Beyond weight management and exercise
For many people, lowering their blood pressure is a key step to heart health. Small changes in the foods you eat can yield big results. Increase your intake of cold-water fish containing heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and eat more potassium-rich fruits for starters.
Six million Canadians have high blood pressure, with another one in five Canadians at risk for developing high blood pressure. Even those with high-normal blood pressure (130 to 139 mmHg systolic or 85 to 89 mmHg diastolic) are twice as likely to develop heart disease compared to those with normal readings (less than 120/80 mmHg). Most of us know that exercise, along with weight and stress management, can help us control blood pressure. The following natural techniques can also help lower blood pressure. Speak with your health care practitioner to determine which approach is best for you.
A 2015 study found that participants with hypertension who ingested 30 g of ground flaxseed daily for six months experienced an average blood pressure reduction of 15 mmHg systolic and 7 mmHg diastolic. Flaxseed is a good source of fibre—which in itself can help regulate blood pressure—and of omega-3 fatty acids.
Melinda Edmonds, RD, says including fatty coldwater fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and lake trout) in your diet at least twice a week is another way to get omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to help lower blood pressure by reducing inflammation.
The upper number (systolic reading) measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts. The bottom number (diastolic reading) measures the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats.
Multiple studies have shown that individuals who increase potassium in their diet may experience a reduction in blood pressure. Katie Huston, RD, says this may be due to potassium causing the blood vessels to widen, or helping the body to excrete sodium.
Additionally, Hana Klimczak, RD, says, “People who are sensitive to salt intake increasing their blood pressure tend to also be sensitive to potassium decreasing it. Potassium may be more effective in lowering blood pressure in people who typically consume a lot of salt in their diet. Some studies showed the best results when sodium intake was decreased and potassium intake increased, compared to doing one or the other.”
Julia Stanislavskaia, RD, cautions that those low-sodium labels can be misleading. “Remember that most salt comes from packaged goods, and what you add during cooking makes up only about 10 percent of our salt consumption, so check the nutrition label so you’re choosing foods that have less than 200 mg of sodium per serving,” she says.
Huston notes that while reducing your sodium intake to 1,500 mg per day has the greatest effect on lowering blood pressure, 2,000 to 2,300 mg per day may be more realistic for active individuals.
Stanislavskaia recommends rinsing your canned goods to reduce sodium content by up to 30 percent.
Stanislavskaia says cutting alcohol consumption causes an almost immediate reduction in blood pressure. Huston recommends a maximum of two standard drinks per day for men and one for women and smaller men. If you don’t currently drink, she doesn’t recommend you start.
In addition to the fact that many fruits contain potassium, some have also been associated with reducing blood pressure through other means. A pilot study found that the L-citrulline and L-arginine content in watermelon extract reduced some blood pressure parameters in obese people with prehypertension. Additionally, a 2015 study found that daily blueberry consumption lowered blood pressure and reduced arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women with pre- or stage 1 hypertension.
Some polyphenols—micronutrients found in a number of foods—have been shown to be effective in reducing cardiovascular disease. In particular, green tea has been shown to reduce systolic blood pressure due to its polyphenol content. Additionally, cocoa has been found to lower blood pressure and improve vascular function.
Ensuring you are getting enough sleep is great for overall health, but it could also have implications for your blood pressure. A 2009 study found that individuals with reduced sleep duration tended to have higher blood pressure. Huston says that individuals who have obstructive sleep apnea should ensure it is being treated effectively, as uncontrolled sleep apnea is correlated with raised blood pressure.
You won’t have trouble reaching the recommended daily potassium intake if you can consume the recommended eight to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, says Julia Stanislavskaia, RD.
That doesn’t have to mean a steady diet of bananas. You can also choose fruits and vegetables such as
Supplementing with potassium is also a viable option for many people.
Speak with your health care practitioner about these aids: