Have you been told that your blood pressure (BP) is high, measuring above 135/85? You may have wondered if high blood pressure is treated without medications? Many times, it can!
A few changes in diet, activity routine and attitude can bring blood pressure into a safe range. Or, you may be able to take fewer medications (“meds” for short) or lower doses of them. Meds are expensive and can have undesirable side effects.
Many folks prefer to try more natural means. If you want to treat your high blood pressure naturally, I recommend a combination of the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet with weight loss, mindfulness practice and exercise.
The DASH diet is a dietary pattern promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It can lower BP an average of 11 points systolic (top number) and five points diastolic (bottom number) and results can be seen within two weeks of starting. This diet emphasizes lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables rather than processed high-salt foods. It is widely available on the internet and in books. It can be a lifelong healthy choice diet, which is also environmentally friendly and inexpensive.
Note that the DASH diet limits alcohol to one or two drinks daily. Alcohol has a negative impact on blood pressure, so I generally recommend that people don’t drink alcohol when trying to control their blood pressure naturally. Similarly, sodium or salt raises blood pressure. The DASH diet suggests limiting sodium intake to 2.3 grams daily.
Some people can benefit from weight loss. To see if you are overweight, I recommend calculating your body mass index, or BMI. This can be done online using your weight and height. If your BMI exceeds 25, you are in the overweight category. Losing as little as 10 lbs. can improve BP and a loss of 17 lbs. has been shown to decrease blood pressure by seven points systolic and five points diastolic.
To combine the DASH diet with weight loss, merely limit portions. An exercise routine may be as simple as taking three, 10-minute walks daily. Curiously, even taking a break from being seated during the workday may improve blood pressure. In studies, people who stood at their desks for 10 minutes each hour had improved blood pressure.
Exercise may be aerobic (such as walking or biking) or resistance (working out with light weights or resistance bands) or optimally, a combination of the two types. It may take a few weeks for blood pressure to improve.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction, yoga and meditation are activities that are more difficult to research than diet, weight loss and exercise. Some studies demonstrate that these practices can lower blood pressure as much as a medication. My advice is to find a practice, be it biofeedback, transcendental meditation, or a formal stress reduction program, that seems acceptable to you, then follow it for at least six weeks.
Keeping a record of your blood pressure will help you to track your progress. I recommend measuring your blood pressure while seated (after five minutes of rest) several times weekly but at different times of the day.
The goal for blood pressure is lower than 135/85. Bring this record to your provider visit and bring your blood pressure machine with you also, to verify accuracy. If, despite these lifestyle improvements, your pressure is still high, work with your provider to safely treat your condition. Treatment may include medication, but the important thing to remember is that medications are far more effective when coupled with lifestyle changes.
Pam Taylor MD
Cardiologist, Chaffee County Cardiology Group