Whether you're looking to reduce your blood pressure — or simply keep it in check — or if you're living with diabetes or hypertension already, we've pulled together an extensive list of ways to lower your blood pressure without resorting to medication. Check it out to find or try a new stay-healthy strategy today.
This article was originally published on dLife.com—a website dedicated to helping people with diabetes live happier and healthier lives—as "16 Non-Drug Ways To Lower Blood Pressure," and is reposted with permission from the author.
Reviewed by Susan Weiner, R.D., M.S., C.D.E., C.D.N.
All too often, diabetes and hypertension go hand in hand. As many as two out of three adults with diabetes have hypertension (high blood pressure), too. And both conditions increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and eye and kidney diseases. Like blood sugar, your blood pressure levels can fluctuate throughout the day. Normal readings are at or below 120/80 mmHg, but a single reading above that isn't cause for alarm. Hypertension is defined as two or more consecutive readings above 140/90. However, people with diabetes have a lower blood pressure target than the general public: Because of the increased risk of heart disease that comes with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association and the National Institutes of Health recommend that people with diabetes keep their blood pressure below 130/80.
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If your blood pressure is elevated, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as following the DASH diet, before prescribing medication. The following are some other, non-drug blood-pressure reducers worth adopting whether or not you have hypertension.
16 Non-Drug Blood Pressure Reducers
1. Cut back on salt. It's no surprise that sodium can raise your blood pressure. If everyone in America cut their salt intake to no more than 1,500 mg a day, 16 million cases of high blood pressure would be prevented every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Current average daily intake for Americans exceeds 3,400mg.)
2. De-stress. A recent review of 107 studies on stress reduction techniques and blood pressure found that Transcendental Meditation, biofeedback, stress management training, and progressive muscle relaxation were all effective in lowering blood pressure. Also, a study presented at the American Society of Hypertension's annual meeting in May 2008 found that listening to relaxing music for 30 minutes a day reduces blood pressure.
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3. Go easy on the alcohol. Experts recommend no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. In fact, studies show that when heavy drinkers cut down on alcohol, it lowers blood pressure. If you drink alcohol and are at risk of high blood pressure, talk to your doctor.
4. Pile on potassium. The USDA Dietary Reference Intakes recommend that adults consume at least 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium a day and no more than 2,300 mg of sodium. (However, most Americans do the reverse — we consume twice as much sodium as potassium.) A review of studies published in the July 2008 issue of Journal of Clinical Hypertension found that eating foods rich in potassium may help lower blood pressure. Good, low-glycemic sources of potassium include soybeans, canned beans, tomato sauce and paste, beet greens, spinach, halibut, lima beans, and lentils.
5. Get enough magnesium. Eating foods rich in magnesium may also benefit blood pressure control. A recent review of studies found an inverse relationship between dietary magnesium and blood pressure. Furthermore, research links magnesium intake to a reduced risk of stroke and preeclampsia (pregnancy-induced hypertension). Good sources of magnesium include bran cereal, brown rice, almonds, hazelnuts, lima beans, spinach, and milk.
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6. Don't forget milk. Calcium-rich foods like milk have also been shown to reduce blood pressure. The USDA recommends 1,000 mg to 1,200 mg of calcium a day, the amount found in two to three 8-ounce glasses of milk. Other good sources of calcium include yogurt, cheese, tofu, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and kale.
7. Have a potato. Ok, maybe just a small one. They're not only rich in potassium, they contain a blood-pressure lowering compound called kukoamines, a substance previously only known to be found in Chinese herbal medicine. If potatoes are too carb-heavy for your meal plan, try tomatoes instead. They contain kukoamines, too, but in lower concentrations.
8. Sweeten with stevia. A one-year, double-blind study found this sweet herb may lower blood pressure. It has no calories or carbohydrates and shouldn't impact your blood sugar. While many people like its sweet taste, others find it bitter, especially in large doses. Try the different kinds. You may be able to sample stevia at your local natural foods store to see if you like it.
9. Snack on celery. In a 1992 study, according to a New York Times article ("A New Look at an Ancient Remedy: Celery," June 9, 1992), a compound in celery relaxes the smooth muscle lining of blood vessels, reducing blood pressure. The equivalent of four ribs of celery a day (for a human being) was found to lower blood pressure by 12 to 14 percent in animal studies.
10. Go fish. Cold water fish, such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, and halibut are rich in omega-3 fatty acids DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which may help to reduce blood pressure. If you're not a fish eater, try omega-3 enriched eggs, margarine, or peanut butter — or talk to your doctor about taking fish oil capsules.
11. Munch on walnuts. They're rich in the omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which may also help lower blood pressure. For the best bang, go for English walnuts —they contain the most ALA. You can also get ALA from flaxseeds and tofu — or flaxseed, walnut, soybean, and canola oils.
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12. Spice it up. Cooking with spices not only boosts the flavor of low-sodium fare, certain spices may help lower blood pressure as well. Fennel, oregano, black pepper, basil, and tarragon are all reported to help reduce blood pressure. Now Iranian researchers have found that the bittersweet herb saffron may also lower blood pressure.
13. A clove a day. A review of studies published over the past 50 years found that garlic supplements may be as effective in relieving hypertension as some commonly used blood pressure medications. Australian researchers note that the 600 mg to 900 mg dose of garlic powder used in most studies contains about 3.6 mg to 5.4 mg of allicin, the active ingredient in garlic. One fresh clove contains 5 mg to 9 mg of allicin.
14. Eat your spinach. Folate-rich foods, such as spinach, are associated with a lower risk of hypertension. A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Associationfound women who consumed at least 1,000 micrograms (mcg) of folate a day through either diet or supplements, had a decreased risk of hypertension compared with those who consumed 200 mcg a day. Other good sources of folate include any dark green leafy vegetables, legumes, and asparagus.
15. Be social. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that people with fewer social connections were more likely to have high blood pressure. In fact, blood pressure readings of "lonely" people were 30 points higher on average than non-lonely ones.
16. Enjoy chocolate, as long as it's dark. Indulge in a little dark chocolate every day. Several studies show it's good for heart health and reduces blood pressure. (Not to mention what it does for your mood!)
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Tell us in the comments: What strategies have you or your friends and family used to reduce blood pressure?