According to the latest statistics from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), if you have high blood pressure, you are among almost half of all American adults. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, stroke and vision impairment and increases mortality by over 200% compared to those who don’t have high blood pressure.
So, as a follow-up to my previous blog on the subject, I’m going to share some more evidence-based tips on natural ways to keep your blood vessels healthy and strong.
Beets get their beautiful red color from the plant pigment known as betanin which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Beets are not only delicious but rich in nitrates which get converted to nitric oxide (NO). NO helps maintain healthy blood pressure, is important to vascular dilation and also plays a role in strengthening the immune system by protecting the lungs and lowering the risk of respiratory infections. Beetroot juice is widely used by athletes to enhance their performance.
In this study published in the Hypertension Journal, a cup of beet juice for four weeks lowered systolic blood pressure.
I love beets in almost every form but am also a fan of adding beetroot juice powder to my daily drink to enhance energy and keep by blood pressure in check. Here is one I love because it’s fermented:
Raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries – these richly colored berries are high in disease-fighting antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins work by suppressing the production of blood pressure-raising angiotensin-converting enzymes while increasing levels of energy producing nitric oxide.
In this study, two servings of berries (~275mg of anthocyanins) consumed daily led to an average systolic blood pressure reduction of 7.3 mm Hg, while helping to raise HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol, which absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver which then flushes it from the body. High levels of HDL cholesterol can lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.)
When in season, it’s great to enjoy fresh berries. However, I generally prefer frozen options as they are great year-round and I never have to worry about eating them before they expire. I stock my freezer with wild or organic frozen berries and use them for my shake or snack. Here’s a recipe I use for a healthy post-meal dessert:
- 1 cup of frozen berries
- A few drops of Stevia or sprinkle of monk fruit sweetener to taste
- 2 tablespoons of coconut cream or coconut milk
- Microwave for 20 seconds to soften the berries just a bit. Top with some nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews) and coconut flakes and enjoy!
Cinnamon is a common herbal remedy used for digestive issues, blood sugar problems and even respiratory infections. One of the active ingredients called cinnamaldehyde is a powerful antioxidant that is also being studied for its ability to decrease blood pressure. In this study, cinnamon had a hypotensive effect on diabetic patients leading to reductions in systolic readings by over 5mm Hg. And this effect can be seen with only 1-2 teaspoons a day.
It’s easy to get in your daily dose by sprinkling cinnamon into coffee, tea, yogurt, smoothie or oatmeal. Here is one to try:
German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) has a long history of use as a medicinal herb and is still used today to reduce stress and ease muscle tension. Chamomile tea is also a popular remedy for blood pressure:
- Chamomile has anti-inflammatory properties and helps blood vessel walls to relax and dilate
- Chamomile has a natural hypotensive effect by acting as a diuretic to flush fluids out of the body
- Chamomile has a relaxing and sedative effect that lowers anxiety and stress and promotes calm and sleep
You should wind down with a cup of good chamomile tea to help you relax and get ready for slumber. Here’s one to try.
You can also use chamomile essential oil and add several drops to your diffuser. If you prefer to apply directly to your skin, make sure it’s diluted with a carrier oil like Jojoba.
Here’s one to try that’s already been diluted:
Garlic’s key active ingredient, allicin, has antiviral, antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also stimulates the production of nitric oxide which helps dilate the blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Garlic has been studied for its immune boosting properties and improving LDL cholesterol but it’s also great for reducing hypertension.
In this study, garlic extracts lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive participants by up to 8.7mm Hg. Meanwhile, in this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, participants with uncontrolled blood pressure taking 960mg of garlic extract daily for three months saw blood pressure drop by 10 points which is comparable to existing blood pressure medications.
Dosages recommended are 4g (one to two cloves) of raw garlic per day. Unless you are chasing away vampires, the easier way to get this in is through a supplement. Here’s an odorless one to try:
Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) is in the mint family and has long been used to manage mood and anxiety – but did you know it’s also good for blood pressure? In this study, researchers found that inhaling lavender essential oil after heart surgery caused reductions in both blood pressure and heart rate. Add 4-5 drops into your diffuser or you can dilute 3 drops to 9 drops of carrier oil like avocado or jojoba oil and massage it into the back of the neck. Remember, more is not better and make sure you do not ingest lavender oil as it’s not meant to be taken internally.
Here’s one to try:
Melatonin, a hormone produced by your brain, is an antioxidant that boosts the immune system, protects us from disease and also reduces blood pressure spikes that occur at night and during sleep. This study found that 2.5mg of a melatonin supplement at bedtime reduced diastolic and systolic blood pressure up to 6mm Hg.
It’s best to let your body do the work to produce sufficient levels of melatonin, and nighttime exposure to “blue” light from electronic devices can disrupt the body’s production of this important hormone. So make sure to turn off the TVs, laptops and other light-emitting devices in preparation for shut-eye so your body knows that it’s time to rest and repair. Here’s more on the impact of blue light on melatonin production:
If you feel like you need a melatonin boost at times, you can try low dosages to begin with and go from there. Here’s one to try:
Olive Leaf Extract
The leaves of the olive tree (olea europaea) have been used for centuries to treat viral infections and speed wound healing, and also exhibit the highest content of bioactive compounds. One of the active ingredients known as oleuropein is garnering attention for its ability to modulate blood sugar, reduce cancer risk, boost the immune system and fight inflammation. It is also being studied for its blood pressure lowering effect by improving endothelial function and relaxing artery walls.
In this study, olive leaf extract was similarly effective as a blood pressure medication in lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressures in subjects with stage-1 hypertension.
Olive leaf extracts are readily available in liquids, capsules and tablets – check with your doctor if you are interested in supplementing. Here’s one that I use:
Pycnogenol (French maritime pine bark)
Pycnogenol or maritime pine bark comes from an evergreen tree (pinus pinaster) grown in France and is rich in compounds (procyanidins, flavonoids and polyphenols) that suppress the production of blood pressure-raising angiotensin-converting enzymes while increasing levels of energy-producing nitric oxide.
This study showed that diabetic, hypertensive individuals taking 125mg of pcynogenol supplements daily for 12 weeks were able to reduce their blood pressure medication by 50%.
When supplementing with pycnogenol, look for a formulation that is standardized to at least 65% procyanidins and check in with your clinician or naturopath to make sure this will put you on the right track. Here’s one to try:
Not only is watermelon a tasty snack, research suggests that the amino acid called citrulline from watermelon significantly reduces blood pressure and oxygen demand in overweight adults.
Citrulline is converted to arginine which produces nitric oxide that is necessary to maintain healthy vascular tone and regulate blood pressure.
Watermelon is truly a functional medicine food as its hypotensive and vasodilatory effects are pronounced. A cup of watermelon has 250 mg of citrulline which makes it the highest known natural source of this amino acid. Watermelon is also rich in the antioxidant carotenoid called lycopene – the disease-fighting plant pigment also found in red tomatoes.
When shopping for watermelon, look for firmness with a yellow “ground spot” showing where the fruit has rested on the ground. Watermelon should taste sweet but with a firm texture and a sufficient red color (showing off its lycopene content). If buying watermelon off season, check the frozen fruit section.
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