Part I covered lifestyle and diet (including culinary herbs like garlic and stevia). This month: supplements.
There are literally dozens if not hundreds of supplements that can help with blood pressure. This won’t be an exhaustive list! Please bear in mind, some of the strongest herbs for reducing hypertension, such as Indian snakeroot and foxglove, can be dangerous if used incorrectly. Only use the really strong stuff like the herbs just mentioned if you’re working with someone who has experience with it.
CoQ10 occurs naturally in the human body, where it’s involved in the generation of energy. CoQ10 does a lot for us. It seems like every month, there’s yet another research trial on CoQ10 for yet another condition. CoQ10 helps everything from gum disease to Parkinson’s, breast cancer and kidney failure. Not to mention blood pressure, of course, with research going back more than three decades.
In one Italian study, 26 patients were given 50 mg of CoQ10 twice daily. After ten weeks, their systolic pressure had dropped by 20 mm Hg and their diastolic by 10. Their cholesterol went down, too. In another study, out of Idaho this time, 83 patients were given 60 mg of CoQ10 twice daily. After twelve weeks, they saw their systolic pressure drop by 18. The great thing about CoQ10, though, is that it helps the entire cardiovascular system, not just blood pressure.
For example, a paper published in Molecular Aspects of Medicine reported on five doctors who gave CoQ10 to 424 of their patients. These patients had a variety of heart problems, and were given varying amounts of CoQ10, between 75 and 600 mg a day (average 242), based on the doctors’ assessment of the individual. Here are the doctors’ conclusions:
“Before treatment with CoQ10, most patients were taking from one to five cardiac medications. During this study, overall medication requirements dropped considerably: 43% stopped between one and three drugs… No apparent side effects from CoQ10 treatment were noted other than a single case of transient nausea. In conclusion, CoQ10 is a safe and effective adjunctive treatment for a broad range of cardiovascular diseases, producing gratifying clinical responses while easing the medical and financial burden of multidrug therapy.”
So there you have it. Bear in mind, statin drugs lower CoQ10 levels in the body.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum)
Reishi can also lower blood pressure. Other herbs will be stronger; I’m listing reishi here because I like it. In fact, if I were going to be stranded on a desert island and could bring only one herb with me, I’d take reishi. Reishi builds the immune system, protects the liver, strengthens the lungs, reduces inflammation, lowers cholesterol, and helps with altitude sickness (just in case my island has a mountain). I guess the Chinese call it “mushroom of immortality” for a reason…
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
This herb is rivaled only by garlic as a heart herb in terms of the number of people who use it, and the amount of research done. In fact, the research is so conclusive that the German health authorities officially endorse hawthorn for both hypertension and congestive heart failure. Here’s herbalist Michael Moore on the subject, from Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West:
“Hawthorn is a heart tonic—period…it is slow, gentle (even feeble), acts to strengthen weak func-tions or to decrease excessive functions…I have seen it help the middle-aged mesomorph, with moderate essential hypertension, whose pulse and pressure are slow to return to normal after moderate exertion, and whose long, tiring days leave the pulse rapid in the evening. It will gradually lower the diastolic pressure and quiet the pulse; it combines well with Passion Flower for such individuals. As with all uses of Hawthorn, the benefits take weeks or even months to be felt, but are well maintained, not temporary.”
Relaxing / Calming Herbs
Relaxing herbs will help if stress is behind the hypertension. A classic herb here is passion flower (Passiflora incarnata). Just don’t let the name get your hopes up for any exciting side effects: the plant was named by Spanish missionaries who thought that the vine looked like a crown of thorns. Anyways, here’s Michael Moore again, this time from Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West: “It slows the pulse, decreases arterial tension, and quiets respiration and pulmonary blood pressure… [It] is very useful in long-term treatment for functional essential hypertension in the strong, rough-and-tough middle-aged person; one of those that used to work in the field or in a blue collar and is now stuck at a desk as he or she moves up the corporate or government ladder . . and the blood pressure cuff.”
Beyond passionflower, the herb kava (Piper methysticum) is marvelously effective when anxiety is a factor. And then there’s linden (Tilea spp.) Linden flowers tend to be rather weak as a medicine, but they make a pleasant tea that you’ll enjoy drinking anyway. Besides, linden trees grow all over the place. I can’t walk five minutes in Cambridge or Somerville without passing one. Just reach up and harvest!
Otherwise known as “water pills,” this class of medicines works by increasing the output of urine, thus lowering blood volume, and in turn lowering blood pressure. Diuretics are reliably effective, but unless your problem is specifically fluid retention due to a weakness in the kidneys, diuretics do not get to the root of the problem. As with relaxants, the list of useful diuretics is practically endless. Two diuretics that stand out for also being good sources of nutrition are dandelion greens (Taraxacum officinale – available as a supplement or simply as a salad green) and nettles (Urtica spp.)
Dilating Blood Vessels
Two supplements that relax constricted blood vessels directly are the herb Coleus forskohlii and the amino acid l-Arginine. Both should lower blood pressure no matter what’s going on. Neither has a whole lot of solid research behind it other than animal trials. Butt they both do work in animals, and in both, the biochemistry makes a lot of sense. (I’m not going to get into that here; come in ask me if you really want to know). More to the point, people are taking them and saying they work. The one small trial where arginine was used for hypertension gave 6,000 mg a day in divided doses. Both are quite safe, although Arginine will worsen a herpes outbreak.
Hibiscus: More than Just a Delicious Tea
Traditionally, hibiscus flowers have been used to control blood pressure. Now, one very small trial seems to confirm that they work. People drank tea made from 2 tablespoons dried hibiscus flowers every day for 12 days, and found an 11% reduction in blood pressure vs. only 4% with placebo. That’s pretty good for less than two weeks! Hibiscus tea is delicious iced, and a gorgeous deep red color.
To make the tea: simply pour a quart of boiling water over 2 tbsp dried hibiscus flowers. Sweeten with a little honey, if you want to. Drink hot or ice over the course of the day. Not only are you getting a little medicine, but you’re upping your consumption of fluids. Heck, you can even make popsicles from your hibiscus tea!
Whey can actually do a fair amount to lower blood pressure, too (although the research has mostly been in rats, and with hi-tech semi-pharmaceutical whey derivatives). Yup, whey protein: the same stuff you can use to make a delicious energy shake for breakfast can also deal with blood pressure. So here’s what to do: throw some whey protein in the blender with half a banana (for potassium), a quarter-pound of heart-healthy frozen blueberries, a cup of that hibiscus tea, a little sweet stevia (mentioned in part 1 last month), a tablespoon of fish oil to lower your triglycerides and a tablespoon of lecithin to help you absorb the fish oil and lower your cholesterol. It’s medicine – and it’s also breakfast. It tastes great, evens out your energy levels, and will curb sugar cravings to boot!