In the weeks before Thanksgiving, the American Heart Association released new blood pressure guidelines, which significantly changed the percentage of people now classified as having high blood pressure (aka, hypertension). That is, the standards issued in 1993 of 140 over 90 mmHG as the normal blood pressure was changed to 130 over 80mmHg. This single move now means that 59 percent of African-American men are classified as having hypertension (up from 42%) along with 47 percent of white men.
These new blood pressure guidelines can be viewed as a call to action, encouraging men to take steps to identify their blood pressure and then do what it takes to bring it down. After all, the benefits are clear: with heart disease being the number one killer of men in the United States and hypertension being a significant contributing factor, every man should be taking a serious look at their lifestyle.
Yes, lifestyle. Although there are many prescription medications one can take for controlling high blood pressure, it is largely a condition associated with factors such as diet, exercise, sleep, and smoking. Make lifestyle modifications and you will lower your blood pressure (and experience many other health benefits as well).
How to control blood pressure naturally
It is possible to safely bring your blood pressure down without medication, but you should discuss your plans with your physician. Men who have very high blood pressure may need to adopt a combination plan (meds and lifestyle) and work toward eliminating the drugs under the guidance of their doctor.
Part of the strategy when controlling blood pressure naturally is to restore your sensitivity to insulin and a hormone called leptin. Hypertension is associated with insulin resistance and insulin is necessary to store magnesium. This mineral helps your muscles relax and thus helps facilitate opening of blood vessels and optimal blood flow. Elevated leptin levels are associated with high blood pressure and obesity.
Generally, the most sensitive your body is to these two hormones, the more likely your body will efficiently utilize the food you eat, which in turn will improve insulin resistance, create muscle, and promote weight loss.
According to Joseph Mercola, ND, the best ways to restore sensitivity to insulin and leptin are by:
- Focusing on whole, natural foods (organic when possible) and avoiding processed foods (i.e., fructose, artificial flavors and colors, preservatives, harmful fats, sugars)
- Choosing healthy fats instead of carbs, such as avocados, coconut oil, raw grass-fed organic milk, and raw nuts
- Practicing intermittent fasting, which can regulate and normalize insulin and leptin sensitivity. You can approach intermittent fasting numerous ways, so you may want to experiment. A good beginning approach is to fast for 18 to 24 hours once a week for several weeks, then perhaps try a different method, such as the same fasting twice a week.
- Exercising regularly, and you should include both cardio and strength-building routines, such as a combination of walking or running, along with lifting weights. Recommended frequency is at least four times a week for 30 minutes each session. If you have not exercised in a while or you need some exercise tips, talk to your doctor and develop a plan. It’s also critical for you to breathe properly while you are active. Breathe through your nose, because mouth breathing while you exercise can elevate both your heart rate and blood pressure.
Here are several other natural ways to lower blood pressure.
- Smoking constricts your blood vessels, which in turn causes blood pressure to rise. If you smoke, get help immediately so you can quit.
- Lose weight. Even a small amount of weight loss can lower your risk of hypertension.
- Choose to include specific foods in your diet on a regular basis that can help lower blood pressure. They include beets and beet juice (which are high in nitrates that boost nitric oxide levels and thus open up blood vessels), leafy greens (e.g., spinach, arugula, mustard greens, kale, which are rich in potassium), oatmeal (high in fiber), bananas (high in potassium and fiber), and garlic (boosts nitric oxide), among others.
- Getting sufficient sleep (7 to 8 hours every night, consistently) is important for managing blood pressure. Why? Research suggests that sleeping fewer than six hours per night could elevate your blood pressure. In addition, sleep is believed to regulate stress hormones and help keep your nervous system healthy.
- Watch your salt intake by limiting processed foods and not adding salt to your food. The impact of sodium on blood pressure is not the same for everyone, but it tends to be more detrimental among African-Americans, people age 51 and older, and anyone with kidney disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure. If you fall into any of these categories, a sodium intake of 1,500 mg or less is recommended.
- Learning how to allow stress and tension to roll off your shoulders can go a long way toward bringing blood pressure under control. One of the most effective ways to defuse stress is deep breathing, which can be done just about anywhere. Make it a habit to practice deep breathing for a few minutes several times a day. Other stress reducers include listening to soothing music, yoga, tai chi, progressive relaxation, massage, and meditation. Releasing stress in creative ways, such as writing stories or songs, journaling, or keeping a gratitude notebook can be helpful as well.
- Alcohol can be both helpful and harmful for blood pressure. If you want to enjoy one or two drinks per day, it could lower your blood pressure by about 2 to 4 mmHg. However, any more than two (and make it only one if you are 65 or older), then your blood pressure could rise. Please skip the alcohol entirely if you are taking any type of blood pressure medication, as it can reduce their effectiveness.
- If you are regular coffee or other caffeinated beverage drinker, then there’s a chance the caffeine is not a problem when it comes to blood pressure. However, if you drink caffeinated beverages only occasionally, they the caffeine may cause your blood pressure to rise. If you want to check to see how sensitive you are to caffeine, take your blood pressure, drink a caffeinated beverage, and then take your pressure again within 30 minutes. If your blood pressure rises by 5 go 10 mmHg, you may be sensitive to the caffeine.
- You can take control of your blood pressure by monitoring it at home. When using a home BP monitoring device, be sure you take your blood pressure at the same time each day and to always take it on the same arm. Talk with a knowledgeable professional (e.g., doctor, nurse, pharmacist) to ensure you are using the device correctly.
The new gold standard for measuring hypertension is through the measurement of the central pressures which the heart, brain, and kidney’s actually experience which is, in almost all cases if elevated, a measure of systemic arterial stiffness. Currently adopted by specialists including cardiologists and research institutions, the SphygmoCor® system is being expanded into use by more and more health and naturopathic professionals.
American Heart Association. More than half of all African-Americans have high blood pressure under new diagnostic guidelines. 2017 Nov 14
Mercola.com. Blood pressure testing is mostly inaccurate. 2017 Aug 9
Simonds SE et al. Leptin mediates the increase in blood pressure associated with obesity. Cell 2014 Dec 4; 159(6): 1404-16