High blood pressure (hypertension) is increasingly becoming common in India. It has been estimated that 10-25% of adults in India have high blood pressure or prehypertension.(1) Although there are many effective medicines that a doctor might prescribe for its treatment, they usually come with a slew of side effects.
There are many proven natural and non-pharmacological ways to reduce blood pressure, but there are many myths about what works and what does not. Here’s a list of natural remedies against hypertension that have been scientifically proven to work.
- Reduce salt: Reducing the amount of sodium (salt) in your diet is perhaps one of the most well-known and effective strategies that you can use to control high blood pressure. Most people typically consume 9–12 gm of salt per day, which is higher than the 5 gm recommended by the World Health Organisation. (2) Cut the added salt in half and/or use low-sodium salt.
- Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate (70% cocoa or above) has beneficial compounds called polyphenols and flavonoids. These compounds not only reduce blood pressure but also help improve other parameters related to various heart diseases. (3,4)
- Berries: One portion of berries daily, in addition to your regular healthy diet, adds that extra punch in the form of polyphenols, thereby helping you improve your cardiovascular health. (4)
- Cut sugary soft drinks: Many studies have found that drinking soda or beverages that have sugar increases your risk of weight gain and hypertension because of the high levels of sugar in them. (5) The next time you are thirsty, maybe give sugar-free iced tea a try instead (without the extra sugar, of course!).
- Whey protein: Adding whey protein (56 g/d) to your diet can help lower your blood pressure; additionally, it can also improve other parameters of cardiovascular and metabolic health. (6)
- Garlic: Garlic is an effective and safe approach to improve your blood pressure. While the effect may be only a few mmHg, adding garlic to your food makes it both healthy and delicious. (7)
- Yoga and meditation: Stress is very strongly linked to hypertension. Therefore, anything that reduces stress has undeniable benefits in lowering your blood pressure. Incorporate practices like yoga, meditation and pranayama in your daily life. (8)
To coffee or not to coffee: It is true that coffee (or caffeine in any form, including tea and soft drinks) increases the blood pressure, but the increase is very slight (often only by a few mmHg). Also, different individuals respond to coffee differently, and some studies have found no influence of caffeine on blood pressure. (5) In summary, at present, there is no strong link between caffeine and hypertension.
What does not work
Many of the foods recommended online, or by friends and colleagues, don’t hold their weight when tested in large clinical studies. Some examples of such foods or supplements that lack evidence to support them, or are inconclusive at best, are mushrooms, probiotics and prebiotics, fish oil, onion extract, additional calcium intake, and hibiscus tea.
Although these 7 natural strategies are effective, remember that a healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss are indispensable parts of your anti-hypertensive lifestyle. Any natural remedies can only be add-ons.
- Gupta R, Guptha S, Gupta VP, et al. Twenty-year trends in cardiovascular risk factors in India and influence of educational status. European journal of preventive cardiology. 2012;19(6):1258-71.
- Rust P, Ekmekcioglu C. Impact of salt intake on the pathogenesis and treatment of hypertension. In Hypertension: from basic research to clinical practice 2016 (pp. 61-84). Springer, Cham.
- Hooper L, Kroon PA, Rimm EB, et al. Flavonoids, flavonoid-rich foods, and cardiovascular risk: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2008;88(1):38-50.
- Noad RL, Rooney C, McCall D, et al. Beneficial effect of a polyphenol-rich diet on cardiovascular risk: a randomised control trial. Heart. 2016;102(17):1371-9.
- Joost S, De Ridder D, Marques-Vidal P, Bacchilega B, Theler JM, Gaspoz JM, et al. Detecting overlapping spatial clusters of high sugar-sweetened beverage intake and high body mass index in a general population: a cross-sectional study. bioRxiv. 2018 Jan 1:399584.
- Fekete AA, Giromini C, Chatzidiakou Y, et al. Whey protein lowers blood pressure and improves endothelial function and lipid biomarkers in adults with prehypertension and mild hypertension: results from the chronic Whey2Go randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition. 2016;104(6):1534-44.
- Xiong XJ, Wang PQ, Li SJ, Li XK, Zhang YQ, Wang J. Garlic for hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Phytomedicine. 2015 Mar 15;22(3):352-61.
- Hagins M, Selfe T, Innes K. Effectiveness of yoga for hypertension: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2013;2013.
- Wikoff D, Welsh BT, Henderson R, et al. Systematic review of the potential adverse effects of caffeine consumption in healthy adults, pregnant women, adolescents, and children. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2017;109:585-648.