© Martin Šandera | Dreamstime.com
Fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and low-fat/fat-free dairy products, are cornerstones of the heart- and blood-pressure-friendly DASH diet. Not only are they generally low in sodium, but many of them are good sources of other nutrients that are associated with lower blood pressure:
- Potassium: Good dietary sources include bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, winter squash, apricots, citrus fruits, orange juice, avocados, cantaloupe, yogurt, prunes, and lima beans. All meats and fish (salmon, cod, sardines) also provide some potassium.
- Calcium: Good dietary sources include low-fat/fat-free milk, yogurt, or cheese; canned sardines; calcium-enriched orange juice; and fortified cereals.
- Magnesium: Good dietary sources include dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach; fruits and vegetables such as bananas, avocados, and dried apricots; low-fat/fat-free milk; potatoes; peas and beans; nuts such as almonds and cashews; and whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal, and millet.
In addition to potassium, magnesium, and calcium, several other nutrients have been studied for their effects on blood pressure, although further research is necessary to confirm their potential benefits.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have been shown to lower blood fats known as triglycerides and reduce the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, and they also may offer some blood-pressure benefits, some research suggests.
EPA and DHA are found abundantly in fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna. Diets plentiful in omega-3-rich fish have been associated with reductions in cardiovascular risk. The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3½-ounce servings of non-fried fish (preferably fatty fish) a week. Overall, experts recommend getting omega-3s from your diet rather than from omega-3-rich fish oil supplements. Talk to your doctor before taking fish oil supplements.
You might not necessarily think of bacteria as being boons for your health. Actually, the mere thought of bacteria may conjure up associations with infection and illness. However, your body actually relies on certain bacteria to help fight off disease and regulate your digestive system. Additionally, ingesting probiotic bacteria may help lower your blood pressure, some evidence suggests. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in supplements and fortified foods such as yogurt.
In one investigation, researchers reported that regular consumption of probiotics, compared with non-consumption, was associated with an average 3.56 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure and 2.38 mmHg reduction in diastolic pressure. The beneficial effects occurred only with probiotics containing multiple types and higher concentrations of bacteria consumed regularly for at least eight weeks and were greatest in people with blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher, the study found. If you want to try probiotics, look for yogurt and other products containing the “live and active cultures” label.
In addition to its well-established benefits for bone health, vitamin D has been studied for potential effects on blood pressure. Some research has suggested a link between low levels of vitamin D and hypertension and that increasing vitamin D levels may help reduce blood pressure.
However, in a meta-analysis of 46 trials involving 4,541 participants, researchers reported that supplemental vitamin D had no effect on reducing systolic or diastolic blood pressure (JAMA Internal Medicine, May 2015). However, more recent investigations found no benefit from taking vitamin D supplements to prevent cardiovascular disease.
So, while you need vitamin D for bone and muscle health, it’s unclear whether taking additional vitamin D can help your heart and blood pressure. Medical experts recommend that all adults ages 70 and younger get 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day and those ages 71 and older should get 800 IU daily. About 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure three times a week without sunscreen is sufficient to meet most people’s vitamin D requirements—your skin can synthesize vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Dietary sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, mackerel, flounder, eggs, and D-fortified juices, milk, yogurt, and ready-to-eat cereals.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
CoQ10 is an enzyme and a powerful antioxidant found in all human cells, where it’s used for cell growth, energy, and other basic functions. Some studies suggest that CoQ10 may have some blood-pressure-lowering effects, but exactly how it reduces blood pressure is unclear. Some studies have found that CoQ10 supplements are generally well-tolerated and can help some patients discontinue or significantly reduce their dose of blood pressure medications; however, other studies have found no such benefits. In fact, in one review of the medical literature, researchers provided “moderate-quality evidence that coenzyme Q10 does not have a clinically significant effect on blood pressure” (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, March 3, 2016).
Garlic does more than add flavor to many of your favorite foods. It also might help to reduce blood pressure. Your kidneys produce the hormone angiotensin, which plays a role in blood vessel constriction. Blood pressure drugs known as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors work by blocking the conversion of angiotensin to its blood-vessel-constricting form (angiotensin II), thus lowering blood pressure. Garlic contains gamma-glutamylcysteine, a natural ACE inhibitor, which, combined with other components, gives garlic an ability to dilate arteries and potentially reduce blood pressure.
In a meta-analysis of nine studies, researchers reported that systolic and diastolic blood pressure were more effectively reduced in people treated with garlic preparations versus those given a placebo. However, “Although evidence from this review suggests that garlic preparations may lower BP in hypertensive individuals, the evidence is not strong,” the researchers concluded (American Journal of Hypertension, March 2015).
Aside from bad breath and garlicky body odor, garlic’s main side effects include upset stomach, heartburn, diarrhea, and nausea. Also, garlic can thin the blood, so if you’re taking blood-thinning medications—such as aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), and apixaban (Eliquis)—talk to your doctor before adding garlic to your diet or taking garlic supplements, and be aware of your increased bleeding risk.
To learn about high blood pressure symptoms, risk factors and treatment, purchase Managing Your Blood Pressure at www.UniversityHealthNews.com.