High blood pressure, called the silent killer, provides no clues, no symptoms, and is one of the major risk factors for heart attack and stroke, together the leading causes of death for both men and women. In the U.S., 65 million people have high blood pressure, many of whom remain undiagnosed. The good news is that some easy and practical lifestyle changes and newly introduced supplements have been clinically documented to lower blood pressure without the need for prescription drugs.
Just what is blood pressure? Simply enough, it's the pressure exerted by blood on the walls of the arteries. Systolic blood pressure, the top number in, say, the reading 120/80, indicates pressure as the heart beats, while diastolic pressure, the bottom number, is the pressure between beats, as the heart rests. Levels below 120/80 are now considered normal and those of 140/90 or higher are diagnosed as hypertension.
New guidelines urge doctors to be more aggressive in treating even blood pressure levels previously considered to be in the normal range. The zone between 120/80 and 140/90 now has the term "prehypertension" since every incremental rise increases cardiovascular risk and predicts future hypertension.
Shoot for maintaining a healthy body weight, staying physically active, coping with stress, and quitting smoking. For every two pounds of weight loss, blood pressure drops by a point on average, as demonstrated in clinical studies. A good place to start is at the supermarket to stock up on the foods shown to fight high blood pressure. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet, rich in fish and seafood, fruits and vegetables, beans and nuts, whole grains, olive oil and olives, and nonfat and low-fat dairy foods can dramatically lower blood pressure.
Regular physical activity such as brisk walking daily delivers one of the best ways to cope with daily stress while also lowering blood pressure. Try this suggestion as well. Each day, take three or four "mini-vacations" and spend two or three minutes with your eyes closed, focusing on breathing deeply in and out as though you were filling your lungs like a balloon. Done regularly, this simple technique can permanently lower blood pressure.
Reducing salt and sodium is a good idea, but it's only one part of the total equation. Sodium is one of four minerals, electrolytes, needed by the body, along with potassium, magnesium, and calcium. If they're in balance, blood pressure tends to be normal. Get more calcium from dairy foods. Look for magnesium in seafood and mushrooms and in fruits and vegetables. Potassium, the most important sodium-balancing, blood pressure-lowering electrolyte, is richest in sweet potatoes, honeydew melon, potatoes, bananas, and mangos. But the easiest way to boost the potassium in virtually every meal is to add a heaping teaspoon of salt substitute, which is potassium chloride, when cooking. Put it in water to boil pasta and potatoes and vegetables, mix it into stews and soups, and blend into meatloaf and burgers. Increasing potassium can substantially lower blood pressure and is contraindicated only for people with kidney problems or those taking drugs called ACE inhibitors.
The newest approach to quickly, easily, and safely reducing blood pressure is to use supplements only recently introduced following amazing success in studies done at some of the world's top medical centers. Sustained-release arginine, an amino acid, promotes the body's production of nitric oxide, a gas that relaxes the arteries and allows for more efficient blood flow, thus reducing blood pressure. But only the sustained-release formulation works. Visit the website www.endur.com.
At the University of California's Davis Medical Center, cardiologists found that a special formulation of grape seed extract marketed under various brands as MegaNatural-BP reduces blood pressure by 12 points (top number) and 8 points (bottom number) in one study and by 8 points and 6 points in a second study. This unique formulation concentrates the isolate with pressure-lowering capability. Learn more at www.polyphenolics.com.
Another study was conducted by researchers at the University of Negev in Israel with a tomato extract called Lyc-O-Mato. Just one gelcap daily dropped blood pressure by 10 points systolic and 4 points diastolic in the first trial. A second investigation showed how the tomato extract further lowered blood pressure by 8 to 11 points systolic and 3 to 5 points diastolic in patients who did not achieve "target" blood pressure with prescription drugs. Normally, doctors would increase drug dosage or add a second drug. But this simple dietary supplement was all it took for success! Find out more at www.lycored.com.
Here's a sweet idea: In the evening, about 30 to 40 minutes before bedtime, enjoy a hot cup of cocoa. Use the darkest cocoa, not a mix with added fats and sugars. Stir a heaping tablespoonful with the sweetener of your choice into eight ounces of nonfat milk and heat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
This delicious habit lowers blood pressure in many ways. Milk provides sodium-balancing calcium as well as an amino acid, tryptophan, that relaxes and leads to a better night's sleep. And cocoa contains flavonols that make arteries more elastic, improving blood flow and lowering blood pressure.
Robert E. Kowalski is a medical journalist and the author of several highly successful books, including the #1 New York Times bestselling "The 8 Week Cholesterol Cure," which has sold more than 2 million copies. This article is adapted from his latest book: "The Blood Pressure Cure: 8 Weeks to Lower Blood Pressure without Prescription Drugs"(Wiley; 2007; $24.95; ISBN: 978-0-470-12416-1).