There are many different types of complementary and alternative treatments believed to be effective for treating high blood pressure (hypertension). Scientific evidence indicates that a diet that is low in saturated fat and salt and rich in complex carbohydrates (vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruits), increased physical activity, and regular practice of relaxation techniques such as yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong, can help to lower high blood pressure.
Diet to Lower High Blood Pressure
Physical Activity to Lower Blood Pressure
A solid body of evidence shows that men and women of all age groups who are physically active have a decreased risk of developing high blood pressure. Findings from multiple studies indicate that exercise can lower blood pressure as much as some drugs can. People with mild and moderately elevated blood pressure who exercise 30 to 60 minutes three to four days per week (walking, jogging, cycling, or a combination) may be able to significantly decrease their blood pressure readings.
Blood Pressure, Breathing, and Stress Management
Blood pressure increases when a person is under emotional stress and tension, but whether or not psychological interventions aimed at stress reduction can decrease blood pressure in patients with hypertension is not clear.
Nevertheless, recent studies suggest that ancient relaxation methods that include controlled breathing and gentle physical activity, such as yoga, Qigong, and Tai Chi, are beneficial. People with mild hypertension who practiced these healing techniques daily for two to three months experienced significant decreases in their blood pressure, had lower levels of stress hormones, and were less anxious.
The results of a recent small study suggest that a daily practice of slow breathing (15 minutes a day for 8 weeks) brought about a substantial reduction in blood pressure. However, these findings need to be confirmed in larger and better-designed studies before these ancient healing techniques are recommended as effective non-pharmacological approaches to treating hypertension. Still, possible benefits, coupled with minimal risks, make these gentle practices a worthwhile activity to incorporate into a healthy lifestyle.
Note: It is important that inactive older people or those with chronic health problems be evaluated by their doctor before starting a program of any physical activity, including Tai Chi, Qigong, or yoga.
Herbal Therapies for High Blood Pressure
The effectiveness and safety of herbal therapies, such as Rauwolfia serpentina (snakeroot), Stephania tetrandra (tetrandrine), Panax notoginseng (ginseng), and Crataegus species (hawthorn) for treating high blood pressure have not been extensively studied. Because of potential health risks associated with these herbs, it is imperative that you inform your doctor if you plan to use or are already using them. This is even more important if these herbs are used in combination with high blood pressure drugs. Some herbs, such as licorice, ephedra (Ma Huang), and yohimbine (from the bark of a West African tree) should not be used by people with hypertension, because they can increase blood pressure.
Supplements to Lower Blood Pressure
Some supplements have been evaluated as blood pressure-lowering options, including:
- Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): People with mild high blood pressure who were taking CoQ10 experienced a significant drop in their blood pressure without appreciable side effects. In addition, CoQ10 appears to reduce blood pressure by a different mechanism than major antihypertensive drugs.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Some studies report that EPA and DHA may reduce blood pressure in people with mild hypertension. However, other studies have had conflicting results. Current evidence suggests that modest reductions of blood pressure may occur with significantly higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Amino acids: It has been suggested that the diet supplement L-arginine may lower blood pressure; however, the few studies conducted to date were small and not well-controlled, and suggest that L-arginine may lower blood pressure for only a short period of time. Another amino acid, L-taurine, may also have blood pressure-lowering qualities.
Talk to your doctor before starting any medication, including these supplements, which may be available without a prescription. The risks and benefits of every medicine (including over-the-counter drugs) must be carefully weighed on an individual basis.
Acupuncture for High Blood Pressure
Extensive research on the effectiveness of acupuncture for lowering blood pressure has been reported, but many studies have considerable weaknesses. More rigorously controlled research is needed to determine the value of acupuncture as a treatment for hypertension. At this time, there is no evidence that acupuncture reliably lowers high blood pressure.