Effective Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure
I see it commonly—people entering in their later 30’s to early 50’s see a doctor and are surprised to learn that their blood pressure is elevated. For most people, there are no symptoms that accompany mild to moderate hypertension. Why is hypertension important? Elevated blood pressure has been correlated with increased risk of stroke. Any blood pressure over 210/120 is a medical emergency and does warrant immediate treatment. Blood pressures over 180/110 require urgent medical care. If your situation is not medically urgent and you are interested in a non-pill approach to lower blood pressure, you might start with some lifestyle changes.
If you are already on medication, I strongly encourage you to work with your doctor in tapering your medication as your blood pressure improves. There are some blood pressure medications that can be very dangerous to stop “cold turkey,” for example—beta blockers, so please do NOT change medications on your own.
If this is your first time with a high blood pressure reading, you might ask the following questions…
- Was the right sized blood pressure cuff used for your arm?
- Was the high blood pressure reading confirmed by at least two separate readings a minimum of 5 minutes apart?
- Were you sitting at rest when the blood pressure was taken?
- Were you under a particularly high amount of emotional stress, in a lot of pain, had caffeine, or consumed nicotine recently?
- Were you on a steroid or other medication that can raise blood pressure?
- Did you know that crossing your legs can give you a higher blood pressure reading?
It is also important to note that 15-30% of people have what is known as “white coat” hypertension, that is, their blood pressure is high in the doctor’s office but normal when taken at home. Unless the blood pressure is a medically urgent or emergent situation, high blood pressure should be verified by home readings before starting treatment.
Blood pressure changes throughout the day and is highly dependent on many factors. Your blood pressure should naturally be high in some situations, but the important thing is that it shouldn’t stay high and it should come down when you are at rest.
If you rule out the factors above and you still have mild to moderate hypertension, then it might be helpful to consider incorporating “non-pill” solutions to your healthcare plan. Working with your doctor, you might be able to reduce or even eventually come off medication in some instances. The great news is that these techniques can also indirectly help reduce stroke risk by factors other than hypertension alone.
Meditation & Restorative Yoga
Hypertension can result from living in a constant state of fight or flight, otherwise known as sympathetic overdrive. Meditation, restorative yoga, and breathing are all techniques that help reduce the sympathetic state and increase the “rest, digest, heal” parasympathetic state. These techniques also increase GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter, that supports rest. Yoga in general has had several studies suggesting that it can help lower blood pressure.
QiGong is an energy medicine practice that has been studied to help increase the effectiveness of antihypertensive medication and to help lower diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number).
Yes, that’s right—music can actually be a part of helping to normalize blood pressure. A music therapy program can help participants reduce their stress, rebalance their neurotransmitters, and help normalize their blood pressure. You don’t have to have any special musical talent to participate. People of all skill levels can participate and enjoy music.
Hold the Salt
In some forms of hypertension, salt can be a trigger for the blood pressure to rise. An anti-hypertensive diet called the DASH diet also encourages the use of more fruits and vegetables and whole grains, while reducing the use of dairy, red meat, and sweetened beverages. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with all kinds of stroke-fighting properties.
Heart Math utilizes a biofeedback device you can use while you practice breathing and heart-centered gratitude. This device measures when your body is positively responding to your practice. It has had several scientific studies done on it throughout the years which show its effectiveness in decreasing hypertension, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. You can use HeartMath on your computer, iPad, iPhone, or through a separate device. Learn more at http://www.heartmath.com/ or feel welcome to ask me more about it during a naturopathic consult.
I would be remiss to not include the basics of exercise. Exercise is filled with many health preventative benefits, so it is no wonder that lowered blood pressure is among them. Choose something you enjoy doing and that feels good. It shouldn’t be a punishment. For me, I love walking with my dogs every morning, hula hooping to a favorite song, or returning to my yoga mat.
I could probably also talk about the importance of laughter, enjoying time with people you love, unplugging from all the electronic devices, finding someone you can confide in and talk to when you are facing a stressful situation. Just remember, there are many tools out there to help you find an integrative approach to hypertension.
Katrina Bogdon, ND, FABNO, provides naturopathic health care services at 2BWell in Springfield, MO. She received her naturopathic medical doctorate at the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) in Portland, OR, in 2007. She is licensed as a naturopathic physician in the state of Washington. She lives on a small farm in Nixa, Missouri.