Doctors have known for decades that when people are diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension) they often seek ways to reduce systolic blood pressure. In many cases this goal is met by a course of antihypertensive medications. However, in other patients, especially those with more severe health issues, the effect of these drugs can be too harsh and the effects of high blood pressure may continue. In these cases doctors and patients should consider alternative treatments.
Studies have shown that a certain type of diet can help people lower high blood pressure. In the most recent study, conducted at the University of Rhode Island, researchers examined the effect of changing patients’ diets on blood pressure. The study found that prescribing medicines to reduce systolic blood pressure by using specific drugs to lower it, to nearly all those tested, dropped the number of heart attacks, strokes, acute coronary syndromes, heart failure or death from heart disease by almost one-thirds. The study looked at more than two thousand participants. This study was published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Medical Associations.
The researchers did not look at the number of heart failures or deaths that occurred while taking these prescribed drugs. However, they noted that participants who ate at least one serving of fruit and vegetables per day were less likely to experience an episode of heart failure or heart disease. Among those taking these drugs for an average of 10 years, the average reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure was about three-quarters. For those patients taking these drugs for more than five years, the average reduction was just over one-half.
Systolic and diastolic blood pressures can be lowered by a variety of methods. Exercise has long been known to help reduce blood pressure and exercise also helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Medications can also be used to reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure. But, there are side effects, including weight gain and other health problems, when these drugs are used over long periods. Doctors are also concerned that they may not lower enough blood pressure to prevent heart problems.
One way to naturally reduce hypertension is to change eating habits. Many Americans consume high levels of salt and other foods that aggravate high blood pressure. Such foods include both junk food and processed foods. To avoid triggering hypertension, it would be better to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are rich in potassium, minerals, and vitamins.
Some recent studies have suggested that dietary supplements could help reduce hypertension. Some of these trials, like the Women’s Health Initiative study, showed that dietary supplements could indeed lower high blood pressure in women. A trial of policosanol, which is found in certain rice bran products and in palm wine, showed some benefit in reducing blood pressure in men and women.
The effect of garlic extract on hypertension was not fully substantiated. More research is needed. In one study, participants taking about half a teaspoon of garlic extract every day for two weeks did not show a significant difference in their blood pressure. However, the same study did find that people who ate a diet that was rich in potassium had lower blood pressure at the end of the two-week trial. It is unclear whether the potassium was the main factor or if the reduced blood pressure was due to the garlic extract.
Diet is one of the simplest ways to control hypertension. By eating a diet that is high in potassium and low in sodium, as well as avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol and sodium, hypertension can be controlled. Of course, most people do not follow a very strict low-carb diet, so this method may not be practical for them. A better option would be to take a low-salt diet, and add foods that are high in potassium to the diet. Many foods contain vitamins and nutrients that help the body maintain healthy levels of potassium, and so it may be just as effective as a low-carb diet when it comes to lowering blood pressure.