Dr Deborah Lee, Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, tells us about all the way you can naturally lower your blood pressure without medical intervention
Have you recently been told you have high blood pressure? This can be a nasty shock.
Having high blood pressure increase your risk of strokes, heart attacks, and kidney failure. You may have been asked to reattend the GP surgery for a series of blood pressure readings, or perhaps you’ve been put on blood pressure medication?
But did you know there is a lot you can do to lower your blood pressure naturally?
Read on and find out more.
How to lower your blood pressure without medication
All the suggestions on the list below have been shown to lower blood pressure. However, you won’t be able to do them all at once. Pick one item from the list and try it put it into action. Once that’s established, pick a second one, and so on. Maybe try a new one, once a month. Think how far you will have come by this time next year!
Even losing 5% of your body weight, this will significantly lower your blood pressure. If you weigh 100 kg, a 5% weight loss is 5kg (11 pounds). By losing 2 pounds a week, you could do this in 6 weeks.
Research shows that a 4 kg weight loss will lower systolic and diastolic pressure by 4.5 and 3.2 mm Hg, respectively.
There are many different was to lose weight but avoid fad diets. These may help you lose weight in the short term, but you need to make changes to your diet which are sustainable in the long term. Losing weight and keeping it off means changing your
diet forever. Your diet need to be nutritionally complete, varied, and interesting.
Eat a healthy diet
Your diet is crucial for your blood pressure. Your body needs a nutritionally complete, varied, and balanced diet, for optimal health.
A good example is the Mediterranean Diet – a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. These contain large quantities of antioxidants – molecules that counteract the cellular damage which occurs every day in your body. They also help to prevent atherosclerosis – the major underlying cause of heart disease and stroke. The diet also contains healthy, unsaturated fats such as olive oil, helps lower cholesterol.
Avoid processed foods which are often high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt. Examples of processed foods include – bacon, sausage, salami, sausage rolls, pastries, crisps, cakes, biscuits, pastries, and ready-made/microwave meals.
Have you heard of the DASH diet? DASH standards for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This is similar to the Mediterranean Diet but also means lowering your salt intake. As an average, those on the DASH diet lowered their systolic and diastolic blood pressures by 12 mmHg and 5 mmHg, respectively. However, the DASH diet is not designed as a weight loss diet.
Reduce salt in your diet
You may not realise that having too much salt in your bloodstream increases your blood pressure.
After a plate of salty chips, your bloodstream is teaming with sodium chloride (salt). To lower the blood concentration of sodium, your kidneys have to work hard and reabsorb a lot of water. This increases your blood volume and means your heart is under increased stress pumping this increased load.
Salt is often hidden in foods, such as breakfast cereals, bread, salad dressings, sauces, and frozen foods.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends no more than 5g salt per day – most UK adults eat around 9/12 mg/day – twice this amount.
How to reduce salt in your diet
- Stop adding salt to food when cooking, or on your plate.
- Don’t have a salt-shaker on the table.
- Read the labels and avoid hidden salt – Cook from scratch, then you know what you are eating.
- Avoid salty snacks like crisps and salted nuts.
- Take care with sauces such as soy sauce, and gravy – stock cubes contain a lot of salt.
- Choose a low salt substitute for cooking.
Increase your dietary fibre
Many studies have shown that increasing the amount of fibre in your diet lowers both blood pressure and cholesterol.
Fibre is a type of carbohydrate, which is indigestible. However, it plays an important role in digestion as it bulks out intestinal contents, stimulates the transit of food through the gut, and prevents constipation. In the small intestine, fibre binds to cholesterol from food and prevents it from being absorbed into the bloodstream. Replacing refined grains with whole grains – which have a much higher fibre content, will help lower your cholesterol.
Fibre-rich foods include whole-grain bread, rice, and pasta – ‘brown foods’, pulses, nuts and seeds, and many fruits and vegetables including potato skins.
Why does reducing cholesterol, lower blood pressure?
This is because –
- Adding fibre to your diet, not only lowers cholesterol, your but helps stabilise blood glucose levels. Fibre helps you eat less, as it makes you feel fuller for longer. A high fibre diet can help you lose weight.
- High-fibre diets reduce insulin resistance – this is an unhealthy metabolic situation that occurs when your body becomes less sensitive to the hormone insulin. Insulin resistance is associated with high blood pressure.
- In one 2015 study, increasing total fibre to 6.8g/1000 calories/ day reduced systolic blood pressure by 1.69 mm Hg.
Your blood pressure increases when you smoke as a direct effect of nicotine. Your heart is also beating faster. Smoking if you are taking blood pressure medication can also reduce the effect of the medication.
Smoking is a major cause of atherosclerosis – the condition in which fatty deposits are laid down in arterial walls. If you have high blood pressure, whatever the reason, these atherosclerotic vessel walls are more prone to blockage or rupture – causing strokes and heart attacks. If you have high blood pressure, controlling your cholesterol levels is vital.
There has never been a better time to quit. Find out about varenicline (Champix) – the drug which blocks nicotine cravings and has helped so many smokers to quit.
Do more exercise
Research consistently shows that doing regular physical exercise lowers blood pressure. The mechanisms behind this are complex and not completely understood, however, in principle this is because your heart becomes stronger and is pumping more efficiently, and the resistance in your arterial walls tends to fall.
The current NHS recommendation is to undertake 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. This could be 5 x 30 minutes a day. During the day this could be broken down into 3 x 10-minute sessions. Moderate-intensity exercise is any exercise that makes you slightly out of breath – such as brisk walking, which is easy to do from home.
In studies of people using pedometers, walking 10,000 steps a day has been shown to reduce blood pressure. The more steps you take, there are further decreases in blood pressure.
Lack of sleep is linked to high blood pressure. It’s important to get 7 hours of good quality sleep per night. Don’t think a lie-in at the weekend can make up for it either – sleeping for too long also increases your blood pressure.
At night, if you don’t sleep, this increases the resting tone of your blood vessels, due to consistent stimulation of your sympathetic nervous system. Sleep deprivation and high blood pressure are linked.
How to sleep better
Follow these tips for a better night’s sleep –
- Make having enough time to sleep a priority.
- Have a bedtime routine and stick to it.
- Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and bedding, and a dark, cool, bedroom.
- Turn off computers, TV’s, mobile phones, and any other electronic devices at least 2 hours before bedtime. Blue light from these devices stops the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
- Wind down for bedtime – have a hot bath or shower, practise relaxation techniques.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol 4-6 hours before bedtime.
If you are not making progress, see your GP. You may have a sleep disorder, for example, sleep apnoea, which needs treatment.
Binge drinking is associated with atherosclerosis. Long term chronic drinking is associated with hypertension. The best way to help your blood pressure is to either stop drinking alcohol altogether or to make sure you only drink within recommended limits.
Men and women are recommended to drink only 14 units of alcohol per week. This should be spread over 3 or 4 days – not drunk all at once.
Alcohol is also associated with abnormal heart rhythms and the heart condition, cardiomyopathy.
You can find many useful tips on how to reduce alcohol or stop drinking at www.drinkaware.co.uk.
Stress affects your body in many different ways. Being under stress often results in difficulty sleeping, and you may start making poor dietary choices, and be putting on weight. This will all increase your risk of high blood pressure.
If you are under stress take time to think about the causes. What practical steps can you take to lower your stress levels?
How to reduce stress
- Take control of your stress – when you stop feeling helpless things will feel better.
Reach out to friends and family, get connected, and share your troubles. It’s good to talk.
- Find a new interest – get involved with a group, an activity, or develop a new hobby or pastime. Maybe now is the time to learn a new language or a new skill?
- Get outside in the fresh air – and enjoy some green spaces. Being in the countryside amongst trees and plants has been shown to lower stress. Why not take up gardening?
- Learn to relax – try Mindfulness – a form of meditation or take up yoga. Making time for relaxation is very important for your health.
It’s interesting that high blood pressure is often not caused by just one thing. It’s a multitude of factors which are all interlinked Your body is like a well-oiled machine, and if one bit goes wrong, the rest quickly follows. You can see that if you attend to all the factors in this post, one by one, your health will improve, and your blood pressure will improve too.
Some people are genetically susceptible to high blood pressure, which means the will always need to take medication. However, medicines can’t take away the fundamental importance of good health.
For more information
- British Heart Foundation – How to Reduce Your Blood Pressure – 6 Top Tips