When someone has high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, it means their blood is pumping with too much force against the artery walls. The condition can eventually lead to heart disease, stroke, or other cardiac conditions. High blood pressure is extremely common in the United States. More than 103 million people in the country have it—and many don’t even know theirs is too high, because it can be asymptomatic, says John Osborne, MD, director of cardiology at LowT Center/HerKare and a volunteer for the American Heart Association (AHA).
The reason many people don’t know? “There are often few or no symptoms associated with high blood pressure,” says Sondra DePalma, a cardiac physician assistant at PinnacleHealth CardioVascular Institute with UPMC Pinnacle in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, “which is why it is called the ‘silent killer.’”
If you’re wondering how to lower blood pressure, luckily, there are natural ways to do so with the proper diet and healthy lifestyle changes.
What is good blood pressure?
A good, normal blood pressure reading—taken while seated, with a blood pressure cuff—should be 120/80. The first number is the systolic blood pressure (how much pressure your heart uses when beating), and the second is the diastolic blood pressure (how much pressure is in your arteries between heartbeats). Anything over that is either considered elevated or high.
Those numbers apply across the board for adults over the age of 18, Dr. Osborne says. He notes that decades ago, good blood pressure numbers varied based on age, limits some people still cling to today. But in actuality, it’s all standardized to 120/80.
“The vast majority of hypertension out there is in adults,” he says. “It’s independent of age. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 21 or 81. The numbers are the same.”
For adults, that is. For kids, it’s a little different. Blood pressure numbers are based on population and age, and are generally lower than with adults. There’s not a standardized set of guidelines for children, “but certainly if you come across a kid that repeatedly has blood pressures that would be high according to the adult category, it’s high,” Dr. Osborne explains.
What is a dangerous level of blood pressure?
As far as specific numbers for high blood pressure, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology released updated guidelines in November 2017. It can be broken down into two categories: elevated and high.
Elevated blood pressure ranges from 121/80 to 129/80. It’s generally not treated, but serves more as a warning sign that it should be monitored and the patient might explore how to lower blood pressure by making some lifestyle changes.
High blood pressure starts at 130/80 or higher—that’s stage one. Stage two, or the worst degree, is 140/90 and above. If the upper limit of blood pressure is more than 180, that’s where it starts getting really dangerous, increasing the likelihood of an immediate heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.
What can I eat to lower my blood pressure?
There’s actually a specific diet designed for heart health called the DASH Diet. It stands for “dietary approaches to stop hypertension” and was developed by the National Institutes of Health. Following the DASH Diet (which is essentially a Mediterranean diet with some low-fat dairy added in) can lower blood pressure just as effectively as taking a pill, Dr. Osborne says. It highlights foods that are high in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, while limiting salt and sodium intake. Here’s some of what you’ll eat on the diet.
- Whole grains
- Nut and seeds
- Dark chocolate in moderation
Some of the biggest things to eliminate are excess sodium (try to reduce sodium intake by about 1,000 mg per day, Dr. DePalma says), processed foods, sugar, condiments (which are often packed full of salt and sugar), bread, and cheese.
Apple cider vinegar has long been touted as a remedy for high blood pressure, but Dr. Osborne notes that no comprehensive clinical trial has been able to determine how effective it actually is. That being said, he’s not against patients trying it—if you find that taking apple cider vinegar every day keeps your blood pressure low, then keep doing it. Same for alcohol and caffeinated drinks, as long as you’re having them in moderation.
“People that drink modestly, so one to two drinks, may actually see a modest effect on cardiovascular events and may see modestly lower blood pressure,” Dr. Osborne explains. “However, if you drink anything more than that, it clearly elevates blood pressure.”
Caffeine can have a similar effect. “It actually is a vasodilator to some degree,” he says, “so the effects on individual patients are pretty variable, from no result to raising or even lowering blood pressure.” Note: A vasodilator increases blood flow by opening blood vessels.
What is the best natural supplement for high blood pressure?
Three main minerals are used to naturally lower blood pressure. If you follow a heart-healthy diet, you’re likely to get enough of these from your food—but for people with poor eating habits, supplementing might be a good idea. Try these:
*Some may recommend taking a potassium supplement, but it’s especially important to get your current potassium levels tested before doing so. Too much potassium can have potentially fatal side effects.
What can I do to lower my blood pressure?
Here’s how to lower blood pressure with lifestyle changes:
- Exercise: Make regular physical activity part of your daily routine; even just a half hour per day can boost health and help you achieve a healthy weight. Aerobic exercise in particular has been studied as a possible non-pharmacological treatment for high blood pressure. Try taking the stairs at work or walking around while you’re on the phone.
- Weight loss : Even losing just two pounds can lower systolic blood pressure, Dr. DePalma says. Usually, if someone loses up to 5% of his or her body weight, it will have a significant impact on blood pressure.
- Avoid all nicotine: Skip this stimulant in all its forms, like smoking, vaping, patches, and chew.
- Avoid drugs: Recreational drugs can affect your blood pressure in addition to every other part of your life.
- Monitor your medications: Some medications and supplements can alter the effectiveness of blood pressure medication.
- Practice mindfulness: Reduce stress and your blood pressure with reduce with it. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel your blood pressure rising.
How to lower blood pressure quickly
First and most importantly, if you think you’re having a complication of high blood pressure such as a stroke, a heart attack, or something else, seek immediate medical attention. Don’t try to solve problems like these on your own—you need comprehensive care.
Otherwise, when you feel your blood pressure may be too high and you want to lower it quickly, Dr. Osborne suggests calming down. Stop what you’re doing and sit. Take some deep breaths. If you find that doesn’t help, then call your doctor. If it’s a continual problem, try exercising and altering your diet; it can take a few weeks or up to a month to see the effects of that in your blood pressure, so keep plugging away for the best results.
Keep in mind that in some cases, blood pressure medication may be necessary if you can’t lower high blood pressure through diet and lifestyle changes. Those drugs will be the quickest path to lower blood pressure levels—often taking only minutes to even your blood pressure out. Finding the right medication might be the only way to control high blood pressure in some cases, like resistant hypertension. A rule of thumb is to start blood pressure medications and make lifestyle changes. As blood pressure improves with lifestyle modifications, medications can be weaned off.
“Taking medications and following a healthy diet not only reduces [hypertension],” Dr. DePalma says, “but it significantly decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other complications of hypertension. A healthcare provider will recommend a medication that has the most benefit with the fewest potential side effects.”