Anyone with high blood pressure, of course, should consult with a physician before starting to use alternative remedies. Happily, though, most people with readings from 130/85 (high normal blood pressure) to 159/99 (the upper range of mild high blood pressure) can safely be treated with alternative methods, says Chris Meletis, dean of the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. (Although they, too, should periodically check in with a doctor.)
For people whose numbers fall within this range, a 12-point drop in systolic pressure (the first number in a reading, measuring how strongly blood is pumped from the heart as it contracts) is typically what drugs can achieve. But many non-drug therapies, whether taken singly or in combination, work just as well or even better—without the troublesome side effects. Here’s a look at the best of what the alternative world has to offer.
Try a vessel-relaxing herb
In a recent study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, 36 people with mild high blood pressure took either 500 milligrams (mg) of an extract of the herb hawthorn, 600 mg of magnesium (a mineral that relaxes arteries), a combination of the two, or a dummy pill. The hawthorn group showed the biggest decrease in blood pressure. “Hawthorn is rich in flavonoids, biochemicals that relax the musculature of the vessels, decreasing blood pressure,” says Ann Walker, lead author of the study and a senior lecturer in human nutrition at the University of Reading in England. She recommends the same daily dose as that used in the study: 500 mg of hawthorn extract, standardized for the flavonoid vitexin. “Watch out for powdered hawthorn tablets,” she adds. “They’re too weak to be useful.”
Eat a low-fat diet (and hold the salt)
You’ve doubtless heard this advice before, but it bears repeating, because the evidence for it is so impressive. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, volunteers followed the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Control Hypertension, an eating plan low in cholesterol and saturated fats, and rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products) and reduced their salt intake. (Salt increases the volume of blood, requiring higher pressure to pump it through the arteries.) After just 30 days, their systolic pressure dropped by 11.5 points. For long-lasting results, the researchers say, you need to stick with the diet.
Get friendly with garlic
This remedy hasn’t been proven beyond a doubt, but the circumstantial evidence for it is strong. “Garlic has a wide range of positive effects on circulation, thinning blood and dissolving blood fats,” says Farhang Khosh, a naturopathic physician and co-director of the Natural Medical Care Clinic in Lawrence, Kansas. “It may have a direct effect on blood pressure by affecting mineral metabolism in arterial muscles, relaxing them.” Indeed, studies have shown that people who eat lots of garlic-rich meals have lower blood pressure than those who don’t. As for garlic supplements, an article reviewing the results of eight small studies showed that they, too, can bring pressure down.
Give needles a try
Proponents of Chinese medicine have long believed that acupuncture can ease high blood pressure. Now scientists at Harvard Medical School are putting this notion to the test.
Physican Randall Zusman and his colleagues are studying a group of 192 patients who have been divided into three groups. One group received 12 weeks of acupuncture sessions with the needles moved from point to point according to the diagnostic criteria of traditional Chinese medicine; one got a protocol considered less effective, with the needles kept in a consistent position; and one got “sham” acupuncture, where the needles were placed in areas not involved in high blood pressure treatment.
Although final results aren’t in, Zusman says preliminary indications are positive. “We’ve had people drop 20, 30, and 40 systolic points,” he says. “We’ve had people with 170/100 blood pressure normalize. We’ve had people come off their medications. So we are enthusiastic about the possibility that acupuncture may be effective.”
Care with homemade or natural products are effective but you must bear in mind that you will not have immediate results. Any questions, remember that it is better to consult with your trusted doctor.
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