By John Schappi
One of my previous posts reported on my success in dealing with the problem of very high spikes in my blood pressure. Now I'm back to my more normal blood pressure readings. I'm finding that most of these readings are well below the 150/90 guideline for those of us over age 60. And I no longer take blood pressure medication.
These good readings probably are due, at least in part, to some of the things I've tried over the last couple of years to lower my blood pressure without pills. The standard recommendations to lower systolic blood pressure readings include:
- Consume a diet rich in produce, grains, low-fat dairy and reduced saturated and total fat.
- Be active. Engage in regular aerobic physical activity such as brisk walking at least 30 minutes per day most days.
- Lose excess weight. Aim for a body mass index under 25.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Limit consumption to no more than one drink per day for most women and no more than two drinks per day for most men.
- Cut back on salt. Consume no more than 2300 mg of sodium per day (one teaspoon).
Natural Remedies to Lower Blood Pressure
Google "hibiscus tea and blood pressure" and you'll find numerous reports about how this tea has a propensity for lowering blood pressure significantly. These references include a link to one of my favorite sites for nutrition information—nutritionfacts.org.
One study showed that hibiscus tea was as effective at lowering blood pressure as captopril, a prescription ACE inhibitor used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. In another study, three eight-ounce servings of hibiscus tea lowered pre-hypertensive subjects' systolic blood pressure significantly.
I've seen recommendations that you should aim for 3 cups a day. I usually take only one large cup, but I use two teabags—one of the hibiscus tea from Whole Foods, and the other from Red Zinger. Sometimes I manage to take two cups.
Beets are a good source of potassium and a good source of folate, both of which are important in regulating blood pressure. What's more, beets contain nitrate, which is converted into nitrites once ingested. Nitrites relax smooth muscle tissue and increase blood flow. Finally, beets support healthy blood vessel function and battle homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage blood vessels.
Research suggests that one to two cups of beet juice daily can lower blood pressure immediately (within an hour of consumption) and significantly. An English study found beet juice to be as effective as nitrate tablets in treating hypertension.
In researching beet juice, I found that pomegranate juice and cranberry juice also can reduce systolic blood pressure. Pomegranate juice acts as a natural ACE inhibitor, similar to the class of meds prescribed to treat hypertension. Cranberry juice has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that help prevent and reduce damage inside the blood vessels. It also may help reduce blood pressure by dilating blood vessels and increasing blood flow and it's an excellent source of blood-pressure-lowering vitamin C.
So, guess what? I just went to my old favorite, Amazon.com, and ordered a supply of all three juices. Perhaps I'll mix all three for my late afternoon cocktail hour.
Hand-grip Devices—Zona Plus
Some time ago, the Mayo Clinic's Health Letter reported on devices that help lower blood pressure such as hand-grip devices. Gripping an object and holding the grip is a form of isometric exercise that may affect a number of body functions related to blood pressure. This type of exercise appears to help calm the fight-or-flight responses of the nervous system and may help improve the function of blood vessels, thereby allowing blood to flow easier and with less pressure.
One device that takes advantage of this effect is Zona Plus, which retails for around $400.
This handheld device calibrates the strength of your grip, then guides you to a proper grip tension for two, two-minute bouts of continuous gripping on alternating hands. The sessions are performed five times a week.
Research on hand-grip devices is somewhat limited, but the evidence so far indicates that regularly using them can result in around a 10 percent decline in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. If you have blood pressure at or above 180/110, avoid isometric exercise until your blood pressure is better controlled.
Doing it on your own: In lieu of a Zona Plus, a simple, spring-loaded grip device from a sporting goods store may suffice. Choose the device that feels like it takes about 30 percent of your grip strength to operate. Grip the device for two minutes in one hand. After that, give yourself a minute or two to rest, then grip the device for two minutes in the other hand. Repeat the sequence once more. Perform this at least three times a week for 8 to 12 weeks to test if this exercise is effective at lowering your blood pressure.
Deep Breathing Devices
The Consumer Reports newsletter also mentioned a device approved by the FDA called Resperate. It is designed to train users in deep breathing and retails for around $200.
Stress typically causes rapid, shallow breathing from the chest, which in turn reinforces the overall feeling of stress. Deep, slow breathing from your diaphragm is more relaxing and acts on centers in your brain that lower blood pressure.
Resperate comes with a strap that goes around your abdomen to sense your breathing pattern and an electronic interface with headphones. The device analyzes your breathing pattern and creates tones to guide your breathing pace.
On average, you'll need to use the device for about 15 minutes, 3 to 4 days a week to sustain a significant lowering of your blood pressure. Studies suggest that regular use of Resperate may provide an average systolic blood pressure reduction of about 4 mm Hg.
Doing it on your own: There is no evidence that using Resperate is better than regularly practicing relaxed deep-breathing exercises on your own. I bought the device and tried it for a while, but came to the conclusion that my own "secret handshake" exercise works just as well.