A rising blood pressure is a red alert, a warning sign of stroke, heart attack and heart failure, aneurysms (ruptured blood vessels), peripheral artery disease and even chronic kidney problems.
Make the following lifestyle changes and you will prevent it from going over the so-called 'normal level' of 140/90 mmHg or quickly bring it back to normal. And, ideally, work with a healthcare practitioner experienced in non-drug methods of blood-pressure control.
Ditch processed carbs and high-GI foods. Foods with a low glycaemic index (GI) can help to lower blood pressure.1
Be temperate. Limit the booze to one drink per day.
Cook with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil.
Go bananas. Eat potassium-rich foods like bananas or pop a potassium supplement, which can help to dramatically lower blood pressure.
Get enough calcium in your food. Low levels may bring on hypertension. The best source is NOT dairy, but dark-green leafy veg.
Eat Italian—with loads of tomato paste. Tomato contains lycopene and other carotenoids. Patients given a special gel capsule of lycopene plus other carotenoids significantly reduced their blood pressure after just two months.2
Down some organic apple cider or wine vinegar every day. It works like blood-pressure-lowering ACE inhibitors by inhibiting the renin-angiotensin hormones that regulate blood pressure balance.3
Suggested daily dosage: 1 Tbsp or 15 mL in half a glass of water
Garlic. A review of 11 studies found that garlic preparations significantly reduced high blood pressure.4 Even better, aged garlic extract has been shown to lower blood pressure even when antihypertensive drugs have failed.5
Suggested daily dosage: 600-900 mg of garlic powder
Watermelon (Cucurbita citrullus) extract. l-Citrulline, as it's also called, helps to dilate capillaries, the tiny blood vessels that connect arteries and veins. l-Citrulline supplements can significantly reduce the risk of a heart attack or other cardiac emergency in overweight people with high blood pressure.6
Suggested daily dosage: 2-3 g of l-citrulline (available online)
Achillea wilhelmsii extract. This Iranian plant (a member of the Asteraceae family) significantly lowers blood pressure after just six months.7 Other potent herbs to help hypertension include barberry root bark, Ammi visnaga extract or the Ayurvedic combo medicine Abana.
Suggested daily dosage: 15-20 drops twice daily of a liquid extract
Bioactive peptides. Natural peptides—chains of amino acids—derived from plants and animals can mimic the action of ACE inhibitors in lowering blood pressure.8 Also available online.
Suggested daily dosage: Follow manufacturers' instructions
Homeopathic Cytisus Laburnum. Shown to help lower blood pressure in many patients, the remedy has successfully passed its homeopathic 'provings'.9
Suggested daily dosage: 6 DH potency twice daily
Vitamin D. Make sure your levels of vitamin D3 are adequate to ensure better uptake of calcium. If you don't get enough sunlight (5-15 min/day of sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., without sunscreen), which helps the body produce it naturally, take supplements.
Suggested daily dosage: 600-1,000 IU vitamin D3, 400-1,000 IU if age 18 or under
Magnesium. This all-purpose heart supplement reduces blood pressure by relaxing blood vessel walls.10
Suggested daily dosage: 200-600mg/day
Coenzyme Q10. This vitamin-like enzyme, present in practically every cell of the body, participates in cell energy production and makes cell membranes more resistant to oxidative damage. It's found in abundance in the heart, largely because of its enormous energy demands.
Suggested daily dosage: 150 mg/day
Lose weight. Keep your weight down if common sense tells you that you're overweight. Weight affects your blood pressure and losing pounds lowers it naturally.11
Engage in regular exercise. Do at least 20 min/day.
Teach yourself to relax. Try mind-body techniques like yoga, Transcendental Meditation (TM) or the Chinese exercise qigong.
Control your own blood pressure. StressEraser®, a portable biofeedback device, teaches you how to activate your body's 'relaxation response', a term coined by Harvard University to describe the body's natural ability to counteract stress and the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Your heart rate cycle is shown on a screen, and your job is to synchronize your breathing to the rises and falls. (Available online: in the UK at www.stresseraser-uk.com; in the US at www.stresseraser.com).
Explore hypnosis. Choose a qualified, experienced practitioner.
Check out acupuncture. This 5,000-year-old technique can significantly and safely increase the work capacity of your heart's muscles and nerves.12
Get seven hours sleep a night —the optimal amount for the heart.
Connect. Meet regularly with a book group, a church group, a parents' group or even your neighbourhood. Having connections with others is one of the best heart prevention drugs there is (see page 72).
Blood-pressure levels are determined by two readings taken in millimetres (mm) of mercury (Hg): systolic blood pressure measures arterial pressure when the heart beats; and diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure between heartbeats (at rest). These days, a 'healthy' or 'normal' blood pressure reading is around 120/80 mmHg (systolic blood pressure is the first number). If the systolic or diastolic readings, or both, are higher than this, the diagnosis is hypertension.
But the so-called normal or healthy blood pressure seems to change with the times. Before December 2014 in the US, a dangerous high blood-pressure reading was 140/90 mmHg or higher—but after that time, the unhealthy level was redefined as 150/90 mmHg or higher for everyone aged 60 or over, the age group taking the majority of antihypertensive agents. In the UK, a high blood-pressure reading is still set at 140/90 mmHg, although it too may soon follow the US's more relaxed definition.
In any case, the systolic pressure is the only figure that matters in the over-50s, according to one theory, especially in men. In a review of eight studies and the health records of nearly 16,000 people aged 60 years and older, Belgian researchers found that only the systolic reading was an accurate predictor of fatal and non-fatal heart complications. Every 10-mmHg increase in systolic pressure correlated with a nearly 10 per cent increase in heart risk, while the diastolic reading gave no indication of future heart-health problems.13