It’s dubbed the “silent killer” for good reason. This sneaky disease exhibits no signs or symptoms until significant damage is done. The first sign might be a heart attack or stroke—the leading causes of death in the United States. Some 65 million Americans have high blood pressure or hypertension. Blood pressure has two readings, measured in millimeters of mercury (abbreviated “mm Hg”). The top number reflects systolic pressure—the highest pressure, reached when the heart contracts. The bottom number reflects diastolic pressure—the lowest pressure just before the heart contracts again. Ideally, systolic pressure is lower than 120 mm Hg and diastolic pressure is lower than 80 mm Hg. Prehypertension is defined as systolic blood pressure between 120 and 139 or diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 89 mm Hg. The threshold for hypertension starts at 140 systolic, 90 diastolic. Hypertension damages arteries and taxes the heart. The consequences of hypertension can be heart disease, stroke, kidney damage, and vision-robbing eye disease.
1. Hibiscus Cooler
How it works: Studies show simply drinking tart, delicious hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure in people with prehypertension and moderate hypertension. One study found that hibiscus tea (consumed before breakfast for four weeks) compared favorably to the blood pressure-lowering medication captopril. Regular consumption of hibiscus tea also lowers LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats) and raises HDL (good) cholesterol. Both pomegranate and cranberry can lower blood pressure. All of these plants are rich in antioxidant and cardiovascular-protecting plant compounds called flavonoids.
- 5 cups (1.2 L) water
- ½ cup (72 g) dried hibiscus calyces
- 1 cup (235 ml) pure pomegranate or cranberry juice
- Juice of ½ lemon
- DIRECTIONS: Boil the water in a nonreactive (enamel or stainless-steel) pot. Remove from the heat. Add the dried hibiscus. Cover and steep for 15 minutes. Strain. Add the pomegranate and lemon juices. Drink warm or cold.
- YIELD: 04 SERVING
- NOTE: Pomegranate juice is naturally sweet. If you use cranberry juice, which is very tart, add honey or agave nectar to taste. The calyx in the hibiscus forms a cup under the petals. You can find dried hibiscus in bulk in some natural food stores and in Mexican food stores, where they may be sold as “Flores de Jamaica.”
2. Heart-Healthy Cocoa Smoothie
How it works: Chocolate and cocoa powder come from dried beans of the cacao tree. The flavonoids in chocolate and cocoa reduce blood pressure—the darker the chocolate, the higher the flavonoids. Cocoa powder also contains fiber, which can help curb cholesterol, as do the flax seeds.
- 1 large banana
- 1 cup (235 ml) almond milk
- 2 to 3 (10 to 15 g) tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon (20 g) honey or agave
- 1 teaspoon (2 g) flaxseeds
- DIRECTIONS: Combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Enjoy!
- YIELD: 1-2 SERVING
3. Go Fish! Hors d’Oeuvre
How it works: The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have been shown to reduce blood pressure in people with mild hypertension, mainly from fatty fish, such as mackerel and salmon. Sardines are at the top of the list.
- 1 can (8- to 12-count) oil-packed sardines
- 12 to 16 whole-grain crackers
- Lemon wedges
- Sprigs of parsley
- DIRECTIONS: Spread each cracker with a half sardine. Squeeze lemon juice on top. Add parsley to garnish. Enjoy!
- YIELD: 04 SERVING
4. Blueberry and Banana Smoothie
How it works: Bananas are a rich source of potassium. Taking potassium has been shown to reduce blood pressure. Supplementation may be particularly helpful for people who normally consume too much salt and relatively too little potassium (most Americans) and also for African Americans. Also, diuretics can rob the body of potassium. Blueberries lower blood pressure. Their color comes from potent flavonoids that protect cholesterol from oxidation and maintain the health of blood vessels. A pinch of cinnamon, high in fiber, is an anticholesterol perk.
- 1 ripe banana
- ¾ cup (109 g) fresh or (116 g) frozen blueberries
- ¾ cup (175 ml) pomegranate juice or almond or nonfat soy milk
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
- DIRECTIONS: Combine all the ingredients, except the cinnamon, in a blender and blend until smooth. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Serve.
- YIELD: 1 TO 2 SERVING
5. Depressurizing Tonic
How it works: Apple cider vinegar, an apple product, contains flavonoids. Apple cider vinegar has been used as a tonic for blood pressure and other ailments for centuries. Recent animal and preliminary human studies show that the flavonoid quercetin in apples may help lower blood pressure and improve heart health.
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) apple cider vinegar
- 1 cup (235 ml) water or pomegranate juice
- DIRECTIONS: Mix the vinegar and liquid. Drink the tonic once a day.
- YIELD: 1 APPLICATION
- WARNING: Check with your doctor before using. Large doses of apple cider vinegar over a long period of time can burn the mouth and throat or erode tooth enamel; it may also counteract medications for heart and kidney disease.
How it works: All melons, especially honeydew, contain potassium. As noted earlier, reducing dietary intake of sodium and optimizing intake of potassium can help bring blood pressure under control. Eat your watermelon, seeds, and all. The seeds of watermelon have a juice that contains L-citrulline, an amino acid the body converts to L-arginine, another amino acid, which relaxes arteries. A 2013 study in older women found that consumption of a watermelon supplement reduced arterial stiffness and blood pressure.
- 2 cups (340 g) seeded honeydew melon chunks
- 2 cups (300 g) watermelon chunks
- DIRECTIONS: Mix the fruit in a large bowl. Don’t remove the seeds from the watermelon chunks. See why below.
- YIELD: 2 TO 4 SERVINGS
Fact or Myth?
- EXERCISE REDUCES BLOOD PRESSURE. Fact. Studies show that regular qigong practice lowers blood pressure. Pronounced chee-gung, this moving meditation takes practitioners through a series of rhythmic movements and breathing techniques. Participants inhale as they lift their arms and exhale as the arms fall. The National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine website has videos on qigong and a similar Asian practice called tai chi at http://nccam.nih.gov/video/taichiDVD.
- Visualize! Close your eyes and imagine the dial on a blood pressure cuff slowly falling. Studies show that guided imagery (thoughts and images that evoke calm) and biofeedback (a technique that allows people to see changes in such measurements like heart rate and blood pressure with relaxation) lower blood pressure.
- It’s best to poach, bake, broil, or sauté your fish in a little olive oil or broth. Grilling, as tasty as it is, generates carcinogens. And deep-frying oils aren’t healthy to begin with—worse, high heat oxides oils.
- Eat apples—including their peel!
- Pet a pet. Studies show that doing so lowers blood pressure; do this action in an especially mindful, focused way, and the effects are even greater.
- Be mindful. Studies show that a regular meditation practice can help manage hypertension. So create your own meditation: Mindfully brush your hair or rub lotion on your legs. or simply repeat a mantra, with your eyes closed and body in a relaxed posture. Being mindful means you’re not thinking about anything else, but focusing instead on all the sensations (touch, smell, and sound) of the present moment, such as the brush’s movement through your hair.
When to Call the Doctor
- If your blood pressure rises above 180/110, call your doctor immediately.
- Sudden onset of blurry vision
- Severe pulsating headache
- Pain or pressure in the chest, arm, or shoulder
- Sudden confusion, loss of consciousness, or inability to talk, move, or smile