Each month Amy Rothenberg, ND answers readers’ questions about naturopathic approaches to health and wellness. This month the topic is maintaining healthy blood pressure.
Question: I am looking for natural approaches to keep my blood pressure low. I am in my 40s and although my blood pressure is still in a normal range, it is creeping up. Thank you for any recommendations! ~ Patrick, in New Hampshire
Answer: Patrick, you’re not alone! Rising blood pressure is common and because early on, there are often few symptoms, it’s important to be checked regularly. Hypertension is one risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Though it’s not always possible to influence risk factors like genetics, getting older and being male, luckily, there are many risk factors you can influence. Naturopathic doctors work to identify and address the underlying cause(s) that influence blood pressure, they include:
- Addressing nutritional deficiencies
- Examining and adjusting your diet
- Maintaining optimal weight.
- Decreasing overall inflammation
- Inspiring you to move and exercise regularly
- Encouraging the adoption of body-mind medicine techniques
- Educating you about natural medicines like nutritional supplements and botanical medicines for maintaining healthy blood pressure
- As state laws allow, a naturopathic doctor may prescribe or refer you to someone to begin or adjust medications as appropriate.
Nutrition and Blood Pressure
Nutritional deficiencies related to magnesium, potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber have been shown to contribute to blood pressure changes, so getting adequate amounts of these nutrients is important. One way to do that is to follow a DASH diet.
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It emphasizes fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, high fiber whole grains, poultry, fish, healthy oils, nuts and seeds. These foods are packed with potassium, magnesium, calcium, dietary fiber, and protein. Refined carbohydrates, red meat and sugary treats are minimized. There is clinical evidence that specific foods and drinks help lower blood pressure like garlic, olive oil, beetroot juice, pomegranate juice, green tea and cocoa. You may want to side-step certain foods and beverages known to elevate blood pressure as in caffeine, excessive alcohol, and trans fats.
Another way to keep blood pressure in check is to watch your sodium intake. It is best to aim for 1500-2300mg a day. As much as 71% of sodium intake comes from restaurant foods and processed foods, so it is important to ask for low-sodium menu items and read food labels and look for low sodium items on packaged foods (see this list for sodium content of common foods). Many food and fitness tracker apps can help you keep track of sodium intake with your phone.
Another dietary consideration is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Current research shows that inflammation plays a role in the development of hypertension. An anti-inflammatory diet includes eating mostly colorful vegetables and fruits, healthy fats from extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, avocados and cold-water fish and reducing red meat intake (see below). It also means reducing consumption of: refined sugars and alcohol, as well as highly processed carbohydrates, such as snack foods and baked goods. Herbs and spices are another important dietary consideration for maintaining healthy blood pressure. By adding ginger, garlic, basil, cinnamon, cardamom, celery and flax seed to your foods, you will be doing your body a favor.
Andrew Weil MD, Anti-inflammatory Diet Pyramid
What about supplements? By working with a licensed naturopathic doctor, he or she may suggest nutritional supplements that impact blood pressure. Your doctor will test you for nutrient depletions such as potassium and magnesium, which can affect blood pressure. A number of studies looked nutrients like coenzyme Q10, fish oil, garlic and vitamin C for maintaining healthy blood pressure. There are many other relevant nutritional supplements that will support healthy blood pressure, but it is important not to take them without the advice of a licensed naturopathic doctor for an individualized treatment plan.
Body and Mind for Healthy Blood Pressure
Exercise is super important for maintaining healthy blood pressure. A combination of aerobic exercise with dynamic resistance training offers the most help. Of course, exercise has other widespread benefits including stress reduction, improved cognition, better insulin sensitivity and enhanced sleep.
Body-mind medicine like mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises and yoga can lower blood pressure, too. Better yet, these are low cost, no-side-effect approaches to keep you healthy
If healthy blood pressure levels cannot be maintained with lifestyle, your doctor may suggest prescription medications. I always encourage my patients to try a natural, lifestyle approach while under my close supervision to maintain healthy blood pressure. If this is not possible, there are medications to discuss.
As your state law allows, licensed naturopathic doctors can offer informed guidance. Side effects are dose-dependent, so sometimes by following a healthy lifestyle you may be able to be on less of a respective drug. Reducing or discontinuing a medication would only be done after careful consideration and appropriate medical support. It’s also important to note that some essential medications, such as those used in the treatment of cancer and autoimmune disease may cause hypertension, for which naturopathic medicine approaches may be less effective.
For a more details on the topic of healthy blood pressure, please see more from the Institute for Natural Medicine (click here and here). Want to find a licensed naturopathic doctor? Click here for a searchable directory by zip code from the Institute for Natural Medicine.
Each month, Amy Rothenberg, ND, a licensed naturopathic doctor in Northhampton, Mass., answers health-related questions on behalf of the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit that increases public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. She offers her perspective and practical wisdom from thirty-plus years as a licensed naturopathic doctor, a respected teacher in the field, a patient and a mother.