I’m going to throw my dad under the bus again.
He called me last night… and I could tell right away that something was up. He had that slightly-panicked-trying-not-to-panic thing going. Turns out he had tested his blood pressure at one of those machines you find in a pharmacy. 150/80. Normally, this is not great… but the accuracy of those machines isn’t always the best. I told him to relax, nothing to worry about. Not like you can run out and find an immediate fix! Well… conventional medicine might tell you that there’s a pill or two that could drop that diastolic number pretty quickly… but they may not tell you about the side effects that might tag along for the ride.
Let’s take a crash course on blood pressure. Blood pressure is recorded in two numbers. Mine is 120/80. And yes, I’m showing off. Systolic blood pressure, the top number, which is also the higher of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contract). Diastolic blood pressure, the bottom number, which is also the lower of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood).
Typically more attention is given to systolic blood pressure as a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease for people over 50 years old. In most people, systolic blood pressure rises steadily with age due to increasing stiffness of large arteries, long-term build-up of plaque, and increased incidence of cardiac and vascular disease.
Here’s a chart for reference:
Like most other chronic diseases, high blood pressure is caused by a clash between our genes and the western diet and lifestyle. High blood pressure wasn’t a problem for our hunter-gatherer ancestors… less than 1% of modern day hunter gatherer cultures suffer from high blood pressure. SAD strikes again? You betcha. Processed and refined foods, sedentary behavior, chronic sleep deprivation, a lack of sun exposure and excess use of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco contribute to the prevalence of high blood pressure in western cultures.
Why is high blood pressure a concern? Recent research suggests that even “high normal” blood pressure (120–129 / 80–84) increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 46% on average. For women, the risk was slightly lower; for men, it was much higher—80%, regardless of age.
There are three areas to focus on to lower blood pressure naturally: diet, lifestyle, and supplements.
Sugar. Increased consumption of sugar—especially beverages like soda—is associated with high blood pressure, and reducing sugar intake has been shown to lower blood pressure.
Potassium. High dietary intake of potassium is associated with lower blood pressure. The average daily intake of potassium in Paleolithic was approximately 10,500 mg/d. In comparison, the average American consumes about 2,800 mg/d.
Cold-water fish. Studies have shown that DHA is very effective at reducing blood pressure. Eating cold-water fish three times a week is just as effective as taking a high-dose fish oil supplement, without the dangers of oxidized fish oil. Gross.
Magnesium. High dietary magnesium intake has been shown to reduce blood pressure almost as much as potassium can. Nuts, seeds, spinach, beet greens, and chocolate are the good, healthy food sources of magnesium. Magnesium’s effect on blood pressure is amplified when combined with increased potassium, so increasing both is a great idea!
Weight loss. This one is a no brainer. Excess body fat can raise blood pressure.
Exercise. Endurance exercise, strength training, interval training are all great forms of exercise and will help lower blood pressure. But don’t forget about regular movement, as simply moving around more during the day can significantly reduce blood pressure.
Sleep. Too little sleep, as well as poor sleep quality, increase the risk that you’ll develop high blood pressure. Get good sleep, and lots of it! Magnesium can help with this… bonus!
Sunlight. Exposure to ultraviolet light increases the production of a chemical in our bodies called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator; it helps our blood vessels to relax, which in turn lowers blood pressure. And it’s good for you in many other ways!
Deep breathing and Meditation. Even short periods of deep breathing and/or meditation have been shown to modestly lower blood pressure, and using deep-breathing techniques over weeks to months may lead to long-term reductions in blood pressure. Try practicing deep relaxation for 20 minutes daily or simply focus on deep breathing… it’s simple: take five slow deep breaths in to the count of five and out to the count of five, and repeat it five times. Try it multiple times a day.
Supplements are just that: supplemental. You can’t just supplement away poor health without fixing diet and lifestyle first. So, if you’re on the get-well train, adding these supplements can give you a leg up.
CoQ10. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that plays an important role in protecting the heart. Levels of CoQ10 decrease with age and are lower in patients with inflammatory diseases and oxidative stress like high blood pressure and heart disease. 100–2oo mg per day of CoQ10 reduces systolic blood pressure by 15 mgHg and diastolic blood pressure by 10 mgHg. Chris Kresser recommends this one; take it with meals as it’s fat soluble.
Magnesium. Wait. Didn’t we just talk about magnesium? Of course we did. That’s because it’s damn important. 500–1,000 mg/d over an eight-week period has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. Stick with magnesium glycinate for optimal absorption and tolerance. I like this one best.
Vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to modestly reduce blood pressure and improve arterial health in clinical studies. Stay away from synthetic vitamin C, it’s not great for you and you’re not going to absorb it well anyhow. Try this one instead.
Potassium. Potassium may help reduce blood pressure, especially when dietary intake isn’t high. Starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato and plantain, fruits like banana, and some species of fish, like halibut and salmon, are good sources of dietary potassium. If you’re not eating a lot of these foods, you may wish to supplement with 1,000–2,000 mg/d of potassium, but only for a short time, as high-dose potassium supplementation over a long period of time may lead to mineral imbalances.
Hope this helps, Dad!