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Controlling Blood Pressure Without the Drugs

Posted May 06 2010 8:06pm

In This Issue:

By Joseph McCaffrey, MD, FACS

High blood pressure is called the silent killer for a good reason. It both strains the heart and damages delicate organs such as the kidneys, eyes, and the brain. Yet very often, it causes no symptoms at all until the damage is done.

Diagnosing high blood pressure is pretty straightforward. We’re all used to having our blood pressure checked as part of a routine exam, and now you can find screening booths in places such as pharmacies and health fairs, or even buy a machine that lets you check at home yourself.

Once diagnosed, the standard medical response is, as usual, drug therapy.

Yes, the drugs work, but at a price. They have side effects such as dizziness, electrolyte imbalance, impotence, fatigue, and more. We all would just as soon avoid any of them.

The fact is, if a person is willing to adjust their lifestyle, most people can lower their blood pressure without resorting to drugs. The only side affect of this approach is increased overall health.

Studies show that weight maintenance, diet, and exercise are the cornerstones of lowering high blood pressure.1


You don’t have to be overweight to have high blood pressure, but obesity is a risk factor for high blood pressure. Maintaining a normal blood pressure is just another reason to keep your weight in a healthy range.


Most people are familiar with the association between excessive sodium and high blood pressure, but that’s not the whole story. The best-studied dietary recommendation is the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is promoted by the NIH. This diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and lean sources of protein. In short, it’s a healthy diet for everyone, not just people with hypertension.

About 25% of the calories on the DASH diet are from fat. It emphasizes healthy fats, such as those found in nuts. The total sodium intake on the standard DASH diet is 2400 mg per day. Blood pressure lowers even more if you restrict the sodium to 1500 mg per day. If you want to look into the DASH plan more, it is explained in detail on the NIH website.

As I mentioned before, sodium isn’t the whole story. Many people with hypertension are deficient in potassium. The ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet is important. I’ve read recommendations suggesting that we should have five times more potassium than sodium in our diet. Someone eating a diet of processed and prepared foods easily reverses that ratio. They commonly take in two times more sodium than potassium.

Clearly, most people need much less salt and more potassium. Nutritionists often recommend bananas as a way to increase dietary potassium. Bananas aren’t my favorite because they raise the blood sugar too much. I prefer low-sodium or no-sodium tomato juice. A cup contains about 820 mg of potassium.

If you add some potassium chloride salt substitute for taste (NoSalt and NuSalt are two brands) you’ll increase your potassium intake even more. Each ¼ teaspoon adds another 650 mg of potassium.

People with kidney disease need to be careful when changing any electrolyte in their diet, especially potassium. Having said that, eating high potassium foods is safe for most others.


You know you should exercise regularly for a lot of reasons. Reducing your blood pressure is one of them. Reviewers looked at 105 studies on the effect of an aerobic exercise program (walking is enough) on blood pressure. On average, it lowered both diastolic and systolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg.

A healthy diet and an exercise program should be the foundation of your healthy blood pressure program. Next, here are some supplements to consider.

Beneficial Supplements

Fish Oil. Fish oil is one of my favorite supplements to recommend. Most people don’t get enough omega-3 fats in their diet and there are multiple health benefits to increasing your intake including lowering your blood pressure. The effect of fish oil isn’t profound, but it appears consistently and there are enough other benefits, such as modulating inflammation in the body, to recommend it.2

Coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 occurs naturally in the body and is involved in many metabolic processes, especially those related to energy production. It has been helpful in the treatment of congestive heart failure, and now studies show it helps control blood pressure.3

Coenzyme Q10 levels decline with age, so supplementation is advisable. A reasonable dose to help lower blood pressure is 50-100 mg twice a day.

Calcium and Magnesium. I like to recommend supplements that have multiple benefits. Calcium and magnesium fall into that category. Both, especially when taken with adequate vitamin D, improve bone strength. Magnesium also supports a smooth cardiac rhythm and muscle function and both help reduce blood pressure.

If you take a supplement, I suggest 1000 mg calcium and 500 mg magnesium per day.

Relaxation Response and Meditation

Dr. Herbert Benson coined the term “the relaxation response” to describe the physiologic changes he observed in people meditating. Among these changes was decreased blood pressure.

He was the first person to measure and report on the actual physiology of meditation. His initial studies were in the early 1970s. Since then, the results he observed have been confirmed and expanded hundreds of times.

Very recent research on the effects of meditation on the actual structure of the brain is nothing short of astounding, but that’s a subject for another day. There’s no doubt we live in a fast-paced, high-stress world. If we don’t do something to counteract that, there’s no way we can avoid the ill effects of chronic stress.

Meditation is an excellent answer and it’s easy to find free and simple instructions on the web.

These are my primary recommendations for controlling blood pressure naturally. This list is by no means complete. There are other worthwhile measures including supplements (garlic and hawthorn), relaxation techniques (biofeedback and yoga), and more.

I’ve covered the most important topics, certainly enough to get you started. I hope you’ve noticed that all these recommendations really just describe a healthy lifestyle. Again, if you follow them, the only side effect will be feeling great in general and not just because your blood pressure is lower.


[Ed. Note: Joseph F. McCaffrey, MD, FACS is a board-certified surgeon with extensive experience in alternative medicine, including certification as a HeartMath Trainer. His areas of expertise include mind-body interaction and cognitive restructuring. Dr. McCaffrey strives to help people attain their optimum level of vitality through attention to all aspects of wellness. For more information, click here .]

Neck pain

Nutrients & Health:

By Ray Sahelian, MD

Pycnogenol is an extract derived from the bark of the French maritime pine tree. Many lab studies have shown that it has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One study included 100 Slovakian adults with mild knee arthritis who were randomly assigned to take either 150 milligrams of pine bark extract or a placebo every day.

According to Dr. Peter Rohdewald of the University of Münster in Germany, knee arthritis patients who took pycnogenol pine bark extract for three months reported an improvement in their pain, while those given a placebo had no improvement. The pain relief persisted for an additional two weeks after the patients stopped taking pycnogenol. Switzerland-based Horphag Research Ltd., maker of pycnogenol, funded the study.1

Comments: Many people who have arthritis already take natural supplements for joint health support. Would the addition of pycnogenol or another type of pine bark extract provide added benefits? Would the combination lead to unexpected side effects? There are no easy answers at this time. If your doctor approves, you could add pycnogenol to your daily regimen.

The dosage used in this study was 150 mg a day. This may be an appropriate dosage in the beginning, but for long term use you may consider a maintenance dosage of 30 or 60 mg a day.  Just keep in mind that we don’t know the effects of pycnogenol supplement use if taken for many years, or how this product interacts with other supplements or medications, including NSAIDs such as aspirin, naproxen, or ibuprofen.


[Ed. Note: Ray Sahelian, M.D., is a practicing physician and the best-selling author of Mind Boosters. He is a leading authority on natural supplements and nutrition. For the latest research on organic ways to improve your health and well-being, click here .]

Baked fishHealthy Recipes:

By Laura LaValle, RD, LD

Fish is still a Friday-night favorite is countless homes across the world.  This tasty and versatile recipe can be served as traditional filets or as fish sticks with a dipping sauce.  Either way, it is an appetizing heart-friendly recipe.

Serves: 4

Time to Table: 30 minutes

Healing Nutrient Spotlight

Excellent source of niacin, vitamin B-12, magnesium, selenium
Good source of vitamin B-6


1/4 cup cornflake crumbs (or any gluten-free bread crumbs)
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, fresh ground, to taste
1 pound fish fillets (cod, halibut, red snapper), cut into 4 inch servings

*Select organic ingredients for optimum nutrition.


Preheat oven to 450°.  Using a paper towel, smear a little coconut oil around to coat your pan or baking sheet.  Mix the crumbs, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper together on a plate or in a bowl.  Roll the fish fillets in the seasoned crumbs to coat well, place on your baking sheet, and bake until fish flakes easily (usually about 10 to 14 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish).

The fish can also be cut into 1 1/2 to 2 inch sized strips and you have homemade fish sticks, which are great served with a homemade dipping sauce (just mix mayonnaise with a little bit of pickle relish or lemon juice and a little hot sauce).  Delicious, and so much better than most frozen fish stick products!!

Note:  Pre-made breadcrumbs made from cornflakes are available in most grocery stores; gluten-free versions are always available at Whole Foods Market and are sometimes available in grocery stores that have a natural foods or gluten-free section.  Breadcrumbs are really easy to make; if you have some rice crackers or a box of cereal around, just throw a half a cup or so in your food processor or Magic Bullet, and whirl it up for a few seconds until the pieces are finely ground.


140 calories, 3 g total fat, 1 g monounsaturated fat, 1 g polyunsaturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrate, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 25 g protein, 175 IU vitamin A, .07 mg thiamin, 6.6 mg niacin, .09 mg riboflavin, .37 mg pantothenic acid, .39 mg vitamin B6, 1.34 mcg vitamin B-12, 14 mcg folate, 1.44 IU vitamin E, 55 mg calcium, 95 mg magnesium, 175 mg sodium, 510 mg potassium, 1 mg iron, 40 mcg selenium, .5 mg zinc

[Ed. Note: Laura B. LaValle, RD, LD is presently the director of dietetics nutrition at LaValle Metabolic Institute (formerly part of Living Longer Institute).  She offers personal nutritional counseling at LMI for clients who need help with their diet in relation to illness or disease. Laura also provides educational services in the areas of health promotion, wellness, and disease prevention.  To learn more click here ]

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