Natural Remedies for Healthy Blood Pressure
Natural Remedies for Healthy Blood Pressure Part 2
By Nicole Crane, BS, NTP
So many people, 72 million Americans, struggle to have normal blood pressure. High blood pressure is clinically known as hypertension, and it is a major conspirator in cardiac dysfunction. Normal blood pressure is 120/80 ng/dl, and many clinicians consider 115/75 to be even healthier. The top number is systolic reading and measures the pressure as the heart pumps blood around the body. The bottom number, the diastolic reading measures the pressure as the heart relaxes and refills with blood. Once those readings reach over 140/90, it is considered to be high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Recent research suggests that even pre-hypertension, which is between 120/80 and 140/90, has major risks. A 2006 study showed that blood pressure that is 120-129/80-89 has an 81% increased risk for cardiovascular disease compared to blood pressure that is below 120/80. Pressure readings that are high-normal, 130-139/85-89 increase the risk of heart disease by a whopping 133%, compared to healthy levels.i When blood pressure remains uncontrolled, it can have serious consequences like damage to the heart, arteries and other organs. This can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke and other heart diseases like congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis (fatty buildup in arteries causing hardening of the arteries) peripheral artery disease and other vascular problems. It is important to address the cause of high blood pressure at the root, especially since many doctors are notoriously slow to treat mildly elevated blood pressure.
Luckily, there are safe and effective natural remedies to support healthy blood pressure levels. So often, what not to do is overemphasized, while few suggestions to bring positive results are offered. The first step is to lay a foundation of health with two very important and underconsumed nutrients, potassium and magnesium. (See Part 1) These two minerals can bring balance to both the heart muscle and vascular system. Several other nutrients can also support and normalize the force at which the heart beats, the constriction and relaxation of blood vessels and the thickness of blood. By helping the cardiovascular system function better, these remarkable natural remedies assist in normalizing blood pressure in a fundamental way.
Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” and he may very well have had garlic in mind. That is, if you keep it raw and chop or chew it well, as cooking destroys most of the active ingredients. Garlic is rich in a sulfur-y compound called allicin that has powerful antioxidant, antibacterial and cardiovascular supportive properties. Allicin tends to be very unstable and short lived, quickly changing into other sulfur containing compounds. Aging garlic stabilized the allicin and makes it more powerful. Aged garlic in supplement form offers the most benefits in terms of allicin bioavailability and absorption, plus has the added benefit of being odorless. Garlic supports blood pressure by stimulating nitric oxide and hydrogen sulfide. Nitric oxide (NO) is a gas produced within the blood vessels that fosters relaxation of the smooth muscle cells within that blood vessel. NO allows blood vessels to remain wide open, which supports healthy blood flow. When the blood vessels remain open and blood flows freely, blood pressure often returns to normal levels. NO also makes blood less sticky and thick by supporting healthy platelet function, which also contributes to healthy blood pressure. ii Hydrogen sulfide acts as a vasodilator (opens blood vessels) and a smooth muscle relaxer in the endothelium of blood vessels.iii It is thought that nitric oxide works mostly in larger blood vessels, while hydrogen sulfide works in capillaries and smaller blood vessels.iv By supporting healthy circulation, the heart does not need to exert as much force to move blood throughout the body, normalizing blood pressure. Garlic may also act as a regulator of angiotensin II by inhibiting angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). Angiotensin is a hormone that causes constriction of blood vessels, and inhibiting it allows blood to flow more freely, which supports healthy blood pressure. The research on garlic is impressive as well. A 2015 meta-analysis (review and compilation of many studies) of 17 studies over 67 years showed that garlic lowered systolic pressure by an average of 3.75 mm Hg and diastolic pressure by 3.39 mm Hg in healthy subjects but a 4.4 point reduction in those with hypertension.v A similar 2008 review of research showed an average reduction of 4.6 mm Hg of systolic pressure, but among those with hypertension, systolic pressures fell 8.4 mm Hg and diastolic pressures dropped 7.3 mm Hg.vi Garlic is so helpful for the heart it is no wonder is was one of the earliest documented medicinal herb. The historical record of garlic use goes back at least 7,000 years and it was found in both the Egyptian pyramids and the ancient Greek temples.vii Calling garlic a superfood is no exaggeration, but it is certainly not the only natural remedy for cardiovascular health.
One herb, hawthorn berry, is one of the most impressive heart tonics available today. There are several active compounds in hawthorn berry, including the bioflavonoids vitexin, oligomeric procyanidins, (OPCS like those in grape seed extract) quercetin and hyperosides that have a cardioprotective effect. Hawthorn berry strengthens the heart muscle and helps it function better when the heart muscle is failing. By helping to support the integrity and structure of blood vessels, hawthorn nourished the whole cardiovascular system. Hawthorn has also been shown to support healthy cholesterol levels by clearing “lousy” LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream. This heart healthy herb is a powerful antioxidant and helps to clear atherosclerotic plaque from the arteries, which can be of major benefit in improving blood pressure.viii In regards to directly addressing blood pressure, hawthorn berry inhibits angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE), minimizing the production of angiotensin II, a powerful blood vessel constrictor responsible for increasing blood pressure. This ACE inhibiting effect addresses one of the main biochemical causes of high blood pressure in a safe and effective way. A study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research showed that healthy people with mild hypertension had improved blood pressure levels after 10 weeks on a small dose, just 500 mg daily, of hawthorn.ix Another study on diabetics with high blood pressure used 1200 mg of hawthorn daily and showed dramatic improvements in diastolic blood pressure compared to placebo after 16 weeks. As 71% of the participants were also taking medication to treat blood pressure, this study also found hawthorn to be safe and did not cause herb-drug interactions.x Hawthorn is not only a great herb for overall heart health and normal blood pressure levels, but it also seems to reduce anxiety.xi Many research participants who were being studied for hawthorn's heart benefits also reported the side benefit of less anxiety, which can also have an indirect effect of improving hypertension through a different biochemical pathway. Hawthorn is a powerhouse herb for all things heart related. Look for supplements that are standardized to 1.5-2% vitexin. When it comes to natural remedies, it is not only herbs that nourish the heart.
Taurine is an amino acid (building block of protein) that is known for its vascular protective effect and its overall benefit to the heart. Taurine acts as a neurotransmitter (nerve communicator) and a regulator for the heart and circulatory system. This antioxidant amino supports blood pressure in several different ways. It helps to bring electrolyte minerals (calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium) into the heart. This supports the healthy electrical and nerve signaling that is critical to healthy cardiac muscle function. Taurine is also a wonderful vascular tonic, supporting healthy blood thickness and circulation as well as the structure of the blood vessels themselves. Taurine has been shown to clear atherosclerotic plaque from the artery walls, reduce unhealthy thickening of the arteries and support healthy vasodilation and constriction.xii When the vascular system is flexible and can expand and contract as needed, the pressure required to pump around the body is lessened. Taurine also has beneficial effects on inflammation, which improved cardiovascular functioning in a comprehensive way. This special protein can be particularly effective when stress is the reason for hypertension. It helps to clear stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol out of the blood stream. This reduces the effect of the fight or flight stress cascade that signals the central nervous system to raise blood pressure.xiii Taurine also supports the heart muscle itself by protecting and strengthening it, and even has been shown to extend the life of heart muscle cells. This special amino acid has notable benefits for longevity for the whole body. The people of Okinawa, Japan’s famous “Island of Longevity,” which likely has the world’s highest percentage of people over 100 years old, have a diet which is very high in taurine.xiv Many researchers believe taurine is a major factor in their long healthy lifespan. A study of borderline hypertensive men showed that 6 g of taurine daily in divided doses had a significant improvement in blood pressure in just 7 days. Systolic pressure decreased by an average of 9 mm Hg and diastolic pressure decreased by 4 mm Hg in the taurine group, compared to a systolic decrease of just 2.7 mm Hg and a diastolic decrease of 1.2 mm Hg in the placebo group.xv Taurine also regulates insulin release and plays an important role in blood sugar balance, which can support healthy blood pressure as well. This versatile amino acid also aids in eye heath, hearing and healthy liver function.
Speaking of sugar, one major overlooked factor in blood pressure control is fructose intake. Not only does free fructose significantly raise blood pressure, but leads to high insulin levels, which have their own biochemical consequences. Fructose is a type of sugar that is naturally found in fruit, which is beneficial, bound to fiber and vitamins and minerals. For example, a banana has 7 grams of fructose and a cup of raspberries has just 3 grams. The body has to work hard to get access to the energy found in fructose. Free fructose, on the other hand, is not bound and has serious health consequences including increasing fatty deposits in the liver, raising LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, dramatically raising uric acid levels and creating advanced glycation end products, which damage proteins, cause inflammation and accelerate aging.xvi High fructose corn syrup, now ubiquitous in candy, soda and quite a few other processed foods, is particularly hazardous to the liver and damages metabolic function. A 2010 study showed that those who consume 74 grams per day (equal to just 24 oz. or 2 cans of soda) have a 77% greater risk of having dangerously high blood pressure levels of 160/100 mm Hg.xvii In the U.S., the average person is consuming about that much fructose every day and for the past several decades, blood pressure levels and sugar intake have increased proportionally and exponentially, suggesting that sugar and not salt is actually the problem.xviii Fructose is converted to glucose in the liver, but the majority of it gets stored as body fat, fostering heart disease and other health issues. Fructose also has several harmful waster products when it is metabolized, including uric acid, which inhibits the action of nitric oxide, causing blood vessels to contract, driving up blood pressure. Numerous studies have linked high uric acid levels to hypertension, and where it was once thought of as a symptom of disease, many health professionals view it as a cause of disease.xix High intake of free fructose and other refined carbohydrates like bread, pasta and sweets also raises levels of the hormone insulin and can lead to insulin resistance. Insulin in required to store magnesium, an essential mineral for health and especially for healthy blood pressure. Insulin resistance, where cells ignore the biochemical signals from insulin, paves the treacherous road towards magnesium deficiency by preventing magnesium storage, forcing it out of the body via urination. This leads to excessive constriction of blood vessels and higher blood pressure levels. High insulin levels also cause the body to retain sodium, which plays a negative role in fluid retention, also leading to high blood pressure and eventually, congestive heart failure.xx A colorful diet, rich in unprocessed foods nourishes the heart and the body as a whole.
Identifying the causes of blood pressure and taking the steps to control those factors naturally supports the cardiovascular system in an indispensable way. Use herbs and nutrients to support circulation, maximize the release of nitric oxide, strengthen the heart muscle and reinforce the structural integrity of the vascular system. Cut out refined sources of sugar and replace them with vibrant, fresh fruits and vegetables. Achieving and maintaining healthy blood pressure levels is one of the best things you can do for your health. Holistic remedies address hypertension biochemically, safely and effectively, to make sure the 'silent killer' that is hypertension does not sneak up on you.
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xi Walker, Ann F., et al. "Promising hypotensive effect of hawthorn extract: A randomized double‐blind pilot study of mild, essential hypertension."Phytotherapy Research 16.1 (2002): 48-54.
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