Complementary and Alternative Treatments for High Blood Pressure
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.
Malignant hypertension is extremely high blood pressure that develops rapidly and causes some type of organ damage. "Normal" blood pressure is below 140/90. A person with malignant hypertension has a blood pressure that's typically above 180/120. Malignant hypertension should be treated as a medical emergency.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to lower your blood pressure is to eat a healthy diet, such as the DASH diet. Doctors recommend:
Eating more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods
Cutting back on foods that are high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat
Eating more whole grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts
Eating less red meat and sweets
Eating foods that are rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium
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 efficacy 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.