It's general knowledge that high blood pressure is something we all want to avoid. But why is it a problem?
Also known as hypertension, when blood pressure is consistently high this creates pressure against the artery walls and can cause serious damage to the organs of the body.
High blood pressure represents the number one risk factor for premature death and hospitalization globally, increasing the likelihood of experiencing a stroke, heart attack, eye damage, kidney failure and cognitive decline (1).
Hypertension is often referred to as the “silent killer” because there are typically no associated symptoms however the damage is still occurring under the surface.
This is why regular check-ups as well as maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key for prevention and management.
Optimal blood pressure is measured as systolic blood pressure below 120 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure below 80 mmHg.
According to the Canadian Hypertension Society, blood pressure is defined as high when measured at 140/90 mm of mercury (mmHg) or more on an ongoing basis (2).
In Canada, hypertension is said to affect up to 1 in 4 adults and lifetime incidence of developing high blood pressure in middle-aged and elderly individuals is estimated to be 90% (3)(4).
This is a big deal, but the good news is, we can dramatically reduce the risk of being affected through adjustments of our lifestyle and diet.
Below we are sharing our top tips for keeping your blood pressure in healthy ranges naturally:
Cut back on sugar and refined carbohydrates
It will come as no surprise that the number one contributor to high blood pressure is diet, and more particularly the Standard American Diet characterized by processed foods high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and refined carbohydrates.
Excess sugar and refined carbohydrate consumption is a rising concern in our typical Western diet today. Increased consumption of these foods increases the likelihood of insulin resistance and diabetes but also inflammation, all of which can contribute to high blood pressure (5)(6).
Lowering your intake of excess sugar can significantly lower blood pressure levels (7). Need help cutting the sugar? Read our blog post here for our top tips!
Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables
Excess sodium in the diet is a significant contributor to hypertension however it is likely the imbalance between sodium and potassium that is the real culprit (8). When we are consuming a diet high in sodium (processed foods) it will also naturally be low in potassium (fruits and vegetables).
Potassium helps to offset the effects of sodium and it plays an important role in regulating blood pressure levels.
The best way to reduce unhealthy levels of sodium and increase potassium is to avoid processed and packaged foods and eat home cooked meals instead with an emphasis on fruits and vegetables.
Reduce your stress
When we are under stress our body activates the sympathetic response which releases cortisol, increases heart rate, narrows blood vessels, and raises blood pressure. This is the body's acute reaction to respond to a threat in the environment. However, problem's arise when this becomes a chronic state which over time can cause some serious damage on the body, such as long term hypertension (8)(9).
The good news? We can learn how to manage our stress through various mind and body awareness techniques.
Read more about what you can do to lower stress levels here.
Limit the alcohol
We hate to break it to you but alcohol is no friend to your blood pressure!
Alcohol has been associated with increased hypertension through various mechanisms of action such as increasing cortisol levels, raising blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of obesity, activating the sympathetic nervous system, raising inflammation and oxidative stress, and damaging endothelial tissue (10).
Limiting or avoiding alcohol use altogether can help to lower blood pressure levels and support general health.
Not getting enough sleep may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease (11)(12).
What's more, lack of sleep is associated with an increase in the stress response, inflammation, unhealthy weight gain, and insulin resistance all of which have a significant impact on overall health and blood pressure levels.
Though sleep is critical to overall health and wellbeing, most adults are not getting the recommend daily amount. But it is essential to make it a priority!
Read our blog to learn how to improve your sleep and wake up feeling rested and refreshed!
They say sitting is the new smoking, and there's a lot of truth to this!
A predominantly sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and even and all-cause mortality (13).
Living an active lifestyle can lower blood pressure by making your heart stronger, lowering inflammation, supporting a healthy weight, reducing insulin resistance, regulating blood sugar levels, reducing stress levels, and improving blood circulation.
Now this doesn't mean that you have to sign up for a gym membership, any sort of daily movement will be beneficial though a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercises may be the most effective. This could look like weight lifting, running, walking, swimming, strength training, and biking.
Eat your good fats
The types of fat consumed in the diet will also influence your cardiovascular health.
Optimizing your ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids will be an important part of enhancing your health and reducing the risk of high blood pressure.
Our diet today is high in omega 6 fats which most people are over consuming while under consuming omega 3 fats. Common sources of omega 6 fatty acids in the diet include corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil. When consumed in excess and without the balance of omega 3 fatty acids this can increase inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.
Omega 3 fats can be found in nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseeds and also wild fatty fish. If you aren't consuming enough omega 3 from your diet you can choose to supplement with high quality omega 3 supplement. The specific omega 3 fatty acid, DHA has been shown to be particularly effective at reducing hypertension (14)(15).
Go smoke free
The nicotine in cigarette smoke is especially problematic as it acts as a blood vessel inflammatory agent, narrowing blood vessels, hardening artery walls, and increasing heart rate and blood pressure (16)(17).
Though quitting smoking isn't always easy it is recommended in order to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, lower high blood pressure, and promote longevity.
Maintain a healthy weight
An unhealthy increase in weight is also correlated with an increase in high blood pressure and a higher risk of chronic disease (18).
But the opposite is also true, losing excess weight can have a significant effect on lowering blood pressure and improving quality of life.
Implementing a healthy diet and lifestyle as mentioned above is the best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight and decrease the risk of developing chronic diseases later in life. Learn more about how you can reach your healthy weight naturally here.
Though diet and lifestyle are foundational, supplementation may be a necessary step in getting your blood pressure under control.
We've included some of those below:
Known as the miracle mineral, magnesium is involved in processes all over the body including regulating a healthy blood pressure.
As a relaxing and essential mineral it can help to lower high blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide levels, relaxing blood vessels, improving endothelial health, and inducing vasodilation (19).
It also has an important role in insulin function and blood sugar regulation which are vitally important for a healthy cardiovascular system.
Magnesium is also a popular supplement to lower stress levels as it has been shown to lower cortisol levels. Magnesium is easily depleted during times of high or chronic stress and diet is not always enough to meet adequate levels (20).
Magnesium glycinate is a supplement form of magnesium that is well absorbed and tolerated and has a calming effect on the nervous system and muscular system (21).
An important antioxidant involved in maintaining a healthy heart, coenzyme Q10 may help to reduce high blood pressure and reduce complications associated with heart failure (22). This antioxidant declines with age and with the occurrence of inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
CoQ10 might be an effective supplement to support cardiovascular health by reducing inflammation, improving heart function, and supporting energy production.
There are different forms of coQ10 however ubiquinol is said to be the most absorbable form.
Yes you can include garlic as a therapeutic food in your kitchen however supplementation in particular has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health by reducing arterial stiffness, lowering blood cholesterol levels, regulating nitric oxide, and improving vasodilation and blood flow (23)(24).
As you would probably have to eat a lot more garlic than you would like to in order to reach necessary therapeutic effects, you can supplement instead and skip the vampire breath!
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.