Do natural methods for lowering blood pressure work?
(After you read this, be sure to catch the update below!)
First this note/disclaimer: “The information found here has not been approved by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” I'm only sharing our own story, your situation may be VERY different, and I'm not a medical professional or anywhere close. Use this information only to do more research on your own!
Today I'll tell you about our recent trip to the emergency room and what our plan is now…
A couple of weeks ago I was out running around with the kids and got a text from Kent saying he wasn't feeling well and that he'd had a headache all day. This is NOT like him. He's never ever sick. So I asked him to pleeease go right home and check his blood pressure. We had started keeping an eye on it because the last few times he gave blood they said it was on the high side, but I'd check it when he got home and it would be fine, or even on the low side. The last time he tried to give, however, they wouldn't even let him because it was so high. Again, though, at home it was fine, so we were monitoring and trying to find clues as to what might cause the fluctuations.
He got home and checked it: 172/112!
I got on the phone with our doctor's office (the one we really like because he is OK with our weirdness as far as not doing the full vaccine schedule for the kids and my not getting yearly mammograms – he disagrees but knows it's my own decision — see more here about why I love our doctor.) I was waiting on hold when I got his text: “Do we have any Tums that I could take for heartburn, it's making me nauseous.” Now I was freaking out. I hung up with the doc's office and texted back, “I'll be home in a sec and we're going to the emergency room.” He said, “Let's just go to the doctor's office.” I told him, “No way, the first thing they'd do with those symptoms is send you straight to ER, and probably in an ambulance!” I don't remember everything from nursing school, but that one is a no-brainer — as soon as symptoms that sound like possible heart issues come into play (the heartburn and nausea), they do NOT want you in their office.
I raced home to drop the kids off and pick him up, praying like crazy. As they got him settled in the ER I called a bunch of friends asking for prayers, too. Their first reading was still scary: 180/102, and at one point it was 210/118! But then a few minutes later they'd get 160/82 in one arm, and 144/92 in the other. They still hadn't given him anything for it (they first were making sure we weren't dealing with any heart issues at this point), and then it was 136/75. I still don't get how it can be all over the board like that, but we did find out from our doc in the follow up appointment that wrist cuffs aren't very accurate, and that basically any arm cuff is fine, so we got this electric arm BP cuff.
I wasn't surprised that his heart checked out perfectly (his diet is really good and he's always been very fit and exercises quite often — he goes mountain and road biking regularly), so they sent him home with a prescription for a super low-dose BP med and chalked it all up to genetics: Both his parents, their siblings, their parents, and two (three?) of his brothers are on blood pressure medication.
Is it really true that you can't “outrun genetics”?
I knew we needed to seek medical help that day and that the first thing they'd do was put him on a drug — even Mercola says that in the case of high blood pressure, you don't have a choice because the risk for stroke is scary-high.
I also knew that the next thing I'd do is research natural methods for lowering blood pressure in order to get him back OFF the drug.
Will it work?
Who knows, and if not, then we'll be thankful for the medicine that helps him avoid a stroke and other scary stuff, but of course we're going to give it a good try, rather than have him take a prescription drug the rest of his life, which has its own risks and issues. Especially since most of you know my general feelings toward pharmaceuticals!
I'll show you what I came up with to try with Kent and as time goes on I'll give you updates.
As of now, his BP did come way down, and it's been consistent, no more headaches, etc., but obviously that's probably due to the drugs.
Important note: I am not a doctor
I have to restate my disclaimer that is always in place and visible on and around my site: Do not take the below as medical advice. I'm sharing what I am learning with you, but you need to do your own research, talk to your doctor or naturopath, and find what works best for YOU. Blood pressure is nothing to screw around with.
Not Metabolic Syndrome…
The first thing I did was Google like crazy, but everything I found was geared toward metabolic syndrome, the “big three” that are SO common: obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The same was true for the article on the WAPF site by Tom Cowan, he mentioned losing weight, exercising, and avoiding trans fats. Besides that Kent's weight is perfect and he exercises regularly, he never eats any trans fats, and very little sugar either (except for what's in beer) — his diet is really good! I just knew he didn't have THAT type of high blood pressure and that it was likely related to the strong genetic predisposition.
Mainstream protocol for hypertension:
So the mainstream high blood pressure recommendations, such as losing weight, getting regular exercise, and making dietary changes, weren't going to help us much. (Therefore, in this post I won't go into the ways to lower blood pressure that revolve more around that type of high blood pressure.) As with most of us, he could use help with stress management and relaxation practices, though. As to the common recommendation of reducing sodium intake, that one is debatable anyway. See more below on that.
The day after we went to ER I happened to be emailing back and forth with Victoria, a friend and WAPF chapter leader from Southern California, and this turned out to be a “God-thing”. Turns out not long ago she wrote a paper on blood pressure for one of her naturopath classes! She gave me permission to share excerpts here.
Blood pressure and Alzheimer's?
Remember Kent's Dad had Alzheimer's, so the part that freaks me out the most about all of this, and a huge reason I want to get his BP down naturally and for good, is something I read in Victoria's paper:
Several problems can arise for the brain, as well, when high blood pressure is present. Atherosclerosis or clots, caused by high blood pressure, can temporarily block blood flow to the brain, causing a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. TIAs themselves are considered to be an indicator of greater risk for a full-blown stroke, in which blood flow to the brain is blocked for a longer period of time, causing serious problems from the lack of oxygen available to the brain. A specific form of dementia, vascular dementia, can be the result of narrowed, blocked arteries to the brain. And mild cognitive impairment, a transition between aging and more serious brain conditions (i.e., Alzheimer’s) can also result from narrowed or stiffened arteries.
There's a strong genetic tendency in both of Kent's parents' families for hypertension, but on his Dad's side there are also many family members who had Alzheimer's. Did the high blood pressure have anything to do with it? Correlation or causation?????
Victoria's information and suggestions from her research paper:
(Included here with her permission)
I'm bolding parts here in case you're in a hurry and just skimming… Also, don't miss my plan below for exactly what we'll be implementing.
- Stress management is key for BP levels. I have a friend who I take to her checkups at Kaiser, and her BP when she walks in is always super high. Then I talk her through a really simple guided meditation, like maybe 45 seconds, get her laughing, and then it drops like a rock. Stress management may be one of the most important elements in bringing blood pressure into normal, healthy ranges. There are several factors that can contribute to increasing stress, as well as to reducing it, and these need to be understood. Sleep deprivation, mild to severe, seems to be epidemic, whether due to insomnia or to simply not allowing enough time for a good nights’ sleep. Relaxation techniques can be very helpful in this regard, as can some basic attention to sleep hygiene (no electronics in the bedroom, a consistent sleep/wake schedule to the extent possible, etc.). Exercise, appropriate to the individual’s schedule, current state of health, and energy levels, promotes relaxation as well as improved cardiovascular function. Stress management techniques alone, such as focused deep breathing, have been shown to bring blood pressure into normal ranges, particularly when hypertension is relatively mild. There are countless CDs, apps, and websites providing simple guided meditations and other stress reduction techniques, and countless books discussing basic principles of living a more peaceful life. (This is Kelly again: here's my favorite book for learning basic principles on living a more peaceful life.)
- It is a standard public health recommendation to minimize salt consumption to avoid the risk of increasing blood pressure; this recommendation is even stronger for those already showing high blood pressure. As noted above, salt retention in the kidneys can increase fluid volume in the circulatory system, raising blood pressure. However, note that salt retention can be caused by high blood insulin levels; this may or may not be accompanied by high salt intake. Similar to conventional wisdom regarding cholesterol, numerous tests have been conducted over the decades to firmly establish a link between salt consumption and a rise in blood pressure, with limited success. The best results achieved by a significant reduction in salt intake appears to be a drop of 4-5 mmHg in systolic blood pressure; however, since by definition, with stage 1 high blood pressure at 20 or more points over what is considered normal blood pressure, and stage 2 at 40 points or more, it is clear that by even the most optimistic assessments, salt restriction will not provide substantial benefits on the blood pressure front. Morton Satin, a molecular biologist, former director of the Global Agribusiness program at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, and director of technical and regulatory affairs at the Salt Institute, has spent considerable effort (in his role as Salt Guru) to debunk the notion that salt intake is linked to high blood pressure. According to Mr. Satin, data shows that for roughly 40% of the population, too little salt can increase blood pressure, and that salt reduction has virtually no effect whatsoever on about 30%. The remaining 30% of the population does see a reduction in blood pressure, but no more than the small amount noted above.
- Limiting alcohol & quitting smoking can help control blood pressure. (Of course we had to look into this one, because even though Kent doesn't drink much beer, if any, during the week, on the weekend he enjoys some with sports or with friends; but we didn't see a change when he didn't have any at all. Thankfully he's never been a smoker.)
- Victoria goes on to question what constitutes a “high blood pressure”, as this has been debated. Google this for more info. (Impact of Diastolic and Systolic Blood Pressure on Mortality: Implications for the Definition of “Normal”, Taylor et al., Journal of General Internal Medicine, July 2011, 26:7, 685-690; reported in “Rethinking ‘Normal’ Blood Pressure,” The New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope, March 9, 2011)
- Alternative/holistic treatment options: Some of the standard recommendations for high blood pressure are consistent with those recommended by a practitioner with a more holistic bent: stress reduction, moderate exercise, limiting alcohol and tobacco, and maintaining a healthy weight. However, for those wishing to normalize blood pressure without the use of medications, there are options that can be explored.
- I told you that Kent doesn't eat trans fatty acids, but if you know someone who does, Victoria suggests two supplements to help eliminate trans fats from tissues: Since trans fat blocks the metabolic pathways of omega 3 essential fatty acids, it may be helpful to supplement with borage or evening primrose oil for several months.
- CoQ10 also has been studied extensively in relationship to hypertension. A study* conducted at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York showed that 39% of patients with hypertension were deficient in CoQ10, compared with only 6% of those with normal blood pressure. Supplemental CoQ10, taken at a dosage of 60 mg daily for eight weeks, resulted in a 10% or greater decrease in blood pressure. Like garlic, CoQ10 has been found to be useful throughout the cardiovascular system, so its effects are not limited only to reducing high blood pressure. (I asked Victoria what kind of CoQ10 she recommends: “For CoQ10 I usually recommend Jarrow for affordability and they're a decent brand.” Click that link to find it.) (*Yamagami, T, Shibata, N, and Folkers, K, “Bioenergetics in Clinical Medicine: Studies on Coenzyme Q10 and Essential Hypertension”, Research Communications in Chemical Pathology and Pharmacology 11: 273; 1975.) UPDATE: A reader in the comments suggested taking ubiquinol instead of CoQ10: “Once over 35 years old, the body isn’t that great anymore at breaking down CoQ10 into the Ubiquinol that it really needs.”
- Three minerals play a key role in maintaining cardiovascular health (as well as health throughout the body): magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Magnesium levels have consistently been found to be low in patients with hypertension, and numerous studies have shown that magnesium supplementation lowers blood pressure in those whose blood pressure is elevated. The higher the blood pressure, the greater the effect magnesium has shown. A dose of 400 mg a day has been shown to be effective. Calcium has been shown to have similar effects, with one study showing a reduction in systolic blood pressure by 17 mmHg, and diastolic by 11 mmHg, over a period of 14 weeks.* And potassium has a long history of lowering blood pressure, one of the reasons that the consumption of plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is always part of lifestyle recommendations for people seeking to lower their blood pressure (since virtually all fruits and vegetables have significant amounts of potassium). Clinical studies have shown that potassium supplements can help reduce blood pressure in those with mild hypertension. Sea vegetables, rich in a variety of minerals including these, would be a great addition to the diet. (*Zhou C, Fan S, Zhou L, Ni Y, Huang T, Shi Y, “Clinical Observation of Treatment of Hypertension with Calcium”, American Journal of Hypertension 1994 Apr; 7(4 Pt 1):363-7)
- Herbs showing good potential for helping high blood pressure include hawthorn and coleus forskohlii (used in Ayurvedic medicine). Many studies of hawthorn’s benefits focus on the heart, but on his website, Dr. Ronald Hoffman refers to a study showing that hawthorn may “dilate coronary vessels, inhibit angiotensin-converting enzyme, increase the functional capacity of the heart, and possess mild diuretic activity.”* According to Michael Murray, who also recommends hawthorn for this use, dosage of the extract, with 10% procyanidins (or 1.8% vitexin-4′-rhamnoside) is 250mg, three times per day. Coleus forshkohlii also has been shown to reduce blood pressure, apparently by relaxing arterial walls (as well as smooth muscle elsewhere in the body). Several studies have demonstrated various aspects of the mechanism by which this arterial relaxation may be achieved (referenced on Dr. Hoffman’s site). (More references from above: *Petkov, V., “Plants with Hypotensive, Antiatheromatous and Coronarodilating Action,” American Journal of Chinese Medicine 7, 1979, 197-236. *Ammon, H.P.T. and Muller, A.B., “Forskolin: From Ayurvedic Remedy to a Modern Agent” Planta Medica, 51, 473-477, 1985; *Seamon, KB, and Daly, JW, “Forskolin: A Unique Diterpene Activator of cAMP-generating Systems,” Journal of Cyclic Nucleotide Research 7, 1981:201-224; *Christenson, J.T., Thulesius, O., Nazzal, M.M., Department of Surgery, Faculty of Medicine, Kuwait University ,“The Effect of Forskolin on Blood Flow, Platelet Metabolism, Aggregation and ATP Release”.)
- Other nutrients that are important for those needing to reduce blood pressure include vitamins C and B6. Michael Murray notes that these can help remove heavy metals (like lead) from the body, which will help to support a good blood pressure.
- Certain foods have been shown to help keep a healthy blood pressure as well, these include garlic, onions, celery, potatoes and maitake mushrooms. The active ingredient in garlic is allicin – the compound giving garlic its unique smell. The equivalent of one clove of garlic daily, whether the actual clove (finely chopped in salad dressing, perhaps), or a supplement with 4,000 mcg. allicin, is the recommended dosage. Onions, with their high sulfur content, can also reduce blood pressure. Celery contains a compound, 3-n-butylthalide, that has been shown in experimental animals to lower blood pressure (the equivalent in humans would be 4 stalks per day). And potatoes contain kukoamines, substances also shown to reduce blood pressure. Finally, animal studies show that maitake mushrooms have hypotensive effects.* Given the fact that these mushrooms have numerous immune-enhancing effects, it may be worth adding them to a program of supplementation; the recommended dosage is 3 to 7 grams per day. (*Kabir, Y., et al, Department of Food Chemistry, Faculty of Agriculture, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan, “Effect of Shiitake (Lentinusedodes) and Maitake (Grifola frondosa) Mushrooms on Blood Pressure and Plasma Lipids of Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats”, Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology (Tokyo), 1987 Oct; 33(5):341-6)
- IMPORTANT: Please note that if an individual opts for conventional medication, it will be very important to discuss the choice of herbs with the doctor, as there can be complications when combining certain herbs with certain medications.
- I thought this was also good info to share from Victoria: Each of these components supports the other. While each is beneficial, none can really stand alone. A good diet with a harried, highly stressed life and a sedentary lifestyle will not produce the best results; neither will a terrific exercise program but a refined diet based on industrial foods. A good diet may not be enough to restore nutrient balance, if diet or lifestyle have depleted the body’s stores for some time. And underlying issues may defy diet, lifestyle, and supplementation if not properly understood. Dietary recommendations, covering general recommendations, with a focus on eating fresh, organically grown produce, grains, legumes, and nuts; pastured meats, poultry, eggs, and dairy products; wild-caught fish; fermented foods. Specific foods that can be helpful for this specific condition will be noted: garlic, onions, celery, and potatoes, for specific blood pressure lowering effects, as well as sea vegetables and good quality sea salt for their mineral content. Of course, if the client is allergic to any of these foods, they will not be encouraged to indulge in them.
- Foods and beverages to minimize: all refined and processed foods, processed vegetable oils, GMOs, alcohol, caffeine, sugar and other sweeteners. Diet is one of the essential components of a supportive nutritional protocol. Not only does a balanced diet based on fresh, whole foods provide important nutrients for overall health, but it can be vital in restoring balance to the circulatory system in particular, just as a poor diet can support or encourage poor health. Further, specific foods have been shown to be quite effective in reducing blood pressure, some significantly. If overweight is one of the issues contributing to hypertension, diet certainly plays a role in bringing weight into balance, as well. Lifestyle recommendations, discussing exercise, sleep, and basic relaxation techniques (deep breathing, simple meditation techniques or guided meditations, stretching).
- Although many people may develop high blood pressure from poor lifestyle choices, chronic stress, or poor diet, there are also underlying conditions that can cause or promote hypertension as well. These include hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, adrenal overload, heavy metal toxicity, and insulin resistance; food allergies or sensitivities, as a source of stress, can also play a contributing role. While testing may not be called for in many cases, it is important for people to understand why and how it may be included in an overall protocol.
My plan for Kent:
- Do research, possibly call our doc, and find out about any contraindications with his current BP med and the below supplements.
- Start using my Bosch to blend him up veggie smoothies with 4 stalks of celery, onion, a clove of fresh garlic, cucumber and probably some tomatoes. Depending on their taste I could put some of his supplements in here, too, but he's great about taking those straight anyway. (I can't believe how many he can pop at once, I've seen him swallow a dozen!) And we already eat a lot of potatoes.
- If I'm not as consistent as I should be with the above, I'll get him this garlic supplement. Also some celery seed extract.
- He's already good about taking cod liver oil daily, which is great for many health reasons, but in this case due to it's omega 3's (good for the heart and many other things!) and its anti-inflammatory effects.
- I'll continue encouraging him to use this magnesium oil topical spray.
- I'll keep making a lot of mineral-rich bone broth.
- I'll get him some CoQ10. UPDATE: One reader suggested eating more heart and liver for CoQ10, and see the info above that I just added about taking ubiquinol instead based on another reader's comments.
- It's good that Kent is really disciplined about getting 8 hours of sleep a night, and this isn't always easy since he gets up at 5:00 am every day.
- He's also working on stress levels and trying not to let stress at work get to him as much. I know that his daily prayer life helps him with this a lot.
- What did I forget?
- A reader in the comments suggested an Em-Wave machine for lowering stress and blood pressure.
If we're able to use these natural methods and get his blood pressure better consistently, thankfully his doc said that he's on such a low dose of Lisinopril that he can just stop it, no need to wean.
I'll keep you posted. If you want to follow this conversation, be sure to subscribe for new posts (using the orange box), and also comment below and let us know more about what's going on with you if you're willing — we can learn from each other!