High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the most important risk factor for premature death, accounting for half of all deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and 13.5 percent of all deaths each year. It affects 26 percent of the population worldwide, and one-third of the population in the U.S. Nine in ten Americans are expected to develop high blood pressure by the age of sixty-five.
With this in mind, it’s no exaggeration to suggest that keeping your blood pressure under control is one of the most important things you can do to extend your lifespan.
Mild hypertension can nearly double your risk of heart disease—but drugs don’t work. What can you do?
This has become even more apparent in light of recent research which suggests that even “high normal” blood pressure (120–129 / 80–84 mmHg) increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 46% on average. For women, the risk was slightly lower; for men, it was much higher—80%, regardless of age. (1) These results are alarming in light of the fact that 3 of 10 US citizens have a blood pressure in the 129–139 / 84–95 mmHg range.
Making the problem worse, studies have shown that drug therapy for “high normal” blood pressure and even mild hypertension is not effective. A large review of randomized, clinical trials performed by the prestigious Cochrane Collaboration found that anti-hypertensive drugs used to treat mild hypertension (140–159 / 90–99 mm/Hg) did not reduce disease complications or the risk of death. (2)
How To Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Like most other chronic diseases, high blood pressure is caused by a mismatch between our genes and the modern diet and lifestyle. High blood pressure affects only one percent of hunter-gatherer populations following a traditional diet, but its prevalence increases when those cultures adopt a western diet and lifestyle that is characterized by processed and refined foods, sedentary behavior, chronic sleep deprivation, a lack of sun exposure and excess use of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco. (3)
If you have “high-normal” blood pressure or mild hypertension, here are my top three recommendations for decreasing your blood pressure naturally.
As I mentioned above, high blood pressure is practically nonexistent in traditional hunter gatherer societies. There are likely several reasons for this, but diet is certainly one of them. Here’s what to pay attention to:
- Sugar. Increased consumption of sugar—especially sugar-sweetened beverages like soda—is associated with high blood pressure, and reducing sugar intake has been shown to lower blood pressure. (4)
- Potassium. High dietary intake of potassium is associated with lower blood pressure. In fact, many researchers believe that the protective effects of potassium are one of the major reasons why hunter-gatherers like the Kalahari Bushmen and traditional pygmies of Sub-Saharan Africa have such a low incidence of high blood pressure. In Paleolithic diets, the average daily intake of potassium was approximately 10,500 mg/d. In comparison, the average American consumes about 2,800 mg/d. (5)
- Cold-water fish. I’ve written before about the numerous health benefits of EPA and DHA, the polyunsaturated fats found in cold-water fish. Studies have shown that DHA, in particular, is very effective at reducing blood pressure. You don’t need to take a fish oil supplement to get this benefit; eating cold-water fish three times a week is just as effective as taking a high-dose fish oil supplement, and the protein in the fish may also have a blood-pressure lowering effect. (6)
- Magnesium. A high dietary intake of magnesium has been shown to reduce blood pressure, though its effect is not as strong as what is observed with potassium. Nuts, seeds, spinach, beet greens, and chocolate are the highest food sources of magnesium on a Paleo diet. Magnesium’s effect on blood pressure is magnified when combined with increased potassium intake. In fact, increasing potassium and magnesium intake together while moderately reducing sodium intake can lower blood pressure as much as a single medication. (7)
What about salt? We’ve been told for years that a high salt intake is one of the primary risk factors for high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, but it’s time to shake up the salt myth. Though some studies do suggest that restricting salt can lower blood pressure, the evidence supporting a connection between salt intake and cardiovascular disease is weak at best. What’s more, some evidence suggests that restricting salt too much may be harmful to our health. (For more on this important topic, read my special report on salt.)
As usual, individual variation plays a role. It appears that a minority of the population is “salt-sensitive”, which means they’re susceptible to developing hypertension when consuming a diet higher in sodium. For the rest of us, there’s no strong evidence that reducing salt intake below one and one-half teaspoons (3,600 mg/d, which is the average intake in the US today) is beneficial.
There are a number of steps you can take in terms of behavioral and lifestyle change to lower your blood pressure. These include:
- Weight loss. Excess body fat can raise blood pressure, and reducing it can lower blood pressure.
- Exercise. Endurance exercise, strength training, high-intensity interval training and simply moving around more during the day (outside of a distinct exercise period) have all been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure.
- Sleep. Both short sleep duration and poor sleep quality increase the risk that you’ll develop high blood pressure. (8) Correcting sleep apnea has been shown to reduce blood pressure. (9)
- Sunlight. Exposure to ultraviolet light (via sunshine or tanning beds) increases the production of a chemical in our bodies called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a powerful vasodilator; it helps our blood vessels to relax, which in turn lowers blood pressure.
- Meditation. Several studies have shown that meditation can be effective for lowering blood pressure, possibly via its relaxing effects on the nervous system. (10)
- Deep breathing. Deep breathing is part of many traditional practices such as yoga, qi gong and certain forms of meditation. Even short periods of deep breathing have been shown to modestly lower blood pressure, and using deep-breathing techniques over weeks to months may lead to long-term reductions in blood pressure. Research suggests that three to four fifteen-minute sessions per week of deep breathing are sufficient to have this effect. (11)
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback, the process of becoming aware of the body’s physiological functions, has been shown to effectively reduce blood pressure, with no side effects or risks. (12)
First get your weight loss, exercise, sleep and sun exposure dialed in. Then choose either meditation, deep breathing, or biofeedback and stick with it for a month. You’ll be amazed at the results.
Several supplements have been shown to be quite effective for lowering blood pressure. In fact, research suggests that when combined together, diet and lifestyle changes and supplements can be even more effective than drug treatment.
Here’s a list of the supplements you should consider:
- CoQ10. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is an antioxidant that plays an important role in protecting the heart. Levels of CoQ10 decrease with age and are lower in patients with diseases that are characterized by inflammation and oxidative stress, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. At doses of 100–225 mg per day, CoQ10 reduces systolic blood pressure by 15 mgHg and diastolic blood pressure by 10 mgHg. (13) CoQ10 is fat soluble, which means it’s best to take with meals that contain fat. However, newer formulations are available that significantly improve absorption and lead to higher serum CoQ10 levels. These are the products I use in my practice: QH Absorb 100 mg and 200 mg.
- Garlic. Clinical trials have shown that long-acting garlic supplements have a modest but significant impact on blood pressure in people with high blood pressure, with an average reduction of 8.4 mmHg (systolic) and 7.3 mmHg (diastolic). (14) Approximately 10,000 units of allicin (one of the active ingredients in garlic)—the amount contained in about four cloves of garlic—is required to have the desired effect. However, not all garlic supplements are comparable in their ability to lower blood pressure. This is what I use in my practice: Vital Nutrients Garlic 6000.
- Magnesium. Magnesium taken in supplemental form at doses of 500–1,000 mg/d over an eight-week period has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure. I recommend chelated forms of magnesium such as magnesium glycinate for optimal absorption and tolerance. This is what I use in my practice: Douglass Laboratories Magnesium Glycinate.
- Vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to modestly reduce blood pressure and improve arterial health in clinical studies. This is especially true for people who are low in vitamin C to begin with. The recommended dose is 1,000 mg a day. Liposomal forms of vitamin C are much better absorbed than typical oral preparations. This is what I use in my practice: Optimal Liposomal Vitamin C.
- Potassium. Potassium may help reduce blood pressure, especially when dietary intake is inadequate. (15) The main dietary sources of potassium are starchy vegetables like potato, sweet potato and plantain, fruits like banana, and some species of fish, like halibut, rockfish, and salmon. If you’re not eating these foods (e.g. you’re on a very low-carb diet), you may wish to supplement with 1,000–2,000 mg/d of potassium (though you should check with your doctor before doing this, and monitor your potassium levels; high-dose potassium supplementation over a long period of time may lead to mineral imbalances and can be dangerous).
When I wrote the bonus chapter on treating high blood pressure for Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback as The Paleo Cure in December 2014), I created a bundle of the supplements I use in my store to make it easier for people to purchase them (and save on shipping from multiple vendors). You can check that out here.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you have high-normal blood pressure or mild hypertension? Have you tried any of the strategies in this article? What has worked best for you? Let us know in the comments section.