Can Lifestyle Changes Reduce the Need for Blood Pressure Medications?
According to the 2017 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Hypertension Guideline, lifestyle changes are the first step in reducing high blood pressure.
So many individuals – 72 million Americans – struggle to maintain normal blood pressure. High blood pressure is clinically known as hypertension, as it is a major conspirator in cardiac dysfunction. The top number, systolic reading, measures the pressure as the heart pumps blood around the body. The bottom number, diastolic reading, measures the pressure the heart relaxes and refills with blood.
Study author Alan Hinderliter, M.D., associate professor of medicine at University of Normal Carolina in Chapel Hill explains, “Lifestyle modifications, including healthier eating and regular exercise, can greatly decrease the number of patients who need blood pressure-lowering medicine. That’s particularly the case in folks who have blood pressure in the range of 130 to 160 mmHg systolic and between 80 and 99 mmHg diastolic.
The Blood Pressure Study
The researchers studied 129 overweight or obese men and women between the ages of 40 and 80 years old who had high blood pressure and randomly assigned each to one of three 16-week interventions –
- One group changed the content of their diets (to the DASH diet which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy and minimizes consumption of red meat, salt and sweets) and took part in a weight management program that included behavioral counseling and three-times weekly supervised exercise
- The second group changed diet only, focusing on the DASH diet with the help of a nutritionist
- The third group did not change their eating or exercise habits
Here’s what the researchers found, according to the study reports –
- Those eating the DASH diet and participating in the weight management group lost an average 19 pounds and had reduced blood pressure by an average 16 mmHg systolic and 10 mmHg diastolic at the close of the 16 weeks.
- Those following only the DASH eating plan had blood pressures decrease an average 11 systolic/8 diastolic mmHg.
- Adults who didn’t change their eating or exercise habits experienced a minimal blood pressure decline of an average 3 systolic/4 diastolic mmHg.
- By the study’s end, only 15 percent of those who had changed both their diet and their exercise habits needed antihypertensive medications, as recommended by the 2017 AHA/ACC guideline, compared to 23 percent in the group that only changed their diet. However, there was no change in the need for medications among those who didn’t change their diet or exercise habits — nearly 50 percent continued to meet criteria for drug treatment.
Natural Remedies to Support Healthy Blood Pressure Levels
According to Nicole Crane, BTS, NP, one of the most overlooked factors in blood pressure control is fructose intake. “Not only does fructose significantly raise blood pressure, but it leads to high insulin levels, which have their own biochemical consequences. Fructose is a type of sugar that is naturally found in fruit, which is beneficial. But the body has to work hard to get access to the energy found in fructose.”
Garlic is rich in a compound called allicin, that has powerful antioxidant, antibacterial and cardiovascular supportive properties. According to Crane, “Aged garlic in supplement form offers the most benefit in terms of allicin bioavailability and absorption, plus has the added benefit of being odorless. Garlic supports blood pressure by stimulating nitric oxide (NO) and hydrogen sulfide. Nitric oxide (NO) is a gas produced within the blood vessels that fosters relaxation of the smooth muscle cells within that blood vessel and allows blood vessels to remain wide open to supports healthy blood flow. Hydrogen sulfide acts as a vasodilator (opens blood vessels) and a smooth muscle relaxer in the endothelium of blood vessels. It is thought that nitric oxide works mostly in larger blood vessels, while hydrogen sulfide works in capillaries and smaller blood vessels.”
One herb, Hawthorn Berry, contains several active compounds that have cardio-protective effects. Hawthorn berry has been shown to strengthen the heart muscle by helping to support the integrity and structure of blood vessels. This herb has also been shown to support healthy cholesterol levels by clearing LDL cholesterol from the blood stream.
In a study performed by the Center for the Advancement of Health, a group of researchers identified 14 randomized control trials that involved 855 patients which indicated that hawthorn extract – “improved maximal workload, increased exercise tolerance, reduced oxygen consumption by the heart, and reduce shortness of breath and fatigue.”
Taurine is an amino acid (a building block of protein) that acts as a neurotransmitter and a regulator for the heart and circulatory system. This amino acid supports blood pressure in several ways. According to Crane, “It helps to bring electrolyte minerals like calcium and magnesium into the heart. This supports nerve signaling and is critical to healthy cardiac muscle function. It also has been shown to clear plaque from artery walls and reduce unhealthy thickening of the arteries.