Overview

Many adults around the world deal with hypertension, also called high blood pressure. Due to the recent changes in guidelines, nearly half of American adults will now be characterized as having high blood pressure. Experts recommend treating the condition with lifestyle changes and medications.

If you’re thinking of trying herbs for medical reasons, whether it’s the whole herb or a supplement, speak to your doctor first. Currently, there are no herbs regularly recommended by high blood pressure specialists. Some herbs, especially in large quantities, may produce undesirable side effects or interfere with other medications.

Read on to learn more about herbs and the research surrounding them.

1. Basil

Basil is a delicious herb that goes well in a variety of foods. It also might help lower your blood pressure. In rodents, basil extract has been shown to lower blood pressure, although only briefly. The chemical eugenol, which is found in basil, may block certain substances that tighten blood vessels. This may lead to a drop in blood pressure. More studies are needed.

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.

2. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is another tasty seasoning that requires little effort to include in your daily diet, and it may bring your blood pressure numbers down. One study done in rodents suggested that cinnamon extract lowered both sudden-onset and prolonged high blood pressure. However, the extract was given intravenously. It’s unclear if cinnamon consumed orally is also effective.

You can 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.

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3. Cardamom

Cardamom is a seasoning that comes from India and is often used in South Asian cuisine. A small study of 20 people investigating the health effects of cardamom found that participants with high blood pressure saw significant reductions in their blood pressure readings after taking 1.5 grams of cardamom powder twice a day for 12 weeks. You can include cardamom seeds or powder in spice rubs, soups and stews, and even baked goods for a special flavor and a possible positive health benefit.

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4. Flax seed

Flax seed is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and has been shown in some studies to lower blood pressure. A recent review suggested taking 30–50 grams of whole or ground seeds per day for more than 12 weeks to get the best benefits. Flax seed 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 flax seed, but a better bet is to buy whole or ground flax seed and add it to your home-cooked meals. The best part about flax seed is that it can be stirred into virtually any dish, from soups to smoothies to baked goods. Storing flax seed in your freezer may help it retain optimum potency.

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5. Garlic

This pungent seasoning can do more than just flavor your food and ruin your breath. Garlic may have the ability to lower your blood pressure by helping to increase a substance in the body known as nitric oxide, which can cause 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 is just too strong for you, roast the garlic first. And if you simply can’t eat the stuff, you can get garlic in supplement form.

6. Ginger

Ginger may help control blood pressure. In animal studies it has been shown to improve blood circulation and relax the muscles surrounding blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. Human studies so far have been inconclusive. Commonly used in Asian foods, ginger is a versatile ingredient that can also be added to 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.

7. Hawthorn

Hawthorn is an herbal remedy for high blood pressure that has been used in traditional Chinese medicines for thousands of years. In rodents, extracts of hawthorn seem to have a whole host of benefits on cardiovascular health, including helping reduce blood pressure, preventing hardening of the arteries, and lowering cholesterol. You can take hawthorn as a pill, liquid extract, or tea.

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8. Celery seed

Celery seed is an herb used to flavor soups, stews, casseroles, and other savory dishes. Celery has long been used to treat hypertension in China, and studies in rodents have shown that it may be effective. You can use the seeds, or you can juice the whole plant. Celery may also be a diuretic, which may help explain its effect on blood pressure. Researchers believe that a variety of substances in celery may play a role in lowering blood pressure. However, human studies are needed.

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9. French lavender

The beautiful, perfume-like scent of lavender is not the only useful aspect of the plant. Lavender extracts have been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure in rodents. Although not many people think to use lavender as a culinary herb, you can use the flowers in baked goods. The leaves can be used in the same way you would use rosemary.

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10. Cat’s claw

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 in rodents 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.

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Understanding high blood pressure

According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of American adults now have blood pressure levels that would be described as high.

A number of factors contribute to elevated blood pressure, such as:

Because it’s largely symptomless, hypertension is known as the “silent killer.” This is why it’s so important to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Having high blood pressure increases your risk of several health problems, such as:

Takeaway

Due to its lack of symptoms, high blood pressure can inflict damage before you’re 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, which may include medication, lifestyle changes, or alternative treatments. It’s important to discuss any herbs or supplements with your doctor before taking them. Additionally, don’t stop taking any prescribed medications without speaking with your healthcare provider.

It’s important to remember that there’s not enough evidence to recommend taking herbal supplements instead of prescription medications to treat high blood pressure. Very few studies with plants and herbs have been done in humans. Research has not been able to establish side effects, doses, or long-term effects of these supplements.

Q&A: Drug interactions

Q:

Can any herbs that potentially lower blood pressure negatively react with blood pressure medications?

A:

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, so that they will be aware of, and monitor closely for, any potential interactions.

Dr. Steve KimAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

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