Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) considers normal a systolic pressure of less than 120 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure of less than 80 mmHg. Prehypertension is defined as a systolic reading between 120 and 139 mmHg and diastolic between 80 and 89 mmHg. Hypertension is a systolic pressure of 140 mmHg or higher and diastolic of 90 mmHg or higher.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is called the "silent killer" because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. In fact, fewer than half (47%) of Americans with high blood pressure have the condition under control.
In the majority of cases, hypertension is readily modifiable. In this article, we review recent studies that suggest simple, effective, and natural approaches to prevent and/or control hypertension – a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death.
High blood pressure [Web page]. US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure. Accessed 27 Jan. 2015.
Measuring blood pressure [Web page]. US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/measure.htm. Accessed 27 Jan. 2015.
Garlic Assists Blood Pressure Management
Daily dietary supplementation of garlic (Allium sativum) helps to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Xiang-Jun Yang and colleagues from the First Affiliated Hospital of Soochow University (China) completed a meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials that studied the effects of garlic powder, aged garlic extract, and garlic oil on blood pressure. The investigators revealed that the garlic supplements studied, ranging in dosages of 300 to 900 mg/day, reduced systolic blood pressure by 3.75 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 3.39 mmHg, among those people with hypertension (elevated blood pressure). The study authors submit: "This meta-analysis suggests that garlic supplements are superior to controls (placebo in most trails) in reducing [blood pressure], especially in hypertensive patients."
Wang H-P, Yang J, Qin L-Q, Yang X-J. Effect of garlic on blood pressure: a meta-analysis. J Clin Hypertens. 5 Jan. 2015.
Protein May Moderate Blood Pressure
Diets rich in protein foods may help to lower elevated blood pressure. Lynn Moore and colleagues from Boston University School of Medicine (Massachusetts, US) report that a diet rich in protein foods may help to lower elevated blood pressure. The researchers analyzed protein intakes of healthy participants from the Framingham Offspring Study and followed them for development of high blood pressure over an 11-year period. Data revealed that those adults who consumed more protein, whether from animal or plant sources, had statistically significantly lower systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure levels after 4 years of follow-up. In general, these beneficial effects were evident for both overweight (at/over 25 kg/m2 BMI) and normal weight (at/less than 25 kg/m2 BMI) individuals. The investigators also found that consuming more dietary protein also was associated with lower long-term risks for high blood pressure. When the diet also was characterized by higher intakes of fiber, higher protein intakes led to 40% to 60% reduction in risk. Observing, "Higher protein intakes were associated with lower mean [systolic blood pressure] and [diastolic blood pressure]," the study authors conclude: "Adults consuming more dietary protein from either plant or animal sources had lower long-term risks of [high blood pressure]."
Buendia JR, Bradlee ML, Singer MR, Moore LL. Diets higher in protein predict lower high blood pressure risk in Framingham Offspring Study adults. Am J Hypertens. 2014 Sep 6. pii:hpu157.
Bacteria Beat Blood Pressure
Abundantly found in yogurt, probiotics may help lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. Jing Sun and colleagues from Griffith University (Australia) analyzed data resulting from 9 clinical studies involving a total of 543 adults with normal and elevated blood pressure. Results revealed that probiotic consumption lowered systolic blood pressure by an average 3.56 mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure by an average 2.38 mmHg, as compared with adults who didn't consume probiotics. The effects were evident after 8 weeks of probiotic consumption, with the researchers noting that probiotics containing a daily bacteria volume of between 10 billion and 1 trillion colony-forming units (CFU) were most effective in addressing blood pressure. The study authors write: "The present meta-analysis suggests that consuming probiotics may improve [blood pressure] by a modest degree, with a potentially greater effect when baseline [blood pressure] is elevated."
Khalesi S, Sun J, Buys N, Jayasinghe R. Effect of probiotics on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials. Hypertension. July 21, 2014.
Green Tea Supports Blood Vessels
Abundant in the antioxidant compounds epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin (EGC), epicatechin gallate (ECG), and epicatechin (EC), green tea (Camellia sinensis) intake helps to manage blood pressure. I. Onakpoya and colleagues from the University of Oxford (UK) completed a meta-analysis of published randomized controlled trials involving 1536 participants, on green tea and its polyphenol constituents. They found that green tea consumption was associated with a lower average systolic blood pressure (1.94 mmHg). In addition, green tea consumption correlated to lower total and LDL cholesterol levels. The team speculates that mechanisms of action may include a relaxation of blood vessels, as well as lowering of prostaglandin E2. They also observe that green tea is abundant in antioxidants that have been shown to improve endothelial function. The study authors conclude: "Green tea intake results in significant reductions in systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol."
Onakpoya I, Spencer E, Heneghan C, Thompson M. The effect of green tea on blood pressure and lipid profile: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 31 January 2014.
Mediterranean Soup Combats Hypertension
A cold vegetable soup known as gazpacho, featuring tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, and olive oil, is rich in phytochemicals. A. Medina-Remon and colleagues from the University of Barcelona (Spain) analyzed data collected on 3995 Spanish participants in the PREDIMED trial, which aims to analyze the effects of Mediterranean diet on the population at risk for cardiovascular diseases. The researchers found that consumption of gazpacho was inversely associated with the incidence of high blood pressure (hypertension), reporting that the risk could be reduced by as much as 27%. Observing, "Gazpacho consumption was inversely associated with systolic and diastolic [blood pressure] and prevalence of hypertension in a cross-sectional Mediterranean population at high cardiovascular risk," the study authors submit: "The association between gazpacho intake and reduction of [blood pressure] is probably due to synergy among several bioactive compounds present in the vegetable ingredients used to make the recipe."
Medina-Remon A, Vallverdu-Queralt A, Arranz S, et al. Gazpacho consumption is associated with lower blood pressure and reduced hypertension in a high cardiovascular risk cohort. Cross-sectional study of the PREDIMED trial. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 10 November 2012.
Meditation with Yoga Reduces Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is effectively lowered by mindfulness-based stress reduction, a technique combining meditation and yoga, in people with borderline high blood pressure. Joel W. Hughes and colleagues from Kent State University (Ohio, US) enrolled 56 women and men diagnosed with prehypertension – blood pressure that is higher than desirable, but not yet so high that antihypertensive drugs would be prescribed. One group of patients was assigned to a program of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which incorporated meditation and yoga: 8 group sessions of 2½ hours per week. Led by an experienced instructor, the sessions included three main types of mindfulness skills: body scan exercises, sitting meditation, and yoga exercises. Patients were also encouraged to perform mindfulness exercises at home. The other "comparison" group received lifestyle advice plus a muscle-relaxation activity. Blood pressure measurements were compared between groups to determine whether the mindfulness-based intervention reduced blood pressure in this group of people at risk of cardiovascular problems. Patients in the mindfulness-based intervention group had significant reductions in clinic-based blood pressure measurements. Systolic blood pressure decreased by an average of nearly 5 mmHg, compared with less than 1 mm Hg in the control group. Diastolic blood pressure was also lower in the mindfulness-based intervention group: a reduction of nearly 2 mmHg, compared with an increase of 1 mmHg in the control group.
Hughes JW, Fresco DM, Myerscough R, van Dulmen MHM, Carlson LE, Josephson R. Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction for prehypertension. Psychosom Med. October 2013; 75:721–728.
Fitness Regimen Helps to Lower Blood Pressure
The American Heart Association (AHA) issued a statement in support of aerobic exercise, resistance or strength training, and isometric hand grip exercises to lower high blood pressure (hypertension). Robert D. Brook, chair of the AHA's research panel and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan (US), reports that exercise-based regimens, including aerobic, dynamic resistance, and isometric handgrip modalities, have "relatively stronger supporting evidence," leading the panel to write: "It is the consensus of the writing group that it is reasonable for all individuals with blood pressure levels >120/80 mm Hg to consider trials of alternative approaches as adjuvant methods to help lower blood pressure when clinically appropriate."
Brook RD, Appel LJ, Rubenfire M, et al.; on behalf of the American Heart Association Professional Education Committee of the Council for High Blood Pressure Research, Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing, Council on Epidemiology and Prevention, and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity. Beyond medications and diet: alternative approaches to lowering blood pressure: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Hypertension. 2013 Apr 2.
High Blood Pressure Linked to Alzheimer's
High blood pressure (hypertension), one of the most common risk factors of stroke and an accelerator of multiple forms of heart disease, especially when paired with excess body weight, is a leading chronic health concern worldwide. Emerging evidence suggests that the disease also plays a role in Alzheimer's disease. Daniel A. Nation and colleagues from the VA San Diego Healthcare System (California, US) studied 177 men and women, aged 65 to 100 years, who did not show symptoms of Alzheimer's disease at the study's start. Participants had their pulse pressure (a marker of the aging of the vascular system, a calculation of the systolic minus diastolic reading) taken and lumbar punctures taken to obtain spinal fluid. The researchers found that people who have higher pulse pressure are more likely to have the Alzheimer's biomarkers amyloid-beta, or plaques, and p-tau protein, or tangles, in their cerebral spinal fluid than those with lower pulse pressure. For every 10-point rise in pulse pressure, the average level of p-tau protein in the spinal fluid rose by 1.5 picograms per milliliter. The relationship was found in people aged 55 to 70, but not in people aged 70 to 100. Writing, "[Pulse pressure] elevation is associated with increased [cerebrospinal fluid] P-tau and decreased A[beta]1-42 in cognitively normal older adults," the study authors submit: "Pulsatile hemodynamics may be related to amyloidosis and tau-related neurodegeneration."
Nation DA, Edland SD, Bondi MW, et al. Pulse pressure is associated with Alzheimer biomarkers in cognitively normal older adults. Neurology. 2013 Nov 13.
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