic blood pressure respectively(16). These results were mostly seen in people under the age of 50, and more studies are needed to determine if ginger has broader applications or not.
Beetroot juice has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and has been shown to rapidly reduce systolic blood pressure up to 5 mmHg and improves blood circulation and recovery from exercise(17).
Including these roots in your diet or taking supplements can lower your blood pressure naturally. What’s not to love about that!
The best step is the one you take now. Having high blood pressure puts you at risk for serious health issues, even premature death. Every day that your blood pressure remains high, your heart and circulation systems are strained further.
Changes to your lifestyle can make a huge difference. Exercise, diet, reducing damaging habits, improving your mental health, losing weight and taking natural supplements can all lead to lowered blood pressure.
Whether you try all six or just focus on one or two, the most critical factor in your success is TIME. It is important to start right now. The benefits of naturally lowering your blood pressure can start today.
Sue Senger - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice