Can you manage high blood pressure with simple home remedies? Homage’s guide to home remedies for hypertension – that actually work.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is thought to affect at least one billion people worldwide. It’s sometimes known as ‘the silent killer’; high blood pressure doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, but has a direct effect on our likelihood of serious illnesses like stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and vascular dementia.
Blood pressure readings are given as two numbers, such as 120/80; the units are mmHg, from traditional pressure measurements using a mercury scale.
The first number is the systolic blood pressure – the pressure exerted on the artery walls when the heart contracts – the most powerful part of the heart’s pumping action. The second number represents the pressure within the arteries when the heart is relaxed.
Blood pressure readings may be referred to as ‘hypertension’ when the top number exceeds 140 and the bottom number is over 90.
Some health authorities recommend lower targets, with an ideal maximum systolic blood pressure of 130. Some people who are at high risk of hypertension-related diseases may have even an even more stringent recommended guide.
What causes high blood pressure?
It isn’t always clear exactly what is causing high blood pressure in an individual, but we do have a good idea of the risk factors for high blood pressure. A combination of risk factors increases the likelihood of having blood pressure, and may increase its severity.
Risk factors for high blood pressure include:
Being overweight or obese
Having a high body mass index, and particularly having the kind of visceral fat that gathers around the organs and expands the waistline is linked to high blood pressure.
Eating too much salt
Salt increases the amount of fluid in the circulation – the body effectively tries to dilute high levels of salt, increasing the blood pressure.
Having a sedentary lifestyle
Getting little exercise not only increases the risk of being overweight – a risk factor in itself – but is also an independent risk factor.
Processed food in particular is often high in hidden fat, salt and sugar.
The link between stress and high blood pressure is complex but simple stress-relieving techniques do seem to make a positive difference.
Exceeding the recommended daily limit for alcohol can have a serious impact on blood pressure.
Smoking tobacco raises blood pressure in both the short- and long-term.
Although caffeine causes a short-term increase in blood pressure, it doesn’t seem to increase blood pressure in the long-term.
Underlying kidney disease, diabetes, autoimmune conditions and some other diseases increase the risk of having high blood pressure.
The contraceptive pill, some steroids and anti-inflammatories, and some other medications are linked to hypertension.
Some street drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamines can cause severe hypertension.
A person’s risk of having blood pressure is also higher if they come from a deprived background, if they have a family history of hypertension or related diseases, or if they are of African or Caribbean decent.
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How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
Very often, high blood pressure alone doesn’t cause any specific symptoms. Most people with high blood pressure only find out when they have their blood pressure checked at an appointment with a doctor or nurse… or when it causes a serious problem.
Having your blood pressure taken is easy, quick, and non-invasive – it can be done at routine health check-ups, at drop-in clinics, or even using a home monitor. Identifying high blood pressure early means you can take positive steps to reduce your risk of some serious diseases.
There are medications that a doctor may prescribe to manage high blood pressure, particularly in those at high risk of problems or who have found their blood pressure difficult to manage with simple measures.
For people with high blood pressure, medications may be necessary and it’s important to follow medical advice. There are, however, some good ways to begin to improve your own blood pressure with simple home remedies and lifestyle changes.
Reducing blood pressure at home
Hypertension is one condition that can be vastly improved with simple measures, although some people will still need to take medications as recommended by their doctor.
For people who do need to take medication for high blood pressure, it’s still important to follow healthy lifestyle advice and take simple measures at home to reduce blood pressure. A healthy lifestyle reduces the risk of many serious health conditions.
Healthy living for hypertension
it’s no secret that following simple advice
- Exercise has a huge positive impact on hypertension. Just getting a little more exercise every day, within your individual abilities, can improve blood pressure, as well as other aspects of physical and mental health.
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Stopping smoking
- Watching your alcohol intake
A healthy diet for hypertension
Hypertension can often be well managed with a healthy diet, and a healthy diet is good for lots of different aspects of health and disease risk.
Following traditional, simple diets with lots of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy or dairy substitutes are recommended – the traditional Japanese or traditional Mediterranean diet are considered particularly healthy – good fats like cold-pressed vegetable oils, oily fish, nuts and seeds are an essential part of a healthy diet, and vegetables should make up the bulk of the diet.
The DASH diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – was developed based on the best parts of traditional diets and the evidence we have for specific healthy foods. The diet focuses on healthy whole grains, fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean proteins like oily fish, and low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives.
The DASH diet specifically recommends avoiding saturated fats – saturated fats are found in animal products like high-fat meat and dairy, and some hard plant fats like palm or coconut oil. Avoiding highly processed foods is an important aspect of the DASH diet – they are often high in fat, salt and sugar, and do not provide the kind of high fibre, nutrient-rich diet that can improve health.
Simple sugars, particularly sugar syrups and simple white sugar found in sweetened drinks, chocolate and similar sweet foods should be avoided. People at risk of hypertension should also avoid liquorice, which has a direct blood pressure-raising effect.
Salt is a particular culprit for causing hypertension, and should be avoided as much as possible – if you add salt when cooking, or eat a lot of processed foods or snacks with added salt, it could be having a serious negative impact on your blood pressure.
Reducing salt intake can cause significant and important reduction in overall blood pressure, both short- and long-term.
Making big changes to your diet can be difficult, but remember that every little positive change can help, and is a step in the right direction. Making small, simple substitutions – having a piece of fruit instead of a piece of cake, for example, are all steps towards a healthier life.
Home remedies for hypertension
There isn’t any quick fix or one easy answer to beating hypertension – simply following a healthy lifestyle and medical advice are the best thing we can do to improve our blood pressure and related disease risk.
There is, however, some evidence relating to specific foods or home remedies which may be particularly beneficial in the fight against hypertension.
Boosting your potassium levels can help some people with hypertension. You should be able to get all the potassium you need from a healthy diet, and if you’re considering supplements it’s important to get medical advice.
Some foods which are particularly good natural sources of potassium include most fruit and vegetables, particularly bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli and beans.
High in flavonoids, chemical compounds which can help lower blood pressure, berries are a sweet and easy addition to the diet. Blueberries have particularly high levels of beneficial chemicals, and are often referred to as a ‘superfood’ for their range of health benefits.
Sometimes easier said than done, learning to manage stress is an important part of managing hypertension.
There are some tried and tested ways of improving stress levels, including yoga and meditation, mindfulness exercises, and managing sleep patterns. Just getting out for fresh air and exercise can help relax the mind and improve blood pressure.
4. Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, those chemicals which help reduce blood pressure. Chocolate can be high in fat and sugar, so it’s important to choose quality, high cocoa content chocolate with minimal fat and sugar to reap the benefits without the negatives – and just a small amount will do.
5. Alcohol – or not
Having a very low but consistent alcohol intake is sometimes reported as actually improving cardiovascular health, but the evidence is variable, and as higher alcohol intake is so dangerous for many aspects of health, advising people to drink alcohol at all is usually considered quite controversial.
Managing alcohol intake is important, and it’s very easy to find that our alcohol intake is higher than it ought to be. High alcohol intake is extremely bad for many aspects of the health, and can have a severe negative effect on blood pressure.
There is some evidence, however, that a small amount of alcohol, such as a small glass of wine with dinner, may have some benefits for the heart and circulation for some people. People who have problems limiting their alcohol intake – those who find they can’t just stop at one drink – may still be best avoiding alcohol altogether.
6. Increase your calcium intake
People with higher dietary calcium intake seem to be less likely to develop hypertension.
Garlic, and garlic extract supplements, have long been considered to have a positive impact on blood pressure – and modern clinical evidence supports the use of garlic as part of a healthy diet to improve blood pressure.
8. Go decaf
Caffeine raises blood pressure in the short-term, but doesn’t seem to have long-term effects on the blood pressure. A cup of coffee or energy drink has an almost immediate effect, raising blood pressure, and often stress levels.
Cutting back can help keep blood pressure levels stable – and some alternative hot drinks might even have a beneficial effect. Hibiscus tea is often cited as a simple remedy for improving blood pressure. Green tea is also packed with healthy chemicals, though does still contain caffeine so limit your intake.
Turmeric, and its active ingredient curcumin, has anti-inflammatory effects and also relaxes the blood vessels, improving flow and reducing blood pressure.
There is some evidence that ginger can improve blood pressure, although more studies are needed for conclusive proof. Either way, it’s a delicious addition to a healthy diet with potential health benefits including a range of nutrients.
11. Herbal supplements
There is a dizzying array of herbal supplements in the form of pills, teas and tinctures; they usually contain a combination of different herbs and plants thought to reduce blood pressure.
The evidence for herbal supplements can be variable, so it’s important to check the ingredients carefully and get advice from a doctor or dietitian before taking any unusual supplements.
Some of the herbal remedies for hypertension can be very helpful, but they don’t all have good evidence to back up their claims.
Getting help with hypertension
Although the measures you can take at home to improve your blood pressure are simple, they aren’t always easy; if you’re struggling with healthy lifestyle changes, it’s okay to consult a GP. GPs can help with lots of health or healthy lifestyle issues, or refer to specific services for help with problems like:
- Weight loss
- Exercise regimes
- Smoking cessation
- Reducing alcohol intake
- Managing pre-existing conditions
If you’re at risk of hypertension, just see what some healthy lifestyle changes and a few simple home remedies can do for you.
This article was first published in Homage.