Perhaps no other test generates more anxiety than a blood pressure reading. In fact, for some people, getting tested in a medical setting causes a condition called white coat hypertension.
When you get weighed at the doctor’s office, sure, you may hesitantly step on to the scale if you know you’re overweight. But most people have a rough idea of what they weigh. Getting your blood sugar levels tested? A glucometer and pin prick may show high levels, but for most people, the reading doesn’t cause nearly as much dread as being told you have high blood pressure.
Approximately 103 million U.S. adults are living with hypertension (high blood pressure, HBP). The two biggest comorbidity factors with hypertension are heart attacks and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, the number of people diagnosed with high blood pressure in 2018 jumped 14 percent to 46 percent from 32 percent, in comparison to the previous year.
Why the huge increase? We’ll discuss the reasons why and reveal some natural ways to lower blood pressure. But first a quick medical disclaimer: If you take blood pressure medication, do not stop doing so, without first consulting with your doctor. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Now, before discussing natural ways to reduce blood pressure, let’s explore if you really need to lower your blood pressure in the first place and why millions more people are diagnosed with HBP in comparison to just a few years ago….
New Blood Pressure Guidelines Diagnose Millions More Americans With HBP
In 2018, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association created new blood pressure guidelines. The updated guidelines lowered the definition of high blood pressure. This is the simple reason why Americans diagnosed with HBP skyrocketed to 46% from 32% overnight.
The American College of Physicians wasn’t happy about the new guidelines. As MedPageToday reported, Amir Qaseem, MD, wrote the following in an editorial, responding to the new guidelines in the Annals of Internal Medicine:
“Are the harms, costs, and complexity of care associated with this new target justified by the presumed benefits of labeling nearly half the U.S. population as unwell and subjecting them to treatment? We think not and believe that many primary care providers and patients would agree.”
The updated 2018 blood pressure guidelines are:
- Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
- Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
- Stage 1: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89
- Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg
- Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120
Difference Between Old Guidelines and New Guidelines
The 2018 guidelines eliminated the category of prehypertension. This former category now divides patients in two tiers: Elevated (120-129 and less than 80) or Stage I hypertension (130-139 or 80-89).
Previous to the 2018 update, if your blood pressure measured 140/90 mm Hg, you were considered Stage 1 hypertension. Under the new guidelines, you are now considered Stage 2.
In response to these new guidelines, Dr. Qaseem and his co-authors added in the editorial, according to MedPage Today, “We believe that initiation of pharmacologic therapy at or above a BP of 130/80 mm Hg and treatment to targets less than 130/80 mm Hg in a broad population of older adults are not supported by evidence and may result in low-value care for several reasons,” they wrote.
In other words, as long as you have not had a previous heart attack or have other risk factors that warrant it, you really don’t need to take blood pressure medication if your reading is 140/90 or lower.
Should Everybody Have The Same Blood Pressure?
Another criticism of the 2018 updated blood pressure guidelines is its one-size-fits-all approach.
MedPage Today references this article in the New England Journal of Medicine by two University of Chicago medical doctors, who raise the following concern:
“Although the new guideline lowers the blood-pressure goal for people over 65, it suggests that 30-year-olds and 80-year-olds should have the same goal.” The problem with this, say the doctors, is that achieving that goal is impossible for many people.
This is especially true with people who have poor vascular compliance. If blood pressure gets too low in individuals with this condition, dizziness and compromised mental function can result.
Do You Really Have High Blood Pressure?
Take a look at the guidelines above. If you’re not stage 2 or hypertensive, according to the doctors quoted above (and plenty of others), you may not really be hypertensive.
Of course, if you have other chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, you are at more risk of dying prematurely from high blood pressure.
However, if you are otherwise healthy and don’t smoke, you may not actually have high blood pressure. So next time you get your blood pressure reading from a machine at a drugstore, don’t panic if the machine says you are hypertensive.
Test Your Blood Pressure Consistently
Also keep in mind that getting your blood pressure checked once in a blue moon isn’t a very accurate indicator of your true blood pressure.
You should check your blood pressure every day for a minimum of one week at the same time every day. The best time to take it is first thing in the morning.
One of the easiest ways to improve your blood pressure is to test on your right arm rather than your left. That’s because your heart is closer to your left arm. If you get tested on your left arm at the doctor’s office, your reading may be 10-15 points higher simply because it’s your left side. (Throw in white coat anxiety and your score could be even higher!)
When you take your own blood pressure at home, make sure your right arm is at a 90-degree position. Record your readings every day. After a week or two of testing, you can calculate your average blood pressure reading.
Does Evidence Show Taking Blood Pressure Medication Helps?
According to some studies, for some people not really. For example, research in the British Medical Journal says that if 850 mildly hypertensive patients are given blood pressure lowering drugs for one year only one stroke will be prevented.
The study authors said of this result, “This is an important but an infrequent benefit.” Furthermore, the researchers were concerned not only about the ineffectiveness but also potential side effects:
“Its [blood pressure lowering drugs] achievement subjected a substantial percentage of the patients to chronic side effects, mostly but not all minor. Treatment did not appear to save lives or substantially alter the overall risk of coronary heart disease.”
Cochrane reviews are considered the gold standard in research studies. This review by the organization, which does not does not accept commercial or conflicted funding, concludes, “At present, evidence is insufficient to justify lower blood pressure targets to less than 135/85 mmHg in people with hypertension and established cardiovascular disease.”
Natural Ways To Lower Blood Pressure
In addition to the obvious recommendations to lower blood pressure (don’t smoke, exercise, eat a healthy diet), there are other things you can do that may help lower blood pressure.
Here are 7 ways:
As mentioned, take your blood pressure first thing in the morning. Do so at the same time every day. And take the measurement from your right arm at a 90-degree angle. Record your results for a minimum of 1-2 weeks to get a baseline average.
Practice deep breathing
This is one trick you can do when you get to the doctors office. Take a deep breath in for 4-5 seconds. Make sure you’re inflating your belly like a balloon. Try to inflate your lungs as well. Then, exhale for 4-5 seconds. Repeat for a cycle of 25 breaths.
Like deep breathing, meditation has been clinically-proven to help lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. (Here’s a review of 19 studies on the subject.) Although there are several different ways to meditate, you can do so simply by focusing on doing deep breathing.
Are you somebody who doesn’t enjoy exercise, or simply can’t do it because you have too much pain. Then good news because you can lower your blood pressure by sitting on your couch. To do so, simply make a fist as hard as you can. This type of tension is referred to as isometric, which has been shown in research to lower blood pressure. For more advanced isometric exercises, you can perform static wall squats or planks. Perform 3 sets of isometric exercise a few times a day.
Drink Tart Cherry Juice
Drinking tart cherry juice (one-quarter cup with water) for 12 weeks lowers systolic blood pressure, according to this study published in Nutrients.
Get more potassium in your diet
If you eat a lot of packaged/processed foods, you’re most likely getting too much sodium in your diet. High sodium diets can cause high blood pressure. Sodium and potassium perform a see-saw balancing act in cells. And according to this study, taking a potassium supplement can lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension who are not on low-sodium level diets. Also, research shows that potassium depletion raises blood pressure in people who already are diagnosed with hypertension.
An article in Nature says that magnesium lowers blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide. This gas, which is found in every cell in our body, expands blood vessels, making it easier for blood to flow through. Magnesium benefits the heart and muscles.
How To Lower Blood Pressure: Conclusion
If you’re otherwise healthy, getting a blood pressure score that puts you in stage 1 or even stage 2 hypertension should not cause you to panic. Blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day. Did you drink a couple cups of coffee before your reading? Did you exercise within the last few hours? Were you cut off in traffic or thinking about a stressful work situation? These factors can—and should—raise your blood pressure.
Situational elevated blood pressure is an intelligent adaptation of the body; it’s not a disease. However, chronic elevated readings may indicate other underlying causes. If you want to find the root causes of high blood pressure, seek the advice of a functional/integrative medical doctor, naturopathic doctor, chiropractor, or other complementary medicine health professional.