Integrated Approach May Reduce High Blood Pressure
An integrated program that combines nutritional supplements with dietary and lifestyle changes may help lower high blood pressure (hypertension), according to a new review article in Alternative Medicine Review.1 More than 50 million American adults are taking prescription medications to control their blood pressure; however, the authors suggest that certain natural therapies may work as well as these drugs, with fewer side effects.
A diet low in potassium and high in sodium has been associated with high blood pressure. Studies have shown that taking 2,400 mg per day of supplemental potassium will modestly reduce blood pressure. Potassium supplements exceeding 100 mg require a prescription and such high amounts in concentrated form may irritate the stomach. On the other hand, it is possible to substantially increase dietary potassium by increasing the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. People taking potassium-sparing diuretics should not take potassium supplements or increase their dietary potassium intake without the supervision of a physician.
As little as 365 mg per day of supplemental magnesium may lower blood pressure by relaxing the layer of smooth muscle that surrounds arteries; as these arteries become more dilated, blood pressure drops. Higher amounts of magnesium may be necessary for some individuals who do not respond to lower doses. The effect of beta-blockers (a class of prescription medications used for high blood pressure) may be enhanced when oral magnesium is taken concurrently.
Several small trials have shown that coenzyme Q10 is an effective therapy for hypertension. The amounts taken by participants ranged from 60 to 225 mg per day. In some cases, people were able to discontinue the use of their prescription medications. It took up to twelve weeks of daily use for a significant drop in blood pressure to occur. (It is important to note that no person should stop taking a prescription medication, unless directed by a physician.)
Intake of omega-3 fatty acids, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) appears to have a mild blood pressure-lowering effect. One study found taking a fish oil supplement containing 2 grams of EPA and 1.4 grams of DHA per day for four months was more effective than olive oil in decreasing blood pressure. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure (the top and bottom numbers of a blood pressure reading) were reduced by 6 and 5 mm Hg, respectively.
The amino acids L-arginine and taurine have been shown in some trials to be helpful for treating hypertension. Both induce dilation of arteries, causing blood pressure to fall. The amount of L-arginine and taurine taken by individuals in these studies was 6 grams per day.
The authors mention vitamins C and E as potential treatments for high blood pressure. However, results from scientific studies on vitamin C are conflicting, and there are no human studies to demonstrate vitamin E helps lower blood pressure. Both vitamins may have other heart-health benefits, but do not seem likely to have much impact on blood pressure.
Herbal supplements with a mild to moderate blood pressure-lowering effect include hawthorn berry (Crataegus oxycantha), olive leaf (Olea europea), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and garlic (Allium sativum). Other herbs that may have a stronger effect include arjuna bark (Terminalia arjuna), mistletoe (Viscum album), forskolin (Coleus forskohlii), and Indian snakeroot (Rauwolfia serpentina). While these herbs with stronger effects can be helpful in decreasing blood pressure, they can be toxic when taken in the wrong amounts and should only be used under the close supervision of an experienced practitioner of herbal medicine. They should also not be consumed in conjunction with prescription medication for controlling blood pressure.
Dietary and lifestyle changes may also help lower blood pressure. A diet low in saturated fat (butter, cheese, lard, red meat) and high in complex carbohydrates is recommended to help control hypertension. In some people, salt can trigger elevations in blood pressure and should be consumed in only small amounts. Obesity is a risk factor for hypertension and several studies have shown that blood pressure drops when sedentary individuals start to exercise regularly. One study found that people who were sleep deprived had higher blood pressures. Therefore, getting a good night’s rest may in fact be a prescription for lower blood pressure. Using stress-management or relaxation techniques on a regular basis may keep high blood pressure under control. However, with any dietary or lifestyle change, consistency is the key to success.
One cautionary note: Individuals who begin an integrated program for blood pressure control could develop potentially dangerous low blood pressure unless they reduce the dose of their prescription blood pressure-lowering medication. Therefore, anyone taking prescription drugs for high blood pressure should consult a doctor before starting such a program.
1. Khosh F, Khosh M. Natural approaches to hypertension. Altern Med Rev 2001;6:590–600.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Westport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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