Your doctor has told you that you’ve just been granted membership to the 1 billion strong worldwide group of people with high blood pressure 1. Where to next?
Why you DON’T want to be a member of “Club Hypertension”
High blood pressure (refer to table) is a big red flag for your health because it means your heart is working harder to pump the blood around your body and is more likely to fail. Heart failure is bad, very, very bad for your health.
Your arteries and especially your small blood vessels are not designed for sustained high pressure and will stretch and be more susceptible to damage. This damage can lead to cholesterol deposits and narrowing of the vessels. If these deposits break off they can lodge in your brain and cause a stroke. A narrow blood vessel transports less oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. This can result in vascular dementia, kidney and eye damage and erectile dysfunction 2. It’s all bad news.
Blood Pressure Ranges
|Stage 1 – hypertension||140-159||90-99|
|Stage 2 – hypertension||160-179||100-109|
|Stage 3 – hypertension||> 180||>110|
Risk factors for high blood pressure
- Increasing age,
- Family history,
- Being overweight or obese,
- Physical inactivity,
- Excessive alcohol consumption,
- A diet high in salt,
- Stress and
- Chronic diseases such as diabetes and sleep apnoea 3.
Most people with high blood pressure have one or more of these risk factors present.
How can I reduce my blood pressure?
Mainstream medical treatments will involve pharmaceutical medications such as diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, calcium channel blockers and renin inhibitors. Many people require two of these medications to lower their blood pressure and unfortunately the side effects, which include cough, digestive disturbances, dizziness, erectile dysfunction, and fatigue result in a reluctance to take them 4.
What you eat can reduce high blood pressure
There is a huge bundle of evidence for adopting an eating style that focuses on lots of plant foods such as the Mediterranean Diet or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). These diets can be used to maintain healthy blood pressure, reverse prehypertension as well as supporting the medical management of Stage 1 and Stage 2 hypertension.
*** Please don’t stop taking any prescribed blood pressure medication or altering doses without consulting your doctor.***
More good news – certain foods are blood pressure busters!
There are 4 foods I recommend to all my hypertensive clients to eat daily. Here is the low down on why they are the blood pressure busters!
# 1 – Garlic
When it comes to cardiovascular health the biggest player on the “food as medicine” block is garlic. This odorous bulb lowers cholesterol levels and decreases cholesterol production. It reduces the risk of clotting and helps to dissolve plaque on your arteries 5. A real superstar!
In terms of blood pressure garlic helps increase the production of nitric oxide, a chemical in your body that relaxes the blood vessels. Relaxed blood vessels = lower blood pressure. It may also act on beta adreno-receptors in the heart muscle to reduce the impact of an overactive sympathetic nervous system that thinks it needs to be primed to run away from tigers, real or imagined 6!
How much a do you need?
Two cloves per day of freshly crushed garlic will do the job. The active component, allicin, degrades very quickly so once it is crushed you need to consume it pronto 1. If cooking with garlic add it in at the very end when you’ve turned off the heat to preserve the health benefits.
How to take it:
Add it to a freshly made guacamole, mashed sweet potato/cauliflower or include in homemade vinaigrette to use on salads.
Some people have a poor tolerance of sulphur foods such as garlic, onions and leeks. This may be improved by supplementation with molybdenum and Vitamin B12 1. (Always get tested first though to see if that is the issue). The other option is to take an aged garlic extract, which is not as irritating to the digestive tract and has all the blood pressure benefits 7. Aged garlic does not however, have the same anti-clotting properties as raw garlic.
Average blood pressure reduction: SBP 8-9mmHg and DBP 6-7mmHg 1,6
**Researchers have noted that individual genetic factors may play a role in how responsive to garlic an individual is with some people getting a whopping 40mmHg reduction in blood pressure 1.
# 2 – Linseed
Linseed or flaxseed has been part of the human diet for thousands of years. These nutty tasting seeds are one of the highest sources of alpha linolenic acid (55-60%) a plant based omega-3 fatty acid 8. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that having a good supply of omega 3 fatty acids in your diet is good for you.
These particular linseed fatty acids contain a substance similar to prostaglandin E1 which is a molecule made by your body that relaxes the blood vessels 9. Researchers also believe they help reduce inflammatory markers such as C- reactive protein and interleukin 6 10. Go linseeds!
How much do you need?
30g /day milled linseed (2 tablespoons)
How to take it:
Add to the tops of your cereals or blend in with smoothies, mix into a tub of yoghurt.
Preparation tips: Buy the whole linseeds from health food stores or supermarkets. Linseeds need to be ground otherwise they will pass through the digestive tract unabsorbed. Grind small amounts up in a coffee/spice grinder. You can also buy them pre-ground. Due to the high oil content ground linseed can go rancid very quickly so ensure you store in in the fridge.
Average blood pressure reduction: up to 5mmHg SBP and 2mmHg DBP
# 3 – Beetroot
“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. Beets are deadly serious.” Tom Robbins
And you know what? Tom’s right. As anyone who has ever attempted to eat a salad containing beetroot in a white shirt will attest when confronted with trying to remove the “serious” purple stain.
These root vegetables have been cultivated since Roman times their earthy flavours compliment everything from the traditional Russian borscht soup to the Aussie hamburger. Recently there has been a flurry of research into beets benefits in blood pressure. That’s because beetroot is one of the highest sources of plant nitrates11. These nitrates are absorbed into the blood and excreted in your salvia. Then anaerobic bacteria transform the nitrate to nitrite and this eventually becomes nitric oxide a substance that widens the blood vessels and lowers blood pressure 12. This process takes around 6-12 hours to occur (depending on your digestive capacity) and one trial showed 10mmHg drop in SBP in 6 hours 13. Pretty impressive and fast stuff . However, a meta analysis of 16 trials of beetroot for hypertension found the average reductions to be a more modest 4.4mmHg SBP and 1mmHg DBP 14. Still not bad
How much will you need:
Studies have used 500mL day of fresh beetroot juice 14.
How to take it:
Either freshly juiced, combined with carrot, celery and ginger for extra helpings of health, 1 medium beetroot grated and mixed in salads or on a wrap. If you’re cooking it don’t peel it and leave to tops and roots on include the cooking water to get the maximum nutrients. But, you can forget the pickled, tinned beetroot on the burger as the vinegar destroys most of the nitrate.
Top tip: If beetroot coloured hands are putting you off preparation you can get rid of the stains with lemon juice.
Average blood pressure reduction: SBP 4mm Hg Diastolic 1mmHg 14
- Increasing your beetroot intake may turn your urine the colour of a Rosé. This “beeturia” is totally harmless.
# 4 – Green tea
Like beetroot and linseeds, green tea benefits blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels. The plant chemical responsible for this is the polyphenol, epigallocatechin or EGCG to its friends! EGCG increases nitric oxide but also interferes with angiotensin, a chemical that restricts blood vessels so green tea has a lot of blood vessel relaxing power at its disposal 15.
Recent research has revealed that EGCG also improves insulin sensitivity making it a nice double act for people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome in addition to hypertension 16.
Green tea is not fast acting. A 2014 meta-analysis of 25 studies with 1476 subjects found that blood pressure reductions only happened after 12 weeks but that regular consumption was likely to reduce stroke risk by 8% 17. Not bad for the humble cuppa!
How much will you need?
500mL or 2 mugs per day 15
How to take it:
Preferably buy an organic brand. There are many styles of green tea and Japanese sencha and gyukuro have some of the highest amounts of EGCG.
Top brewing tips:
Don’t brew green tea the same way you do black tea. It will most likely end up tasting bitter and can make you want to vomit! Green tea is a delicate creature and will not perform best in 100 degree water so if you don’t have a fancy temperature controlled kettle bring you water to the boil and wait 5 minutes. This will give it a chance to cool down to the optimal 80 degrees. Then only steep your teabag for 2 minutes maximum. This extracts most of the good stuff but reduces the amount of bitter tannins that are released. Experiment with different green tea varieties to find one that best suits your palate.
Average blood pressure reduction: SBP 2.6mm Hg, DBP 2.2mmHg 17
As these foods work on a variety of mechanisms to lower blood pressure better results will be achieved with incorporating all 4 foods into a healthy diet rather than just one.
Will these foods cause my blood pressure to drop too low?
Not with food alone as the body has mechanisms to halt things when it finds the sweet spot. However, this many be an issue if you are combining these blood pressure busting foods with pharmaceutical medications. Just ensure you regularly get your blood pressure tested so your doctor can adjust the dose accordingly.
Wrapping in all up
The average blood pressure reductions achieved with pharmaceutical blood pressure medications alone average SBP 12mmHg and DBP 8mmHg so in comparison these foods especially when combined are providing a significant benefit without the side effects 18.
So there you have it – proof that “food can be medicine”.
Have you used diet and lifestyle to get out of Club Hypertension? I’d love to hear your story so please comment below and remember to share this article with anyone who may benefit.
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Norelle Hentschel is a degree qualified Naturopath and operates a clinic in Crows Nest, North Sydney. She enjoys helping people feel better and can assist with a broad range of health conditions or general health maintenance.
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