Take Down Hypertension: How to Reduce Your High Blood Pressure

Medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine on August 26, 2016Written by Christine Cristiano and Ana Gotter

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. It’s often called a “silent killer.” You can have hypertension without even knowing it because it often presents with no symptoms. When blood pressure is uncontrolled for a long time, it significantly increases your risk of having a heart attack, stroke, and other life-threatening conditions.

A normal blood pressure reading falls below 120/80 mm Hg, advises the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes, medications, supplements, or other treatment options.

What causes high blood pressure?

High blood pressure can have a variety of causes. Causes can include genetics, poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, alcohol, and certain medications. Your risk also increases with age. As you get older, your artery walls lose their elasticity.

If you have high blood pressure from unknown causes, it’s called essential or primary hypertension. If kidney disease or another medical condition causes your hypertension, it’s called secondary hypertension.

Eat a healthy diet

Your doctor may encourage you to change your eating habits to help lower your blood pressure. The American Heart Association endorses the DASH diet, which stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension.” This diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean sources of protein. It’s low in saturated and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium. You should also reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.

Eat less sodium

According to the Mayo Clinic, reducing your sodium intake can lower your blood pressure by 2 to 8 mm Hg. Sodium causes your body to retain fluids. This increases the volume of your blood and the pressure in your blood vessels.

Most healthy people should limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (mg) or less per day. If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, you should eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. You should also limit your sodium intake to 1,500 mg daily if you’re African-American or over 50 years old.

Eat more potassium

Potassium is an important mineral for good health. It helps lessen the effects of sodium in your body. Eating enough potassium can help control your blood pressure.

According to the American Heart Association, the average adult should consume about 4,700 mg of potassium per day. Foods that are rich in potassium include:

  • white beans
  • white potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • greens, such as spinach
  • bananas
  • dried apricots
  • oranges
  • salmon

Ask your doctor how much potassium you need. It’s important to get enough potassium in your diet. But eating too much of it may be harmful, especially if you have certain medical conditions, like chronic kidney disease.

Get regular exercise

On top of eating a well-balanced diet, it’s essential to get regular exercise. In a review article published in the journal Sports Medicine, researchers report that low to moderate exercise training can help reduce high blood pressure.

How much exercise do you need? The American Heart Association encourages most healthy adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. If you have high blood pressure, try to get at least 40 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise on three to four days per week.

Lose weight

Gaining weight increases the risk of hypertension. For overweight patients (BMI >25), losing weight has been shown to decrease blood pressure up to 10 mm Hg.

Even gradual weight loss can benefit your blood pressure levels, reducing or preventing hypertension. The American Heart Association says that even a 10-pound loss can provide health benefits. Consult your doctor on the healthiest way to lose weight for you.

Reduce alcohol intake

Alcohol intake has a direct relationship with blood pressure. Encouraging moderate alcohol intake is important. While a glass of red wine can offer some health benefits, moderation isn’t just for hard liquor. Regular and heavy intake of alcohol can increase blood pressure dramatically.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting alcohol intake to two drinks a day for men and one a day for women. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, four ounces of wine, and one ounce of hard liquor.

Stop smoking

Smoking can contribute or even cause a large number of cardiovascular diseases. Each cigarette that you smoke temporarily raises your blood pressure. While research has not yet proven that smoking has a long-term effect on blood pressure, there is a direct link between smoking and immediate hypertension. It’s also thought that it could have a detrimental effect on central blood pressure, which can result in organ damage.

If you want to stop smoking, ask your doctor for recommendations about nicotine gum, patches, or support groups that focus on quitting smoking.

Get enough vitamin C, D

High doses of vitamin C may help reduce high blood pressure, report scientists from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Vitamin C may act as a diuretic, removing excess fluid from your body. This may help reduce the pressure on your blood vessel walls.

Vitamin D is also essential to your overall health. According to a review article published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, vitamin D deficiency may raise your risk of hypertension. It’s possible that taking vitamin D supplements might help lower your blood pressure.

Reduce stress

Reducing your overall stress can directly impact hypertension. High levels of stress sustained over long periods of time can have negative effects on your hypertension and overall health.

Acupuncture has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine to treat many conditions. It’s also used for stress relief and promoting relaxation. Research suggests it may help relieve certain conditions, including high blood pressure. A study published in the journal Acupuncture & Electro-Therapeutics Research suggests that acupuncture may help lower blood pressure when used in combination with antihypertensive medications.

Meditation is also thought to help relieve stress or anxiety, even if you can only meditate a few times a day. Deep breathing exercises, whether combined with meditation or used alone, can also be effective, as they reduce the heart rate and forcibly lower blood pressure.

If you’re unable to cut out stress from your life, consulting a therapist can be helpful. They can offer stress management techniques that can prevent the stress from impacting your health.

Connect with your healthcare provider

Healthy blood pressure levels are important for lowering your chances of developing heart disease.

Get your blood pressure checked regularly. If you’re diagnosed with hypertension, follow your doctor’s recommendations to lower your blood pressure. They may prescribe medications, supplements, changes to your diet or exercise routine, or other treatment strategies.

Always talk to your doctor before changing your treatment plan. They can help you understand the potential benefits and risks of treatment options.

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