You can help lower high blood pressure by increasing your physical activity, limiting your salt intake and reducing your alcohol consumption. However, you may also need to take medication. The herb Pycnogenol may help lower high blood pressure, but evidence to prove that it works is limited. Do not use it in place of anti-hypertensive drugs that your doctor prescribes for you. Pycnogenol has not been tested by the Food and Drug Administration, which recommends that pregnant women don't use any herbs without consulting a doctor.
Pycnogenol - Properties and Administration
Pycnogenol is extracted from the bark of the French maritime pine tree and used as an alternative remedy for a variety of conditions, including erectile dysfunction, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, chronic venous insufficiency and hypertension. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center notes that Pycnogenol may increase the production of nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to dilate thus aiding blood flow. The amount you need to take to lower high blood pressure may depend on your age and overall health. Your doctor can advise you on the correct dosage.
Pycnogenol - Side Effects and Contraindications
RxList notes that taking 120mg to 450mg Pycnogenol daily for up to six months may be safe but adds that larger doses may not be. Side effects may include dizziness, headache and mouth ulcers. Do not use this herb if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or suffer from an immune disorder. It may also interact with immunosuppressants.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Many factors can affect blood pressure, including:
- How much water and salt you have in your body
- The condition of your kidneys, nervous system, or blood vessels
- The levels of different body hormones
You have a higher risk of high blood pressure if you:
- Are African American
- Are obese
- Are often stressed or anxious
- Drink too much alcohol (more than one drink per day for women and more than two drinks per day for men)
- Eat too much salt in your diet
- Have a family history of high blood pressure
- Have diabetes
High blood pressure that is caused by another medical condition or medication is called secondary hypertension. Secondary hypertension may be due to:
- Chronic kidney disease
- Disorders of the adrenal gland (pheochromocytoma or Cushing syndrome)
- Pregnancy (see: preeclampsia)
- Medications such as birth control pills, diet pills, some cold medications, and migraine medications
- Narrowed artery that supplies blood to the kidney (renal artery stenosis)
Classification of blood pressure for adults
Category ——– SBP (mm Hg diastolic )———- (mm Hg)
Optimal ——— <120 —– ——- and <80
———- Normal <130 —– ——- and <85
High normal 130-139 or 85-89 — ——– —-
RAP Stage 1 140-159 or 90-99 — — ——–
Stage 2 RAP — — 160 to 179 or 100-109 ——–
Stage 3 RAP — —— ——– 180 + or 110 +
* According to the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and treatment of hypertension.
Nutrition and Supplements
The DASH diet, developed by researchers at the National Institutes of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is based on a large-scale research study that identified the foods that affect blood pressure (visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/hbp/dash/new_dash.pdf for more information). The most important parts of the DASH are generous amounts of fruits and vegetables and low-fat or fat-free dairy products that provide adequate calcium. The diet is also relatively low in fat and sodium. DASH researchers have shown that diets rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium, and low in sodium (2,400 mg or less), play an important role in high blood pressure treatment. People with high blood pressure should incorporate the components of the DASH diet into their daily routine.
In addition, make sure you do the following to lower high blood pressure:
- Eat 8 to 10 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
- Limit animal protein to 6 oz per day, emphasizing lean sources.
- Say no to salt. Those with salt sensitivity or a family history or hypertension may benefit from reducing salt to about one teaspoon a day (2,400 mg).
- Use garlic, which has a modest effect on lowering blood pressure and may help relax blood vessels.
- Consume 4 to 5 servings of nuts, seeds and dry beans per week (2 Tbsp nuts or seeds, or 1/2 cup cooked dried beans).
- Eat plenty of fish. Include at least three servings of fish a week, emphasizing cold-water fish like wild Alaskan salmon and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Take fish-oil supplements if you cannot get enough omega-3-rich foods.
- Take calcium and magnesium. Inadequate intake of both of these minerals has been associated with high blood pressure. Women should get between 1,000 and 1,200 mg of calcium a day from all sources, while men may want to get no more than 500-600 mg daily from all sources.
- Take vitamin C. A supplement of this antioxidant vitamin has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension.
Certain factors can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure:
- Stress can cause hypertension by activating the sympathetic nervous system, causing the arteries to maintain a more rigid tone.
- Eating large amounts of sodium can cause excess water retention, expand blood volume and ultimately increase blood pressure.
- Caffeine acts as a cardiovascular stimulant and raises blood pressure.
- A diet low in calcium, magnesium and potassium can increase blood pressure.
- Insulin resistance can increase blood pressure by causing the kidneys to retain sodium.
- Regular alcohol intake can increase blood pressure.
- Being overweight increases blood pressure.
- Medications. Some prescription drugs, including steroids, birth control pills, decongestants, NSAIDS and diet pills can raise blood pressure. Some over-the-counter medicines, such as those containing licorice root, ephedra, guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, ginseng and yohimbe, may also raise blood pressure.
Medications to treat high blood pressure
- Thiazide diuretics. Diuretics, sometimes called "water pills," are medications that act on your kidneys to help your body eliminate sodium and water, reducing blood volume. Thiazide diuretics are often the first — but not the only — choice in high blood pressure medications. If you're not taking a diuretic and your blood pressure remains high, talk to your doctor about adding one or replacing a drug you currently take with a diuretic.
- Beta blockers. These medications reduce the workload on your heart and open your blood vessels, causing your heart to beat slower and with less force. When prescribed alone, beta blockers don't work as well in blacks or in the elderly — but they're effective when combined with a thiazide diuretic.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These medications help relax blood vessels by blocking the formation of a natural chemical that narrows blood vessels.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers. These medications help relax blood vessels by blocking the action — not the formation — of a natural chemical that narrows blood vessels.
- Calcium channel blockers. These medications help relax the muscles of your blood vessels. Some slow your heart rate. Calcium channel blockers may work better for blacks and older adults than do ACE inhibitors or beta blockers alone. A word of caution for grapefruit lovers, though. Grapefruit juice interacts with some calcium channel blockers, increasing blood levels of the medication and putting you at higher risk of side effects. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you're concerned about interactions.
- Renin inhibitors. Aliskiren (Tekturna) slows down the production of renin, an enzyme produced by your kidneys that starts a chain of chemical steps that increases blood pressure. Tekturna works by reducing the ability of renin to begin this process.
- Alpha blockers. These medications reduce nerve impulses to blood vessels, reducing the effects of natural chemicals that narrow blood vessels.
- Alpha-beta blockers. In addition to reducing nerve impulses to blood vessels, alpha-beta blockers slow the heartbeat to reduce the amount of blood that must be pumped through the vessels.
- Central-acting agents. These medications prevent your brain from signaling your nervous system to increase your heart rate and narrow your blood vessels.
- Vasodilators. These medications work directly on the muscles in the walls of your arteries, preventing the muscles from tightening and your arteries from narrowing.
Although diet and exercise are the best tactics to lower your blood pressure, some supplements also may help decrease it. These include:High blood pressure has many risk factors, including:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Blond psyllium
- Cod-liver oil
- Coenzyme Q10
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Age. The risk of high blood pressure increases as you age. Through early middle age, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after menopause.
- Race. High blood pressure is particularly common among blacks, often developing at an earlier age than it does in whites. Serious complications, such as stroke and heart attack, also are more common in blacks.
- Family history. High blood pressure tends to run in families.
- Being overweight or obese. The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls.
- Not being physically active. People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction — and the stronger the force on your arteries. Lack of physical activity also increases the risk of being overweight.
- Using tobacco. Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls. This can cause your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure. Secondhand smoke can also increase your blood pressure.
- Too much salt (sodium) in your diet. Too much sodium in your diet can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.
- Too little potassium in your diet. Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. If you don't get enough potassium in your diet or retain enough potassium, you may accumulate too much sodium in your blood.
- Too little vitamin D in your diet. It's uncertain if having too little vitamin D in your diet can lead to high blood pressure. Vitamin D may affect an enzyme produced by your kidneys that affects your blood pressure.
- Drinking too much alcohol. Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart. Having more than two or three drinks in a sitting can also temporarily raise your blood pressure, as it may cause your body to release hormones that increase your blood flow and heart rate.
- Stress. High levels of stress can lead to a temporary, but dramatic, increase in blood pressure. If you try to relax by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, you may only increase problems with high blood pressure.
- Certain chronic conditions. Certain chronic conditions also may increase your risk of high blood pressure, including high cholesterol, diabetes, kidney disease and sleep apnea.