Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure: Intro
If you are not currently among almost one-half of U.S. adults with high blood pressure, then the odds are that you might develop high blood pressure at some point in your life without some preventive measures. In this article, I’ll discuss all of the proven natural ways to lower blood pressure.
Some people have high blood pressure caused by an underlying condition. This type of high blood pressure is called secondary (rather than primary) hypertension (HTN), with those underlying conditions spelled out in this article. All types of hypertension increase your risk for serious health problems, such as stroke, heart disease, ocular blood clots, kidney failure, and dementia. So, it’s clear you want to have normal blood pressure. Below you will find a blueprint for achieving your health goals naturally, which will cover the following:
- Eliminate the basic HTN risk factors
- Do the “right” type of exercise
- Eliminate two toxic types of foods right off the bat
- Address the major metabolic issues: blood sugar, insulin, and leptin
- Normalize your weight
- Balance your omega fatty acids
- Eliminate internal inflammation and oxidative stress
- Control your stress levels
- Fix your broken microbiome
- Banish toxins
- Increase nitric oxide
- Increase vitamin D
- Consider other foods, supplements, and integratives
The Basics of Treatment for Hypertension
Let’s first review risk factors you can easily control. For example, you can stop smoking, control alcohol consumption and, for those who are “salt-sensitive,” control your salt consumption. In addition, you can increase potassium-containing foods (such as bananas and raisins) and take a good magnesium supplement. Estimates show that 80% of Americans are magnesium deficient, and magnesium relaxes vascular smooth muscle; to directly lower blood pressure. In addition, your weight and the amount of exercise you do affect your blood pressure.
It’s important to have an exercise regimen that will help to lower your insulin levels. Studies have traditionally shown that “cardio” or “aerobic” activities such as jogging and swimming tend to be the most beneficial for lowering blood pressure.
However, more recent studies reveal the good news that you don’t need a 30-60 minute workout to reap the insulin and blood-pressure-lowering benefits. Short, intense workouts such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) are becoming more popular for both health and efficiency. It’s fairly easy to construct a HIIT regimen to do at home. You don’t need to do exact “timed intervals”; it’s just about getting short of breath, recovering, doing it again, and so on. If you have been exercising regularly, start “low and slow,” and if you haven’t exercised much since your “school years,” get medical clearance. Try doing burpees until you’re short of breath for 3 sets and work up to 6 sets, 2x per week. You can also do sprints on a track or in a pool. You can run in place, jump rope, or do jumping jacks.
Diet changes and precautions
Before I get into a more verbose discussion about non-inflammatory eating, I mention two food items we all used to think were healthy foods. Unfortunately, these so-called health foods have become poison for most people with existing high blood pressure, grains, and sugars (including fructose). Since many people still think grains and fruit juices are healthy choices, I want to emphasize they most certainly are not. Now, the science.
Addressing “Hypertension Pathophysiology”
Closely linked are the metabolic abnormalities of high blood sugar, high insulin levels, high leptin levels, and, therefore, insulin and leptin resistance at the receptor level.
Hypertension can be caused by cellular glycation (stiffening) from high blood sugar levels, so getting your blood sugar under control is a must. In addition, most people with hypertension have insulin receptors that don’t work efficiently, called insulin resistance. To compensate for this, your body produces more insulin. To lower insulin levels, you need to replace processed foods with real, whole foods. You also need to eliminate or dramatically reduce sugar and processed fructose (fruit) sugar and grains from your diet. Some studies show a closer correlation between fructose consumption and hypertension than even sodium! And then there’s leptin, another hormone that looms upward as you eat poorly and gain weight.
You can easily become leptin-resistant (with the attendant high leptin levels) by eating the same diet full of sugar (particularly fructose and grains once again.) Together, these foods will create the perfect environment for weight-packing bacteria to thrive in your GI tract; or microbiome. You then have your gut telling your metabolism to slow down and your high leptin levels telling you to keep eating and store more fat in your fat cells. It’s not a pretty picture, but it can be easily reversed. Other factors that play into the high leptin scenario include high cortisol levels (to be discussed) and other hormone imbalances. Often this trio shows up as belly fat. Lowering blood sugar, leptin, and insulin are partially achieved by simply losing weight which I’ll discuss next.
Normalize your Weight
I’ve talked about blood sugar, insulin, and leptin. To complete the discussion of the diet plan to normalize your weight for life, you must eat an anti-inflammatory diet. This can be a basic anti-inflammatory diet, a stricter autoimmune,no-lectin diet, or even a ketogenic diet plan. A paleo diet is effective, but you must be sure to compensate for the over-abundance of omega-6 fatty acids in meat. Here’s how you do just that.
Balancing the omega fats in your diet
Just about everyone needs to normalize their omega 6-to-3 fat ratio. Also, omega-3 fatty acids are vital for healthy blood pressure. Findings from a study of 2,000 healthy men and women between the ages of 25 and 41 showed that those with the highest serum levels of omega-3 also had the lowest blood pressure readings.
Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential for your health, but most Americans consume too many omega-6 fatty acids in their diets and too few omega-3s. This is because we tend to eat more meat and milk and less omega-3 fish. Eating omega-3 fats is a great way to re-sensitize your insulin receptors if you are insulin resistant. It is also essential for normal, healthy blood pressure. Wild-caught salmon and sardines are both low-mercury and high omega-3 containing fish. However, it’s hard to consume enough to compensate for all of the omega-6s we eat, so I always recommend a good omega-3 supplement.
Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Internal inflammation is associated with all disease states, including hypertension. Because approximately 70% of Americans are overweight, this alone is considered a major cause of reversible inflammation. In addition, eating the standard American diet (S.A.D.) described above will increase inflammation levels. Add in toxins such as heavy metals (mercury) and fluoride in drinking and showering water, and you’ve piled onto our national epidemic of inflammation. On the other hand, if you reduce your weight, clean up your diet, deal with toxins, stress and heal your probable leaky gut, then you will make a big “dent” in your inflammation problem and your blood pressure level, too.
Oxidative stress (defined as an over-abundance of free radicals which are not sufficiently quenched by antioxidants) worsens inflammation. But, this can be easily reversed with enough vegetables, fruits in moderation, and a high-antioxidant supplement.
Stress and Cortisol
There is a publicly accepted long-term myth that stress raises your blood pressure. It does short-term, and some so-called “experts” still say it doesn’t raise it or can’t raise it long term. However, sustained high cortisol will routinely cause leaky gut, disturbing the microbiome and potentially elevating blood pressure. So, based on current research, it’s now not a myth anymore! Let me explain the role of the microbiome.
Leaky gut is caused by everything from a poor diet to high “stress levels” to proton pump inhibitor antacid drugs such as Prilosec. It sometimes produces little to no symptoms, but it always causes internal inflammation, which you now know is associated with hypertension. In addition, leaky gut always produces unfavorable alterations in the composition of the GI microbiome. And this is yet another factor in the creation of the hypertensive state.
Doesn’t it seem that lately, you read that all aspects of your health are more and more related to the health of your gut? It turns out that an unhealthy gut microbiome with less “healthy bacteria” (a dysbiotic gut) will cause hypertension; via a different mechanism than through leaky gut and/or inflammation. It also seems that “hypertensive GI tracts” have fewer bacteria that produce (healthy) butyrate and acetate.
There are two easy ways to increase gut butyrate levels that help with weight loss, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and blood pressure. One way is to take sporulating probiotics. The other is to supplement with MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil. I use MCT oil for cooking and suggest that “trick” rather than MCT supplements which often cause diarrhea.
Biotoxins such as mold mycotoxins and Lyme toxins and heavy metals such as lead and mercury can damage the microbiome via other mechanisms, including (most often) the sirtuin pathway, and raise blood pressure. So next, let’s talk about sirtuins.
Sirtuins are enzymes that are produced in decreased amounts in many metabolic disorders such as obesity and metabolic syndrome. SIRT1 (the most well-known and studied sirtuin) causes an increase in leptin sensitivity. It also increases adiponectin production. Both of these actions have both anti-obesity and, therefore, anti-hypertensive effects. The SIRT1 pathway is disordered in toxin-related disorders and many disorders of mitochondrial function. Therefore diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, or Chronic fatigue syndrome are also associated with SIRT1 deficiency, with a built-in risk for metabolic syndrome, including hypertension.
The Role of Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide (NO) protects the lining of blood vessels and vasodilates them as well. When arteries are damaged by inflammation, we see a decrease in nitric oxide near the smooth muscle linings of the blood vessels. In general, nitric oxide levels tend to decrease with age. To some degree, HIIT exercise enhances NO, but to make sure your levels are adequate, try foods or supplements. Below are some foods and supplements which raise NO levels.
This juice is high in NO3, which converts to NO. An 8-ounce glass per day will lower your blood pressure (on average) by 8 mm Hg (systolic) and 4 mm Hg (diastolic), demonstrated in those with existing hypertension. I find this to be much more palatable when mixed with “juiced” carrots and spinach.
Examples of other vegetables high in NO3 include whole beets, arugula (the best!), celery, cabbage, leeks, scallions, radishes, kale, turnip tops, spinach, mustard greens, eggplant, carrots, and string beans.
It’s a well-known medical fact that vitamin D deficiency is associated with arterial stiffness and subsequent hypertension. Still, a large study involving over 100,000 individuals has now demonstrated that low vitamin D levels can actually cause high blood pressure. To make the correlation even stronger, the highest vitamin D levels were shown to lower hypertension risk the most. High-D foods include the healthiest fish, wild sockeye salmon, and sardines, as well as eggs (only eat “pastured,” please). Most people are clinically deficient unless they take D3+K supplements, with most individuals requiring a minimum of 6000 IU’s per day.
This multi-use supplement increases endothelial NO production, reduces vascular oxidative stress, and prevents smooth muscle proliferation, vascular remodeling, and arterial stiffness. In addition, resveratrol inhibits immune cell infiltration into the vascular wall and mitigates vascular inflammation. All these mechanisms contribute to the positive effects of resveratrol on vascular function and blood pressure.
L-arginine plus l-citrulline
A good NO-enhancing supplement will contain l-arginine and l-citrulline. Bodybuilders typically use these supplements for the increased “pump,” and some men use them to enhance erectile function. However, if taken often, they too will lower blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide.
The Role of the Oral Microbiome
The critical role of the oral microbiome in both our oral and systemic health is being elucidated more and more with each study that emerges. Elevations in plasma [NO2−] following dietary NO3− ingestion and the associated physiological responses are blunted by the use of antiseptic and antibacterial mouthwashes and even by toothpaste. This blunting is directly related to the diminution of healthy oral bacteria in the oral microbiome. Natural tooth powders are not as pleasant to use as commercial toothpaste products, but natural toothpaste seems to be an improvement from the highly processed supermarket brands. Mouthwash should be used sparingly, if at all.
Other Helpful Supplements
Natural vitamin E (200 IU’s per day) has been shown to lower blood pressure. Natural vitamin E is always listed as the “d-” form (d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol). Synthetic vitamin E is listed as “dl-” forms. Don’t take synthetic vitamin E, as it’s ineffective and might even cause harm.
Studies (meaning a review of 29 studies done in 2012) indicate that 500 mg of vitamin C per day might help lower blood pressure. In 2020, another meta-analysis was done, focusing on 8 studies published between 1991 and 2018. Overall, 614 participants were included. The number of participants in the individual studies ranged from 12 to 480. Participants’ mean age ranged from 46 to 78 years. The duration of the intervention varied from 4 to 24 weeks. All participants had essential hypertension. The average SBP and DBP of the participants ranged from 143 to 173 mmHg and from 76 to 97 mmHg, respectively. The supplementary dose of VitC in the treatment group varied between 300 and 1000 mg/dL. The results? There was indeed a correlation between supplemental vitamin C and hypertensive control.
Why? At present, the main theory is that VitC increases intracellular concentrations of tetrahydrobiopterin, an endothelial nitric oxide synthase co-factor that promotes the production of nitric oxide, which is a potent vasodilator. However, there is also evidence that Vitamin C enhances the biological activity of nitric oxide.
This can lower blood pressure by 10%, but only if you take it as a supplement. Although allicin is produced when raw garlic is crushed or chewed, much of it is destroyed during cooking. For about ten years, researchers have been aware the allicin made from alliin in garlic blocks the activity of angiotensin II—a substance that raises blood pressure. In addition, supplemental garlic elevates levels of nitric oxide.
Note, however, the health benefits of garlic supplements are due to ajoene, diithins, and allicin, not just due to allicin. So, shop carefully since ajoene and diithins are considerably more potent than “just allicin.”
Nattokinase enzymes have potent fibrinolytic (blood-clot-busting) activity, anti-atherosclerotic, lipid-lowering, antiplatelet (anti-platelet stickiness), and even neuroprotective effects.
In addition, with regards to the topic of this article, a well done double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study showed that supplementing with nattokinase for eight weeks resulted in a significant reduction of both diastolic and systolic blood pressure.
Nattokinase is an enzyme found in the food natto, which is a fermented soy product. Whether consumed as fermented soy or as a supplement, the natto enzyme has been used successfully for 25 years to treat hypertension and various circulatory issues in China and continues to be studied worldwide.
Odds and Ends
Ongoing research on peptides for weight control and metabolic issues will certainly yield some actionable results soon. Flavonoids such as green tea (EGCG) and pomegranate extract show promise for hypertension as well. Studies looking at herbs such as curcumin, ginger, and hawthorn extract are also quite encouraging. And what about hormones per se?
The idea that menopause or the associated estrogen decrease is associated with blood pressure increase is still under debate. The epidemiological challenge is the coincidence between menopause and aging and the evidence that both rising blood pressure and menopause have common determinants such as diet, body mass index, smoking, and even socio-economic class. In addition, there seems to be no correlation between testosterone levels in men and blood pressure levels. The bottom line, as always, is to eat healthfully, exercise correctly, and supplement smartly. For some, that might include nitric oxide supplementation.
Effects of vitamin C supplementation on essential hypertension
doi: 10.1038/s41371-019-0194-y. Epub 2019 Mar 21.
The uncertain effect of menopause on blood pressure
Effects of hormone therapy on blood pressure
Resveratrol and Vascular Function
Effects of nattokinase on blood pressure: a randomized, controlled trial.
Nattokinase: A Promising Alternative in Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases
Inorganic Nitrate and Beetroot Juice Supplementation Reduces Blood Pressure in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
JAMA Internal Medicine 2014;174(4):516-524. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1819573
Natural approaches in metabolic syndrome management
Functional Foods and Nutraceuticals as Dietary Intervention in Chronic Diseases; Novel Perspectives for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention.
Traditional herbs: a remedy for cardiovascular disorders.
Polyphenol protection and treatment of hypertension.
Antihypertensive role of polyphenols.
Vasculoprotective Effects of Pomegranate (Punica granatum L.)
Published online 2015 Apr 13. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.115.05315
Gut Microbiota Dysbiosis is Linked to Hypertension
Tao Yang, Monica M. Santisteban, Vermali Rodriguez, Eric Li, Niousha Ahmari, Jessica Marulanda Carvajal, Mojgan Zadeh, Minghao Gong, Yanfei Qi, Jasenka Zubcevic, Bikash Sahay, Carl J. Pepine, Mohan K. Raizada, and Mansour Mohamadzadeh
Gut microbiota in hypertension
Oxidative Stress and Vascular Function: Implications for Pharmacologic Treatments