High blood pressure (BP) is one of the top risk factors for heart disease and stroke. It has been linked with 50% of coronary artery disease, 75% of strokes and kills over 110,000 people in England every year. It’s an essential part of every health check and while doctors know that exercise combined with a low GL, Mediterranean style diet rich in fruit and vegetables can bring it down, the general view is that such a regime is hard to stick to, so if your level is up, the chances are you will be offered drugs. Drugs will bring it down by an average of 5.5mmHG diastolic but at a cost. They all come with a fairly nasty number of side effects, which is why many people don’t stick to them either; these range from short term ones like fatigue, muscle weakness and depression to long term illness including heart disease and a pre-diabetic state with high levels of insulin and blood sugar. The drugs come in four main types and their mechanisms range from relaxing the muscles of the blood vessel walls to making you pee more. The latest trend is to market a combination of two different types in one, with the promise of even more effective lowering. There are, however, four naturally remedies that work as well as drugs - magnesium, vitamin C, a low GL diet and beetroot juice. Sun exposure, exercise and Heartmath's simple exercise are also extremely effective.
How your system works
But if you want to get control of your blood pressure, it helps to have some idea of how the whole system works; that way it’s easier to decide on a treatment plan that’s going to work for you. Unlike the pipes in your domestic plumbing system, your blood vessels play an active role in speeding up or slowing down your blood circulation. Their muscular walls tense and relax all the time. When you’re frightened or exercising you need them to tense and narrow to pump more blood around the body, but then they should relax. When they stay tense for too long the result is hypertension.
It’s a complex, normally self-regulating system that is partly controlled by the ebb and flow of two pairs of minerals in and out of the cells lining the blood vessel walls. One of these pairs consists of sodium (salt) and potassium; sodium inside the cell pushes the pressure up, potassium inside brings it down. The other pair consists of calcium and magnesium – calcium raises while magnesium lowers. This explains why you’re advised to keep your salt intake down (more sodium raises BP) and why one of the types of drug is a calcium channel blocker (keeping calcium out lowers BP). But it also highlights the way that the two halves of the pairs are largely ignored by the conventional approach.
Getting good amounts of potassium and magnesium in your diet or via a supplement is a sensible starting point for any BP lowering regime. The downside of drugs Understanding the system also highlights the downside to some of the drug treatments, such as the diuretics which make you pee a lot. That in turn means there’s less liquid in your blood and so the pressure drops. This downside of this is that a lot of minerals and vitamins are washed out in the process, including potassium and magnesium – precisely the ones you need. There are now potassium sparing diuretics but, typically they put you at risk of a potassium overload! However, drinking enough water – six to eight glasses a day – helps lower blood pressure without the side-effects because a lack of water makes the sodium level inside cells go up, which raises blood pressure. And there are other problems with diuretics.
One study of 1860 men followed over 17 years found that those treated with diuretics were more likely to have a heart attack (23%) than those who weren’t. Those who had a heart attack were more likely to have raised their glucose levels, putting them in a pre-diabetic state . This poor performance by diuretics - an old type of drug but still widely used – is unfortunate since according to one large study known as ALLHAT they are more effective than the newer drugs, which includes the calcium channel blockers and another type known as ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors, which counteracts the effect of angiotensin, a body chemical that contracts blood vessels .
Eat a low GL diet
So given their side effects and the doubts about the effectiveness in the long term, the non-drug approach certainly seems to make sense as a starting point. It also offers you many more options. Besides making use of the mineral balancing system, you can go on a low glycaemic load (GL) diet which lowers BP remarkably effectively. We have many cases of people reporting their blood pressure normalizing since following a low GL diet. For example, the graph below shows what happened to Phil when he changed his diet to low GL, over a period of 5 months. His blood pressure went from an average of 175/90 to 115/65, which is perfect.
In addition this approach is very likely to bring other health benefits and it’s very unlikely to raise your risk of heart attack, unlike diuretics, or cause a nasty persistent dry cough as ACE inhibitors can. The diet favoured by ill-informed doctors and dieticians to lower BP is the “healthy balanced diet” which usually means a low fat/high carbohydrate diet.
All too often, though, this allows quite large amounts of sugar, either in fruit juice drinks or in supermarket low-fat meals. A high sugar diet creates compounds known as aldehydes in the body, which in turn can mess up various proteins that are necessary for calcium channels to work properly; one of the results of this is raised blood pressure . A version of the low fat/high carb diet often used for lowering BP is known as the DASH diet. But it recommends the likes of pasta, rice and potatoes, all of which raise blood sugar levels which in turn raises your insulin levels. Raised insulin levels stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, the one that primes you for action, which in turn releases chemical that tightens the arteries. Too much insulin also encourages the body to hold on to both salt and water which also raises blood pressure .
To avoid the BP raising potential of sugar and other refined carbohydrates the best option is the low glycaemic load diet. In a small trial we ran on 16 volunteers blood pressure dropped by six points in eight weeks on my low GL diet . For even better results include various antioxidant rich nutrients, such as vitamin C and CoQ10, and nutrient rich foods, plus the key minerals, such as potassium and magnesium, that specifically lower blood pressure.
Increase magnesium and potassium and avoid salt
Most of us get about three times as much sodium from salt as we do potassium when the balance should be about 1:1 so cut back on salt and go for fruit and green leafy vegetables, along with nuts and seeds which are all rich in both potassium and magnesium. Just increasing potassium in this way is estimated to drop high blood pressure by 10% . In South Africa where almost one in four of the black population have hypertension, a recent study found that making simple changes to the diet for eight weeks resulted in a significant reduction in blood pressure .
By including six commonly eaten food items in which sodium was decreased and potassium, magnesium and calcium were increased, researchers found it was possible to reduce systolic blood pressure by 6.2mmHg in those with moderate hypertension and already on anti-hypertensive medication, with significant reductions occurring by week four. But there’s one kind of salt, naturally very high in magnesium and potassium, with 61% less sodium called Solo Sea Salt. It is by far the best tasting ‘healthy’ salt. In fact, people with high blood pressure given this salt had a decrease in blood pressure, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal . I also recommend you supplement with about 300 mg of magnesium.
You’ll get about 100mg in a good multivitamin so that means supplementing an additional 200mg. Also, don’t forget drinking more water – eight glasses, or 1 to 2 litres, a day – also helps because a lack of water makes the sodium level inside cells go up, which raises blood pressure. Benefits of beetroot A recent paper recommended beetroot as an effective way of lowering BP . That’s because it contains high levels of nitrate which your saliva turns into nitrites which in turn is used to make nitric oxide, a gas which dilates the blood vessels and so lowers BP. Other good sources of nitrate include those dark green leafy vegetables again, celery, lettuce, spinach, and radishes. Also, green leafy vegetables are rich sources of folate, which lowers homocysteine and cardiovascular risk, again lowering blood pressure.
Ensure your omegas
Oily fish, among its cardiovascular benefits, is good for lowering blood pressure; if you are getting your omega 3 from a supplement, it’s DHA, and possibly DPA rather than EPA that relaxes arteries the most, partly by increasing levels of nitric oxide, as well as thinning the blood by stopping platelets in the blood from clumping together . Increase your antioxidants Antioxidants help to combat oxidative stress (this is cellular damage that occurs due to internal biochemical reactions and external pollutants such as smoke or fried food intake) – high levels of which are associated with high blood pressure .
Eat beetroot and drink beetroot juice
Beetroot lowers blood pressure because it promotes levels of nitric oxide in the blood. In a study at the University of Reading a shot of beetroot juice equivalent to 100 grams of beetroot (roughly two small beets) lowered blood pressure, and increased nitric oxide, in people with normal blood pressure within 24 hours. This has been confirmed by other studies including a recent trial in Ireland earlier this year in which the (diastolic) blood pressure of those with high blood pressure not on drugs dropped by 6 points with a daily shot of beetroot juice for 14 days. The reason for this blood pressure lowering effect is that beetroot is exceptionally high in nitrates. These studies have shown that nitrates in beetroot juice has a dose dependent effect on blood pressure, as well as thinning the blood.
If you don’t fancy having two small beetroots a day a shot of beetroot concentrate (Beet Active) provides the equivalent of one small beetroot.
Also seek out foods rich in bioflavonoids such as berries, cherries, grapes, red wine, green tea and citrus rind which have been shown to lower BP in animals. Anthocyanidins, especially high in blue/red fruits, have been shown to relax arteries. I recommend having a daily shot of Cherry Active (Montmorency cherry concentrate). In one study the dietary supplement pycnogenol, an antioxidant derived from pine bark, was found to allow half of a group of 48 diabetics to control their BP and raise nitric oxide levels . So I’d recommend taking an all-round antioxidant supplement, plus eating antioxidant-rich foods, and seeing what effect that has.
Supplement Vitamin C
Supplementing vitamin C daily is an immediate way to lower blood pressure. A meta-analysis of twenty nine trials confirms that a mere 500mg of vitamin C a day lowers high blood pressure by 5 points in eight weeks. However, higher doses may be even better. In one study, those given 2 grams of vitamin C a day for 30 days had a 10 point drop in systolic blood pressure.This is comparable to the effect you can get with the best hypertensive drugs,but without side-effects. Taking high- dose vitamin C makes a lot of sense if you have heart disease, because it does lowers LDL cholesterol when given to healthy people, diabetics and people on kidney dialysis, and has also beenshown to reduce arterial thickening. It is also a naturalanti-inflammatory. A study of almost 60,000 people in Japan reports that vitamin C intake is strongly associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, especially in women, cutting risk by a third.
Both vitamin C (two grams a day) and CoQ10 (usually given at a dose of 90mg a day) lower blood pressure. In a joint study by the University of Austin, Texas, and the Centre for Adult Diseases in Osaka, Japan, 52 patients with high blood pressure were treated either with CoQ10 or a placebo . There was an 11% decrease in blood pressure for those on CoQ10, compared to a 2% decrease for those on a placebo. In another trial, from 2001, 60mg of CoQ10given twice daily for 12 weeks helped promote normal blood pressure levels by reducing systolic blood pressure .
A controlled clinical trial published in 2002 meanwhile showed that supplementation with 200mg of CoQ10 a dayhelps to promote normal blood pressure levels . Up your intake of vitamin D Also aim for a high intake – at least three or four times the RDA – of vitamin D, since hypertension is linked with low levels of vitamin D and raised calcium in cells; one of the roles of vitamin D is controlling calcium absorption . You want to supplement at least 15mcg a day, especially in the winter. Check and lower your homocysteine level High homocysteine is associated with hypertension and I’ve had many clients with high homocysteine whose blood pressure has rapidly normalized when their homocysteine levels comes down.
I’m not aware of any studies testing this effect yet but, interestingly, both ACE inhibitors and beta-blocker drugs both lower homocysteine . I’d certainly recommend you test your homocysteine level (ask your doctor or get a home-test kit from healthproductsforlife.com). If your level is high supplement a combination of homocysteine lowering nutrients. Valda, aged 73, is a case in point. She had suffered from high blood pressure for over thirty years, as well as a touch of arthritis. Her doctor had given her two drugs, Captopril and a junior aspirin every day. They had helped a bit, but her blood pressure was still high - averaging 150/85. She decided to have a homocysteine test. Her H score was 43, putting her in the very high risk category.
She started eating more greens and beans, high in folate and took a homocysteine lowering supplement. After 2 months she re-tested and her H score had dropped by 88% to a healthy 5.1. Her blood pressure has also dropped and stabilised at 130/80 and she was able to reduce her medication. Her arthritis had also improved with much less joint pain and she felt better in herself. Master your stress level and exercise every day Various forms of stress push up your BP by raising levels of hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, which then constrict the arteries and speed up the heart rate. Meditation and biofeedback both have their supporters and recently there were positive results reported for “laughter yoga”. You laugh for 45 seconds and then do deep breathing and stretching, repeat for 20 minutes .
get out in the sun
Sun exposure also lower blood pressure and this isn't simply to do with it increasing vitamin D levels. The most likely explanation for the known reduction in blood pressure when exposed to sunlight is that it increases nitric oxide levels which relax arteries. The air is 78% nitrogen and nitrogen is required for oxygen to work. Nitric oxide, the combniation of the two, is a highly effective natural molecule for relaxing arteries.
Given all the different options for lowering blood pressure it makes sense to buy yourself a blood pressure monitor to see if what you are doing is having an effect. That’s just what the American Heart Association has recommended. Try it and experiment. I’m sure you’ll find the right combination of factors to bring your blood pressure under control. Also, don’t forget to exercise every day. Something that gets you puffing and panting will help strengthen the heart, relax the arteries and reduce stress. Blood pressure lowering foods Bioflavonoid-rich foods such as berries, cherries, grapes, red wine (limit to one glass a day), green tea and citrus rind lower BP in animals. Dark chocolate, or cocoa, also works. Eating about 30 calories a day of dark chocolate was associated with a lowering of blood pressure, without weight gain or other adverse effects, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association .
That’s the equivalent of about two small pieces of a 70% cocoa chocolate, ideally low in sugar or sweetened with xylitol. In summary, to lower your blood pressure:
• Eat a low GL diet, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, including beetroot, pumpkin seeds or chia seeds, and a little bit of chocolate. Eat oily fish for essential omegas.
• Drink at least 1 litre of water a day, a shot of Cherry Active and a small amount of alcohol, especially good quality wine, especially if you are stressed.
• Get your stress levels under control.
• Get out in the sun and exercise
• Have a daily shot of beetroot juice - try Beet Active
• Make sure your daily supplement programme includes omega 3, at least 15mcg of vitamin D, 2 grams of vitamin C and 90mg of CoQ10 and a good allround antioxidant complex.
• Check your homocysteine level and, if raised, lower it with specific high dose homocysteine lowering nutrients.
• Exercise for at least half an hour a day.
Visit www.HOLFORDirect.com for a wide range of supplements and low GL foods and drinks.
1. K. Dunder, “Increase in blood glucose concentration during antihypertensive treatment as a predictor of myocardial infarction: population based cohort study”, British Medical Journal, 2003 Mar; 326:681
2. B.R. Davis et al., “Role of diuretics in the prevention of heart failure: the Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial”, Circulation, 2006 May; 113(18):2201-10
3. S. Vasdev et al., “Prevention of fructose-induced hypertension by dietary vitamins” Clinical Biochemistry, 2004 Jan; 37:1-9
4. M.W. Brands et al., “Obesity and Hypertension: Roles of Hyperinsulinemia, Sympathetic Nervous System and Intrarenal Mechanisms”, Journal of Nutrition, Supplement 1995 Jun; 125(6): 1725-1731
5. P. Holford et al., “The Effects of a Low Glycemic Load Diet on Weight Loss and Key Health Risk Indicators”, Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine, 2006; 21(2)
6. M. Houston and K Harper, ‘Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium: Their Role in Both the Cause and Treatment of Hypertension’, Journal of Clincal Hypertension, 2008July, 10(7): 3–11,
7. K.E. Charlton et al., “A food-based dietary strategy lowers blood pressure in a low socio-economic setting: a randomised study in South Africa”, Public Health Nutrition, 2008 Dec; 11(12):1397-406 [Epub 27 August 2008].
8. J. Geleijnse et al., “Reduction of blood pressure with a low sodium, high potassium, high magnesium salt in older subjects with mild to moderate hypertension”, British Medical Journal, 1994; 309:436–40
9. A.J. Webb et al., “Acute Blood Pressure Lowering, Vasoprotective, and Antiplatelet Properties of Dietary Nitrate via Bioconversion to Nitrite”, Hypertension, 2008 Mar; 51:784-790
10. T.A. Mori, “Omega-3 fatty acids and hypertension in humans”, Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, 2006 Sep; 33(9):842-6
11. R. Rodrigo et al., “Relationship between oxidative stress and essential hypertension”, Hypertension Research, 2007; 30(12):1159-67
12. S. Zibadi, “Reduction of cardiovascular risk factors in subjects with type 2 diabetes by Pycnogenol supplementation”, Nutrition Research, 2008; 28:315–320
13. W.V. Judy, J.H. Hall, et al., “Double blind-double crossover study of coenzyme Q10 in heart failure” in K. Folkers, Y. Yamamura Biomedical and Clinical Aspects of Coexzyme Q, Elsevier Science Publishers, BV, 1986; 315-323
14. B. Burke, ‘Randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial of COQ10 in isolated systolic hypertension’, Southern Medical Journal, 2001; 94(11):1112-7
15. J. M. Hodgson et al., ‘Coenzyme Q10 improves blood pressure and glycaemic control: a controlled trial in subjects with type 2 diabetes’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002; 56(11):1137-1142
16. D.A. McCarron, ‘Calcium metabolism in hypertension’, The Keio Journal of Medicine, 1995; 44(4):105-14
17. A. Poduri et al., ‘Effect of ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers on homocysteine levels in essential hypertension’, Journal of Human Hypertension, 2008 Apr; 22(4):289-94
18. Reported at the American Society of Hypertension 2008 Annual Meeting
19. D. Taubert, et al., “Effects of Low Habitual Cocoa Intake on Blood Pressure and Bioactive Nitric Oxide A Randomized Controlled Trial”, Journal of the American Medicine Association, 2007; 298(1):49-60 [doi:10.1001/jama.298.1.49]
20. Hobbs DA et al., ‘Blood pressure-lowering effects of beetroot
juice and novel beetroot-enriched bread products in normotensive male
subjects Br J Nutr. 2012 Dec 14;108(11):2066-74.
21. Webb AJ et al., ‘Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietarynitrate via bioconversion to nitrite.’ Hypertension. 2008 Mar;51(3):784-90
22. Kerley CP et al., 'Nitrate-rich beetroot juice selectively lowers ambulatory pressures and LDL cholesterol in uncontrolled but not controlled hypertension: a pilot study.' Ir J Med Sci. 2017 Jan 3. doi: 10.1007/s11845-016-1551-2.
23. Juraschek SP, ‘Effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood
pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.’ Am J Clin
24. Rostand SG et al., 'Associations of blood pressure, sunlight, and vitamin D in community-dwelling adults.' J Hypertens. 2016 Sep;34(9):1704-10