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Natural Treatments for High Blood Pressure: Cardiologists Report


If you are among the one in three adults who has high blood pressure, you may also be one of the increasing number of patients who are turning to natural treatments to manage your condition. Two cardiologists from the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) recently did a comprehensive review of some non-drug approaches for high blood pressure and published their findings.

Alternative treatments can help some patients

According to the cardiologists, the good news for those who want non-drug options for managing their high blood pressure is that there are some promising choices. Topping the list for all patients is the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, which is low in salt and fat and high in fiber, with lots of fruits and vegetables. DASH should be combined with regular exercise and weight loss, as appropriate.

Beyond these lifestyle modifications, a dietary supplement to help lower blood pressure is the antioxidant coenzyme Q10, which is also involved in energy production. Kevin Woolf, MD, a cardiology fellow at the Medical Center, explained that “Coenzyme Q10 has a pretty profound effect on blood pressure, but whenever research is based on a collection of other data you have to have some skepticism.”

That skepticism, however, does not prevent him from thinking coenzyme Q10 is promising. Another supplement that can help reduce blood pressure and also be easily acquired through diet is potassium. Woolf noted that eating foods rich in potassium (e.g., bananas, dried apricots, cantaloupe, beans, spinach) could have some of the same mild benefits as taking a supplement.

If you prefer an herbal remedy, it’s important to know which ones to avoid as well as the ones that could be beneficial. Woolf mentioned mistletoe extract as a potential option, although it should be used with caution because it can be toxic at high doses. Hawthorn is another remedy that may offer a slight drop in blood pressure. Steer clear, however, of St. John’s wort, ephedra/ma huang, licorice, and yohimbine, all of which can elevate blood pressure.

The researchers uncovered limited evidence that acupuncture offered some benefit when used along with blood pressure medications. Several studies have shown that Qi gong and meditation (e.g., transcendental, Zen Buddhist, breathing awareness) can lower blood pressure.

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Devices patients can use at home to lower blood pressure include the RESPeRATE breathing system and the Zona Plus hand grip device. The RESPeRATE consists of a breath sensor that provides individuals with feedback through headphones. Research indicates that 15 minutes of practice daily can result in a modest reduction in blood pressure.

The Zona Plus requires individuals to grip and squeeze the device in either hand in response to electronic cues. Although studies indicate it can lower blood pressure, exactly how it works is uncertain.

Doctors need to face the fact that many patients with high blood pressure want alternatives to medications. John Bisognano, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, director of outpatient cardiology at URMC, and the other researcher in the study, noted that “Right now we’re seeing a cultural shift where an increasing number of people want to avoid standard pharmaceuticals.”

For now, Woolf said the data is insufficient to recommend any alternative on a routine basis, but when patients are considered on an individual basis, the options can be useful. “This is where the art of medicine comes in,” he said, “getting to know patients and what they will and will not embrace can help physicians identify different therapy that suit their patients’ habits and that will hopefully make a difference for them.”

This latest review by two cardiologists indicates there are natural alternatives to medications if you have high blood pressure. If you are among the 33 percent of adults with hypertension, you may want to talk to your doctor about some options.

Gregoski MJ et al. Journal of Adolescent Health 2011 Jan; 48(1): 59-64
Guo X et al. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2008 Jan-Feb; 14(1): 27-37
University of Rochester Medical Center

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons