Hypertension is one of the most significant risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as heart disease and stroke. It is estimated that a blood pressure greater than 140/90 mmHg doubles an individuals risk of heart disease at a given age compared to a person with a normal blood pressure (115/75 mmHg).
More than 35% of adult Americans are known to suffer from hypertension and this figure rises to more than 60% in people older than 55. Fortunately high blood pressure can largely be controlled through lifestyle and diet changes. Here are eight of the easier ways to lower blood pressure without the use of prescription medication.
1. Take A Fish Oil Or Omega 3 Supplement Daily
The largest study on the effect of fish oil on blood pressure was published in the journal Circulation which is published by the American Heart Association (AHA). The study found that 15 grams of fish oil a day lowered systolic blood pressure by 8.1 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 5.8 mmHg. Overall, the study found that each 1 gram per pay increase in fish oil lowered systolic blood pressure by 0.66 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 0.35 mmHg.
It is believed that the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are found abundantly in fish oil, are responsible for its blood pressure lowering effects.
2. Reduce Salt Intake
Scientific evidence suggests that a 2.3 gram per day reduction in sodium intake can cut systolic blood pressure by 6-10 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by 3-5 mmHg.
The current maximum recommended intake of sodium is 2.4 grams of sodium per day which is the equivalent of a teaspoon of table salt. The average daily intake of salt in the United States is more than twice this amount. Around 12% of sodium in the average American diet is due to salt being directly added to food while more than three-quarters of sodium intake is through the consumption of processed foods which tend to be high in salt.
3. Consume A Diet Rich In Potassium
Potassium appears to reduce blood pressure levels, particularly in those who consume a high sodium diet or who suffer from hypertension. Studies indicate a reduction in systolic blood pressure of up to 6 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure of up to 4 mmHg in people who consume a potassium rich diet. Potassium appears to work by increasing the rate that sodium is excreted from the body.
The recommended daily intake of potassium is 4.7 grams per day however the average daily intake in the United States is just 2.5 grams per day. Potassium is found abundantly in fresh fruits and vegetables. Potassium rich foods include (potassium per serving in brackets): bananas (0.6g), tomatoes (0.5g), cucumbers (0.4g), pears (0.3g), baked potatoes (0.9g), and orange juice (0.5g).
4. Reduce Intake Of Caffeine
A high intake of caffeine is associated with a significant increase in blood pressure. Interestingly, when caffeine is consumed through natural sources such as coffee, tea, and chocolate the effect on blood pressure appears to be much smaller. The amount of caffeine in three cups of coffee is enough to increase short term systolic blood pressure by 8mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure by 5 mm Hg.
Caffeine has a relatively short half life of 3 to 4 hours meaning its effects on blood pressure are relatively short lived although regular caffeine consumption throughout the day can result in a sustained increase in blood pressure. People looking to reduce their blood pressure levels should limit their intake of caffeine, particularly from sources where caffeine is not naturally present such as energy drinks and caffeine pills.
5. Reduce Abdominal Fat Levels
Body fat, particularly around the abdominal area, is strongly correlated with blood pressure. One study, published in the Journal of Human Hypertension in 1999, found that waist size, a measure of central obesity, was strongly correlated with the risk of developing hypertension. Individuals in the highest quartile for waist size were almost six times more likely to have hypertension than individuals in the lowest quartile for waist size.
6. Increase Intake Of Dietary Fiber
A study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2005, found that an increase in fiber of 11.5 grams per day resulted in a reduction in systolic blood pressure of 1.13 mmHg and a reduction in diastolic blood pressure of 1.26 mmHg. The effect was greatest amongst people aged over 40 years and in those with hypertension.
7. Increase Intake Of Vitamin C
A high intake of vitamin C appears to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive individuals. A study, published in the journal Lancet in 1999, found that taking 500mg of vitamin C a day for a month reduced overall blood pressure by 9% in hypertensive individuals.
8. Increase Intake Of Magnesium And Calcium
Both magnesium and calcium appear to reduce blood pressure by a small, but statistically significant amount. Magnesium rich foods include beans, broccoli, fish, prunes, almonds, brazil nuts, tofu, and spinach. Calcium is found abundantly in dairy products, fish with edible bones, tofu, peas, broccoli, spinach, and almonds.
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