One of the best ways to lower your blood pressure is to look at your diet first. But this isn’t about taking things away; you can also eat more of the things that help lower blood pressure.
What foods lower blood pressure? One important group is those that contain polyphenols–such as berries.
Polyphenols are a large, diverse family of phytochemicals (chemicals in plants). Polyphenols’ benefits to health are numerous and are particularly profound in terms of cardiovascular health. Like vitamins and minerals, we take in polyphenols through our diets (or from supplements). Unlike essential vitamins and minerals, however, polyphenols do not cause classical deficiencies; rather, they are needed to achieve a full lifespan by reducing the risk of a range of chronic diseases, including hypertension.
Polyphenols’ benefits come from their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and blood vessel dilating properties
Scientists used to believe polyphenols’ benefits came from their potent antioxidant properties: polyphenols are powerful antioxidants and the most abundant antioxidants in our diet. But newer research shows they improve health in many ways in addition to acting as antioxidants to decrease oxidative stress. For example, they have the ability to improve blood vessel function and dilate blood vessels, alter the immune system, and decrease inflammation.
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Eating a diet that includes plenty of polyphenols benefits cardiovascular health and helps treat hypertension
People who consume the most polyphenols as part of their regular diet have been shown to have the lowest blood pressure. In fact, of all aspects of diet, the overall amount of polyphenols the diet contains seems to be the most important in terms of blood pressure control. All fruits and vegetables contain polyphenols, but certain plant foods, such as berries, cocoa, tea, pomegranate, olives, and grapes, contain especially high amounts of polyphenols. People who regularly consume these foods as part of their diets tend to fare best when it comes to cardiovascular health.
Food rich in anthocyanins, specific types of flavonoid polyphenols, benefits high blood pressure the most
Of the many types of polyphenols, flavonoids, in particular, have been shown to lower blood pressure and exert other actions in the body that help protect the heart and blood vessels from disease. But it gets even more specific than that. Certain berries contain a specific type of flavonoid, called anthocyanins, that researchers from Harvard Medical School discovered are highly beneficial for hypertension. Anthocyanins are the pigments responsible for the red, purple, and blue color of many berries.
The Harvard researchers found that anthocyanins were the primary flavonoid associated with polyphenols’ benefits to blood pressure. Increased intake of anthocyanins–mainly from blueberries and strawberries–reduced the risk of hypertension of up to 12 percent. The investigators followed 133,914 women and 23,043 men for an average of fourteen years, calculating intakes of various classes of flavonoids using food frequency questionnaires performed every four years. The highest average intakes of anthocyanins (from 16.2 to 21.0 milligrams per day) were associated with an 8 percent decrease in the risk of hypertension in all subjects and a 12 percent reduction in risk for people over the age of 60, compared with the lowest average intakes, which ranged from 5.7 to 6.8.
Even if just once a week, consuming blueberries’ polyphenols benefits blood pressure
Just one serving of blueberries per week significantly reduced the risk of high blood pressure by 10 percent in those over 60 compared with people in the same age group consuming no blueberries. In addition to blueberries, anthocyanins are present in other commonly consumed fruits and berries, such as cranberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Blood oranges and black currants also contain very high levels of anthocyanins, according to the researchers.
Hibiscus tea also lowers blood pressure due to anthocyanin content
Another way to get polyphenols’ benefits on blood pressure is to drink hibiscus tea. Hibiscus is high in anthocyanins in randomized controlled trials, the daily consumption of a hibiscus tea or extract produced from the deep magenta-colored calyces (sepals) of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower significantly lowered blood pressure in adults with pre- to moderate hypertension. In another study, hibiscus tea was as effective at lowering blood pressure as the commonly used blood pressure medication captropril, but less effective than lisinopril.
How to take advantage of dietary polyphenols’ benefits for lowering blood pressure
Berries freeze well and can be enjoyed all year long in smoothies, -in yogurt, and in salads. The internet is a great resource for hot or iced hibiscus tea recipes. And don’t forget to indulge in polyphenol-rich exotic spices, pomegranate juice, and dark chocolate for your heart health, either. To learn more about polyphenols’ benefits other natural remedies for blood pressure, view our resources.
Originally published in 2013, this blog has been updated.