According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-third of American adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Blood pressure measures the force exerted by blood, pushing outwards on your arterial walls. According to the American Heart Association, damage occurs when the force of the blood flow is high over time. This stretches the tissue that makes up the walls of arteries beyond its healthy limit.
Blood pressure is typically recorded as two numbers and written as a ratio. The top number (systolic) measures the pressure in the arteries when the ventricles (lower chambers of heart) contract. The bottom number (diastolic) measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats, when the ventricles relax. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when blood pressure is higher than 140 over 90 mmHg, a definition shared by all the medical guidelines.
A number of factors contribute to elevated blood pressure, including genetics, stress, diet, smoking, and lack of exercise. Because it is largely symptomless, hypertension is known as the “silent killer,” which is why it is so important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
Having high blood pressure increases your risk for several health problems, such as:
- heart attack
- heart failure
- kidney disease
- vision loss
- metabolic syndrome
To prevent or to treat high blood pressure, you should have your numbers checked regularly by your doctor.
There are many ways to treat high blood pressure, including lifestyle changes and/or medications. If you are interested in turning to traditional treatments for lowering your blood pressure, you have many options.
If you are thinking of trying herbs for medical reasons, whether that means using the whole herb or a supplement, speak to your doctor first. Some herbs, especially in large quantities, may produce undesirable side effects or interfere with other medications.
Basil is a delicious herb that goes well in a variety of foods. It also might help lower your blood pressure. Extract of basil has been shown to lower blood pressure, although only briefly. Adding fresh basil to your diet is easy and certainly can’t hurt. Keep a small pot of the herb in your kitchen garden and add the fresh leaves to pastas, soups, salads, and casseroles.
Cinnamon is another tasty seasoning that requires little effort to include in your daily diet, and it may bring your blood pressure numbers down. Consuming cinnamon every day has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with diabetes. Include more cinnamon in your diet by sprinkling it on your breakfast cereal, oatmeal, and even in your coffee. At dinner, cinnamon enhances the flavor of stir-fries, curries, and stews.
Cardamom is a seasoning that comes from India and is often used in the foods of South Asia. A study investigating the health effects of cardamom found that participants given powdered cardamom daily for several months saw significant reductions in their blood pressure readings. You can include cardamom seeds or the powder in spice rubs, in soups and stews, and even in baked goods for a special flavor and a positive health benefit.
Flaxseed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to lower blood pressure significantly. Flaxseed may protect against atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease by reducing serum cholesterol, improving glucose tolerance and acting as an antioxidant. You can buy many products that contain flaxseed, but a better bet is to buy ground flaxseed or grind it yourself in a coffee grinder and add it to your home cooked meals. The best part about flaxseed is that it can be stirred into virtually any dish, from soups to smoothies to baked goods. Store flaxseed in your freezer for optimum potency.
This pungent seasoning can do more than just flavor your food and ruin your breath. Garlic has the ability to lower your blood pressure by causing your blood vessels to relax and dilate. This lets blood flow more freely and reduces blood pressure.
You can add fresh garlic to a number of your favorite recipes. If the flavor of garlic is just too strong for you, roast it first. And if you simply can’t eat the stuff, you can get garlic in supplement form.
Ginger may help control blood pressure, as it has been shown to improve blood circulation and relax the muscles surrounding blood vessels. Commonly used in Asian foods, ginger is a very versatile ingredient that can also be used in sweets or beverages. Chop, mince, or grate fresh ginger into stir-fries, soups, and noodle or vegetable dishes, or add it to desserts or tea for a refreshing taste.
Hawthorn is an herbal remedy for high blood pressure that has been used in traditional Chinese medicines for thousands of years. Decoctions of hawthorn seem to have a whole host of benefits on cardiovascular health, including reduction of blood pressure, the prevention of clot formation, and an increase in blood circulation. You can take hawthorn as a pill, a liquid extract, or a tea.
Celery seed is an herb used to flavor soups, stews, casseroles, and other savory dishes. Celery has been long used to treat hypertension in China, but studies also show that it may be effective. You can use the seeds to lower blood pressure, but you can also juice the whole plant. Celery is a diuretic, which may help explain its effect on blood pressure.
The beautiful, perfume-like scent of lavender is not the only useful aspect of the plant. Oil of lavender has long been used as a perfume ingredient and also to induce relaxation. The herb may also lower your blood pressure. Although not many people think to use lavender as a culinary herb, you can use the flowers in baked goods and the leaves can be used in the same way you would use rosemary.
Cat’s claw is an herbal medicine used in traditional Chinese practice to treat hypertension as well as neurological health problems. Studies of cat’s claw as a treatment for hypertension indicate that it may be helpful in reducing blood pressure by acting on calcium channels in your cells. You can get cat’s claw in supplement form from many health food stores.
Due to its lack of symptoms, high blood pressure can inflict damage before you are even aware you have it, so don’t neglect regular blood pressure screenings. Sometimes treating this condition involves medication. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for you. It’s also important to discuss any herbs or supplements with your doctor before taking any. Additionally, don’t stop taking any prescribed medications without speaking with your healthcare provider.
You Asked, We Answered
- Can any herbs that potentially lower blood pressure negatively react with blood pressure medications?
Since there’s such a large variety of herbal remedies and so many different medications for blood pressure that are commonly prescribed today, this isn’t a simple question. However, there certainly exists the potential for negative herb-drug interactions and complications. My best advice is to discuss your specific herbal medications with your prescribing doctor (and vice versa), so that they will be aware of (and monitoring closely for) any potential interactions.- Dr. Steve Kim