If you have high blood pressure you may have wondered if there is anything you can do naturally to help lower it. Blood pressure is a funny thing because there are some people who do all the right stuff and yet their blood pressure is still too high. That said, until you try you don't know if you are in that group or not. For some people, there are some natural ways to lower your blood pressure -and research confirms it. In this review, I will share 13 common – and not so common – methods that may help you. Because knowledge is power, I also want to help you understand why keeping your blood pressure under control is so important. Also see the review of flaxseed and blood pressure for more insights.
What Is Blood Pressure?
Your blood pressure is made up of 2 different numbers. They are called:
- Systolic blood pressure (the top number)
- Diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number)
These numbers are written as a fraction, such as 125/85, where 125 would be the systolic blood pressure and 85 would be the diastolic pressure.
Each time your heart beats, it has a pumping phase and a phase when it is filling with blood (getting ready to pump again). It is the pumping and filling phases that gives rise to your systolic and diastolic pressure blood pressure.
When you measure blood pressure, you are measuring the pressure of the blood as it is moving through your blood vessel system. The adult human body has about 100,000 miles of blood vessels (that's almost 1/2 the distance to the moon!).
When you take your blood pressure at your upper arm, the reading you get (120/80, etc.) there is taken to represent your total body blood pressure – in other words, the pressure in all 100,000 miles of blood vessels.
Why Is Blood Pressure Important?
As blood pressure at rest rises, it puts greater stress on blood vessels. Over the course of many years, this increased stress, breaks the blood vessels down, leading to plaque formation and overall stiffer blood vessels (“hardening of the arteries”).
Blood vessels that are stiff (hardened) can't expand as well in response to nitric oxide (more on that below). This inability to open up (vaso-dialate is the technical term) means that the pressure increases even more when one is under stress or exercises.
The result is that there is a greater risk of blood vessels to burst. If a blood vessel in the brain bursts it's called a stroke.
The number 1 reason people have strokes is because their blood pressure is too high.
All that extra pressure puts even more stress on the heart. Overtime, the heart gets weaker because it constantly has to work harder to push blood through hardened, narrow blood vessels.
Eventually the heart may become so weak that it may not be able to work enough to help you climb up steps or walk.
This is why keeping your blood pressure in the normal range is important.
But what is “normal?” The answer may surprise you…
What Is Normal Blood Pressure?
Most people have been conditioned to think that “120/80” is “normal” blood pressure. But this has not been true for many years.
Several studies have noted that having a resting blood pressure of at least 120/80 puts people at an increased risk of getting high blood pressure.
Blood pressure that is less than 120/80 is now called “normal.”
Here are the current ranges for blood pressure:
- Less than 120/080 = normal
- 120/80 to 139/89 = pre-hypertension
- Greater than 140/90 = high blood pressure (hypertension)
Notice that the often quoted “120/80” is not normal but rather the beginning of pre-high blood pressure. There are several studies finding that a blood pressure at rest of at least 120/80 puts people at an increased risk of one day getting high blood pressure.
Now that we got the blood pressure refresher out of the way, lets talk about how to maybe lower it naturally, without medications.
Natural Ways To Lower Blood Pressure
As I said at the start, there are some people who make all the right choices and yet their blood pressure is still “high.” Those people need medications to keep their BP under control. That said, if you don't try to lower your BP naturally, you don't know if you fall into this category.
So, what follows are 13 ways one might try to help reduce their blood pressure without medications.
Some of methods will take time (weeks to months) before you notice a difference, so if you are taking medications, please don't stop taking them. You will know they are working if your BP starts to decrease when you visit your doctor.
1. Weight Loss
One of things that often happens when people lose weight is that blood pressure starts to decrease. Several clinical studies confirm this effect. For example, in this 2010 article it was noted that even losing 5% to 10% of current body weight can “can normalize blood pressure levels even without reaching ideal weight.”
In other words, even if you did not reach the body weight you should be, just a small loss of weight returned blood pressure to normal levels. This is huge!
For example, if you weighted 200 pounds, 5% is 10 pounds. If you were 200 pounds, then 10% of that is 20 pounds. Multiply your body weight by “0.5” and “0.10” to see how much weight loss this equals for you.
Obviously, quick weight loss is not the answer because most people who lose weight fast, eventually gain it all back -as well as extra body weight too. Slow weight loss is the key.
When attempting to lose weight, aim for between 0.5 to no more than 2 pounds per week.
What About Supplements?
When it comes to weight loss supplements, I don't think most are needed. Over the years, I've looked at several of them on my site, Supplement-Geek.com . In my opinion, people with high blood pressure should be especially careful of weight loss supplements that contain stimulants. That's because these ingredient might raise blood pressure – just the opposite of what you are looking for.
Identifying stimulants in weight loss supplements can be difficult sometimes. That's because the same ingredient can be known by different names. So, to help you, here is a short list of names that can refer to stimulants. This list is not complete:
|Caffeine (natural too)||Guarana||Green tea||PEA (Phenylethylamine)|
|Seville Orange||Higenamine||Yerba Mate||green tea extract (if caffeine is the extract)|
|Trimethylxanthine||Raspberry Ketones||Hordenine||Green coffee bean|
As for “what weight loss supplements work?” there are some that do have evidence. Here is a list of supplements that might help.
2. Measure Your Waste Line
Carrying most of your weight around your waist is worse for your blood pressure than carrying it at your hips, things and buttocks. Here are the healthy waist measurements for men and women:
- Men: less than 40 inches (102 cm)
- Women: less than 35 inches (89 cm)
A simple tape measure will tell you how you fair. Wrap the tape measure at the height of your bellybutton and take the reading after you exhale normally.
3. Don't Smoke
My guess is most people already know smoking is bad for your lungs – and it's bad for your blood pressure too. When people smoke, compounds in the tobacco, squeeze blood vessels together. This causes blood pressure to rise.
I know quitting smoking is difficult to do. I've seen how hard it was for family members who tried to quit. Whatever it takes, whether it be nicotine patch, or nicotine gym, acupuncture, or cutting back 1 cigarette per day or going cold turkey, the benefits are worth it.
As someone who watched both parents die from smoking-related cancers (they died less than 3 months apart), I implore you to quit for your family.
Nicotine Anonymous is an organization that offers, counseling that can help – internet counseling, face-to-face groups and telephone support.
4. Don't Drink Alcohol
Alcohol (including wine) often gets a pass in some circles because it's supposed to help raise HDL (“good cholesterol”). I think the effects of alcohol helping heart health are debatable and one reason is its effect on blood pressure.
There is evidence that regular use of alcohol can raise the risk for high blood pressure. As this study points out, the overall risk is about 16%. Alcohol can raise both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
It's estimated that each 10 grams of alcohol (1/3rd of an ounce) we drink can raise blood pressure about 1 point. Each shot glass is 1.5 oz. That's about a 4 point increase for each shot of alcohol consumed. Alcohol abuse can increase the risk of both strokes and heart attacks.
Fortunately blood pressure tends to start going down after about 2-4 weeks of stopping alcohol. Both alcohol and smoking can be very challenging habits to break. Like smoking, do whoever you can to stop.
5. Eat Flax-Seeds
There are now several studies finding that flaxseeds can lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. The amount of flaxseeds able to do this may vary from study to study but is usually around 30 grams a day. That's about an ounce per day.
It is important to grind the flaxseds though to obtain their blood pressure lowering nutrients. That's because flaxseeds are so small that we probably can't chew them well enough to open them up.
Any spice grinder can do this easily.
Whether the blood pressure lowering benefits of flax seeds are due to their fiber or their omega 3 fats (alpha-linolenic acid) is not well known, but who cares; it seems to work. It may take several months before the effects occur.
See the Flaxseeds and Blood Pressure review for more on this.
6. Cut Back On Salt
Most people know abut this already, but I could not write about high blood pressure without mentioning it. When we eat things that contain sodium, it causes us to absorb more water. The more water in our blood, the greater the blood volume. More blood volume squeezing through our blood vessels, increases the pressure on those blood vessels.
Most people in the US – and this is probably true for other countries too- eat too much sodium. In the US, it's estimated that the average American eats about 3400 mg of sodium per day.
The American Heart Association recommend people aim for less – 1500 mg per day to stay healthy.
What Foods Have Sodium?
Salt is often used as a preservative. So, it's safe to assume that if the food comes in:
- A can
- A box
- A package
- Or has a wrapper
It's going to have sodium.
Here is a short list of foods that contain sodium. Some of these you might not think of:
|Spaghetti sauce||Salad dressing||Cottage cheese|
|Bagels and bread||Soup (canned/packaged)||Organic frozen meals|
|Pancake mix||Lunch meats||chicken breasts|
Also be cautious of food claims for “reduced sodium.” Because of current laws in the US, a food label can make the claim of having less sodium, even though it may still contain a lot.
Its my experience that food label claims are often a smokescreen to divert your attention from something important. So, when you see them, ask yourself “what aren't not telling me?”
Fast food generally is also high in sodium as are foods sold at many sit-down restaurants too (you can often request the chef to not add extra salt when preparing meals). In other words, we don't just get sodium from the salt shaker. Baked items can also have sodium.
Even some medications may contain sodium too.
By looking at a Nutrition Facts label (which is on pretty much all foods you buy), you can easily tell it is high in sodium. Just remember these 2 rules:
- If you see 20% or more, it's high in sodium
- If you see 5% or less, it's low in sodium
The percentages come from the Daily Values, which are those percentages you see on the right of every Nutrition Facts label. You can use the Daily Values to search for food high (or low) in many other nutrients too.
Just remember, 20% or more next to anything means it's “high” and 5% or less next to anything means it's “low.” So you want to see low numbers next to things like sodium and saturated fat (trans fat too) and high numbers next to things like fiber, vitamin C.
Some research finds DASH eating can lower blood pressure as well as some medications.
The “DASH”stands for Dietary Approaches To Stop Hypertension. DASH is basically an eating program that emphasizes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.
There are many DASH diet cookbooks also.
What is the magic power behind the DASH diet? It might just be the potassium which we'll cover below.
7. Drink Hibiscus Tea
There have been several studies -in both animals and human – showing that drinking hibiscus tea can reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Studies tend to use anywhere from 1.5 grams to 10 grams per day to help blood pressure.
Drinking hibiscus tea is great but another idea is to open the teabag and toss the entire contents into your smoothie! That way you get all the hibiscus goodness, not just the diluted contents in the tea.
Hot tea or cold, it doesn't seem to matter. Inone study hibiscus tea performed as well as a blood pressure lowering drug after only 4 weeks of use.
People might start to notice a blood pressure lowering effect after a month or maybe less.
Hibiscus tea can be found at most grocery stores and online too. Some teas contain a variety of ingredients so if that's one you pick, just make sure hibiscus is the first ingredient you see listed. That should help ensure that most of the tea is indeed hibiscus.
8. Eat More Potassium
Fruits and vegetables and beans have lots of potassium. It's well known that potassium can lower blood pressure – but why? One reason is that potassium opens up blood vessels. Blood pressure goes down when our blood vessels open up.
Potassium may be able to open up blood vessels by improving nitric oxide release from blood vessels. Another way potassium might help is by improving the excretion of sodium from the body. Either way, potassium is a mineral all of us should be eating.
Few people get the recommended 4700 mg per day.
What Foods Have Potassium?
Well, most people probably think about bananas. But, bananas are way down on the list of potassium-containing foods. Would you believe, a baked potato has more potassium? It's true!
Foods that contain a lot of potassium include the following:
|Food||Serving Size||Potassium Content (mg)|
|Baked potato w/skin||1 medium||941 mg|
|Tomato paste||1/4 cup||669 mg|
|Beet greens, cooked||1/2 cup||654 mg|
|White beans||1/2 cup||595 mg|
|Yogurt, non fat||1 cup||579 mg|
|Sweet potato w/skin||1 medium||542 mg|
|Swiss chard||1/2 cup||481 mg|
|Banana||1 medium||442 mg|
|Spinach, cooked||1/2 cup||370 mg - 419 mg|
|Baked beans||1 cup||224 mg|
Potassium is so important for staying healthy that it will -FINALLY – be included on the revamped Nutrition Facts labels.
9. Eat Some Garlic
Some research notes that garlic can reduce blood pressure. For example, in a 2008 review of previous research, it was concluded that overall, garlic might significantly reduce systolic blood pressure by an average of about 5 points. In those with high blood pressure, the drop was greater, with systolic BP dropping over 8 points and diastolic BP dropping about 7 points.
At least one study has noted that 2 capsules of Kyolic aged garlic (480 mg) significantly reduced systolic blood pressure by 11 points after 3 months of use compared to a placebo.
Here is my review of Kyolic aged garlic extract and heart disease research
10. Wake Up And Go To Sleep
That classic line from The 3 Stooges always makes me smile, but funny or not, snoring can lead to hypertension. Snoring may also be related to sleep apnea. While sleep apnea is often seen in those who are very overweight, it can also occur in those who those who are mildly overweight. Doing some of the other things mentioned in this review can help you lose weight if you need to.
There are many self treatments for snoring and sleep apnea ranging from mouth guards to pillows. If you have not experimented with them, then, they might be worth a try. If you have exhausted these options, then asking your doctor for a Sleep Study would be a wise thing to do.
11. Get A Massage
I first observed the effect of massage on my own blood pressure by accident. While I don't have blood pressure problems, I noticed that my blood pressure was significantly lower than normal after a 60 minute massage. And I took my BP in the afternoon after driving in traffic with caffeine in my system.
One study of 50 women with hypertension noted that three 10-15 minute Swedish massages per weeks, produced significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared to a placebo group.
Whats more, this benefit persisted for at least 72 hours after the last massage.
12. Exercise A Little More
If you don't do any type of physical activity on a regular basis, it's wise to do something. Regular exercise is one of the most important things people can do to maintain healthy blood pressure. Exercise keeps blood vessels healthy.
The good news is that it doesn't take a lot of exercise to get its blood pressure lowering benefits. People do not have to kill themselves in the gym – or even go to the gym either.
Something as simple as walking can reduce blood pressure.
While the usual recommendation is to exercise for 30-60 minutes most days of the week, if you are just starting out, do what you can. If that's only 5 minutes a day, great. Start there.
Slowly increase the time that you exercise (rather than the intensity). By slowly increasing the time you are able to exercise, you are improving your muscle endurance as well as the health of your heart, lungs and blood vessels.
Eventually 5 minutes will turn into 10 minutes. Eventually you ll be doing 30 minutes.
Now, let's cover a few things about how to exercise safely if you have high blood pressure.
What About Heart Rate?
Many people these days have fitness trackers that can monitor heart rate during exercise. It's important to remember that some high blood pressure medications (like beta blockers) can slow down heart rate. This can make those fitness tracker heart rate monitors less than idea when determining how hard you are working out.
Instead of looking at your heart rate, try using the “RPE Scale.” RPE stands for Rate Of Perceived Exertion. In other words, you will rate how hard (how difficult) exercise feels for you.
The RPE scale is a zero to 10 scale, where the higher the number, the harder the exercise feels to you.
The table below shows what the numbers of the RPE Scale mean
|Rating||How It Feels To You|
|zero||Nothing at all|
|0.5||super easy to do|
|1||very easy to do|
|4||somewhat strong or difficult|
|5||strong / difficult to do|
|7||very strong/difficult to do|
|10||very, very difficult. You will have to quit any second|
In the table above, where you don't see a definition, it means it is between the two other numbers. For example, a rating of “5” is between “strong/difficult to do” and “very strong/very difficult to do.”
The beauty of the RPE Scale is that you can use it for both aerobic exercise (“cardio”) and strength training. Speaking of which, lets talk about those now…
Cardio Or Strength Training? Do Them Both
When I say “aerobic” exercise, I don't just mean taking group fitness classes. Any type of aerobic exercise will work, including, walking, swimming, jogging (if you can), hiking and biking. How do you know if an exercise is aerobic?
Any activity you can do it for a long time without stopping, is aerobic.
Previous studies of people with hypertension have noted that in the 1-3 hours after exercise, systolic blood pressure can go down by 10-20 points. Those studies also note that the drop in systolic BP might last for 9 hour after exercise has stopped.
Resistance Training And Hypertension
There are many different strength training programs out there. Of those, circuit strength training is often recommended for people with high blood pressure. There are many benefits to circuit strength training including:
- Improved muscle strength
- Improved muscle endurance
- Improved aerobic endurance
- Improved flexibility
Circuit strength training is also likely to cause the least muscle soreness – DOMS – after exercise. Circuits also are not boring and likely carry the least risk of injury. For people with hypertension -there is a lot to like about circuit strength training.
What Is Circuit Training?
A circuit strength training program usually is made up of 8-12 different exercises that target all the major muscles in your body. In other words, circuit training is a total body program.
The resistances used in circuit training are usually fairly light. If you can lift the weight for between 12-20 times, before you start to feel fatigued, you are on target.
People perform 1 set of each exercise, moving from exercise-to-exercise, with little to no rest in between. If rest needs to be taken, it should be short (30 seconds to 1 minute).
A sample circuit training program could look like this:
- Leg press: 1 set, 15 reps
- chest press: 1 set, 15 reps
- Lat pulldown: 1 set, 15 reps
- Treadmill: 5 minutes, 2.5 mph
- Shoulder press: 1 set, 15 reps
- leg extension: 1 set, 15 reps
- Leg curl: 1 set, 15 reps
- Treadmill: 5 minutes, 2.5 mph
When you get to station #8, go back to station #1 again if you like. Notice in the example, I tossed in a few treadmill stations. By adding one or more cardio stations to your strength training circuit, you bump up the aerobic exercise component of the circuit.
When you do strength training, don't hold your breath. Always breath. Holding your breath during exercise can cause your blood pressure to rise and you might get dizzy too.
Because little rest is taken between exercises, machines are usually used instead of free weights (barbells/dumbbells). That's because free weights may require some adjustment, which can lengthen the rest period between exercises. We want to keep the rest periods to a minimum. With most machines, you just adjust the seat, stick a pin in the appropriate resistance and that's it.
If you are working out at home with no equipment, no worries, you could make a circut program out of the following:
- March in place for 3 minutes
- Push ups at the kitchen sink: 1 set 15 reps
- Walk up and down steps: 1 set
- Sit in a chair and stand up again: 15 times
Repeat if you like.
Circuit training is only limited by what you can think up.
13. Take A Yoga Class
While controversial in come circles, clinical studies have shown that yoga can reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension. Because yoga can have a spiritual component, I understand how some might have issues with it for religions reasons. But, yoga is not a religion and I can tell you from personal experience that not all yoga classes contain spiritual comments. There are Christian yoga teachers too.
I find yoga very relaxing – especially the little “nap” at the end of class. If you have never taken a yoga class before, start with a beginner class. For those who are curious, contact local studios and speak to to Yoga teachers about any religious aspects to the class.
One word of caution. Be careful with “Hot Yoga” classes if you are not used to it or if you have high blood pressure or heart disease. In hot yoga classes, the temperature in the room may reach over 100 degrees F (90 degrees Celsius). Until there is more research, it might be wise to either avoid hot yoga or take 1/2 or 1/4 classes to give you body time to adapt to it.
How To Measure Your Blood Pressure
Taking your own blood pressure is pretty easy these days because of at home blood pressure cuffs. I checked Consumer Reports which gave top marks to the Omron 10 Series blood pressure monitor (BP786).
When taking blood pressure, the upper arm monitors are better than those you wrap around your wrist.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you take your own blood pressure:
- Keep your feet on the floor.
- No caffeine or tobacco or for at least 30 minutes before taking pressure.
- Go to the bathroom before taking your pressure.
- Don't talk to anyone while taking your pressure.
- Remain calm and motionless.
- Your arm should be supported on a table if possible.
- Use the correct size blood pressure cuff.
- Write down your readings and keep them in a journal for your doctor.
If you have never taken your own blood pressure before, it may be higher than when your doctor takes it. That's probably just us being nervous. The more time you take your blood pressure, the less stress you will have. Eventually you will start to see a pattern of how your blood pressure is running.
No matter how good your at home blood pressure cuff is, it's always good to have your doctor take it too. Show your doctor what your blood pressure readings are at home too. That will help your doctor give you the best possible advice and treatment she/he can.
How Long Until Blood Pressure Lowers?
While the time it takes to see changes in blood pressure can be different depending on which of the techniques listed here you try, I think many people might start seeing some difference in blood pressure after 1-3 months. Of the 13 different blood pressure lowering ideas I provided, if I had to pick just one that everybody should be doing, it would be eating more fruits, veggies and beans. Better nutrition should be the foundation of your blood pressure lowering efforts. Those foods will help all the other methods listed here, work even better.