By Dr. Mercola
Americans struggle with high levels of certain diseases like cardiovascular disease and related high blood pressure. In fact, the World Health Organization ranks this malady, also known as hypertension, as playing the leading role in heart disease.1
Conventional medicine says eating too much sodium is one cause of high blood pressure, but more studies are revealing that it's actually an imbalance between your sodium intake and your potassium levels that may be the problem. According to one study:
"Findings suggest that public health efforts directed toward increasing consumption of K+ [potassium]-rich natural foods would reduce BP [blood pressure] and, thus, cardiovascular and kidney disease."2
Potassium deficiency, known as hypokalemia, can be so serious that it could be fatal. One sign that you may be deficient is high blood pressure, but other things to look for include:
- Muscle weakness
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Abnormal heart rhythms
- Muscle paralysis
Potassium: The 'Good Salt'
There are a few facts about potassium that few people are aware of. First, it's an essential mineral, but another thing to note is that, as an electrolyte, it plays a crucial role in regard to your blood pressure.
In spite of loads of studies and reports to the contrary, the fact is that it's the balance between salt and potassium that will balance the health of your cells, not lowering your salt intake, unless of course, you're talking about processed table salt.
Foods With High Potassium Content Help Lower Blood Pressure Levels
People with higher intakes of potassium tend to have lower blood pressure levels, so finding the foods to eat that contain it will definitely be good for you. For a good balance of potassium to sodium in your diet, eat fresh, whole, potassium-rich foods. I recommend:
✓ Romaine lettuce
Additionally, Authority Nutrition3 notes other foods with high potassium content, such as leafy greens, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon, melons, bananas, oranges and apricots. Fruits should be eaten in moderation, however, due to the fructose content.
Besides significantly lowering your blood pressure, pomegranate juice may protect your cells from negative effects like premature aging.
It's also high in antioxidant polyphenols to cut your cancer and heart disease risks, and more antioxidants from tannins, anthocyanins and ellagic acid than green tea and red wine, Prevent Disease adds.4
Fruit polyphenols have been shown to have such a positive influence on potentially fatal heart-related issues that related research may even help change recommendations on what fruits are most beneficial to consume for optimal cardiovascular protection, one study concluded.5
A Florida study6 reported that 1 cup of blueberries a day may lower blood pressure and relax arteries. Around 50 hypertensive women were given either 22 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder or a placebo powder to eat, with the result that the first group, on average, had a 7 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure.
Raw grass fed yogurt is rich in probiotics, which helps keep blood pressure at balanced levels.
A review of several studies7 found that probiotics may benefit this area of your health naturally because they help optimize your cholesterol and lower blood sugar levels. And small amounts of dark chocolate provide flavonoids that cause blood vessels to dilate.8
Lifestyle Changes You Can Make to Lower Your Blood Pressure
Most people will say they want to live a "healthy" life, but it's usually small, day-to-day decisions that make the difference in the long run. Blood pressure affects your body in a systemic way. If you struggle to maintain healthy levels, you may want to take a good look at your diet.
Conventional wisdom usually tells you to limit your salt intake, but the most impactful way to do the job is to cut down on sugar. As "bad" as salt is touted to be, sugar is far worse.
While you probably already know that processed foods are far too high in refined sodium, it's refined sugar that's the real culprit in the high incidence of high blood pressure and, consequently, the trickle-down effect of diseases that all too often follow along behind, such as metabolic syndrome, atherosclerosis, stroke and heart attack.
More and more studies indicate that sugar can be implicated in high blood pressure levels.9 In fact, one study shows that women who drank just one soda per day had higher levels that those who drank less than that.10
Researchers at the University of California–San Francisco and Touro University California conducted a study11 published in the journal Obesity that looked at the effects of limiting sugar intake. The study subjects were 43 children between the ages of 9 and 18 years.
For nine days, all the children ate meals, snacks and beverages with reduced sugar; however, they were allowed to eat fruit. Their fasting blood sugar levels, glucose tolerance and blood pressure were recorded before each meal.
All of them were given the same amounts of protein, fat and carbohydrates as before, including hot dogs, chips and pizza, but added sugar was replaced with bagels and cereal. In fact, sugar went from 28 percent to 10 percent. Carbs and fructose were reduced from 12 percent to 4 percent.
What Happens When Children Are Given Less Sugar to Eat?
Before long, the diet proved successful, as the scientists noted decreased blood pressure, improved cholesterol and improved liver function. Fasting blood glucose levels fell five points, while insulin levels dropped by a third.
This is particularly astonishing since the added sugar was replaced with bagels and cereal, which are far from healthy. Imagine if it had been replaced with vegetables or healthy fats! Lead author Robert Lustig stated:
"This study definitively shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather sugar is metabolically harmful because it's sugar.
(The study indicates) that sugar contributes to metabolic syndrome, and is the strongest evidence to date that the negative effects of sugar are not because of calories or obesity."12
The Epoch Times quoted senior study author Jean-Marc Schwarz:
"These findings support the idea that it is essential for parents to evaluate sugar intake and to be mindful of the health effects of what their children are consuming. When we took the sugar out, the kids started responding to their satiety [fullness] cues.
They told us it felt like so much more food, even though they were consuming the same number of calories as before, just with significantly less sugar. Some said we were overwhelming them with food."13
Active African-Americans Are Less Apt to Develop High Blood Pressure
Certain factors make high blood pressure more prevalent in some people than in others. One study based in Jackson, Mississippi, showed that African-Americans are less apt to develop high blood pressure if they're physically active on a daily basis.
Further, study subjects who reported engaging in the ideal amounts of moderate to vigorous physical activity were about 24 percent less likely to have high blood pressure years later in comparison to those who didn't.
As it happens, African-Americans have the highest blood pressure rates of any racial or ethnic group in the U.S., making heart attack, stroke and kidney disease risks more prevalent, and even early death. Unfortunately, the odds are high for this demographic. Dr. Keith Diaz of Columbia University Medical Center in New York explained:
"If you're African-American, your odds of developing hypertension [are] pretty high. If you're worried about hypertension or high blood pressure, one of the things you can do to prevent it is physical activity and exercise."14
None of the 1,311 participants in the study had high blood pressure when they started it between 2000 and 2004. They were checked again between 2005 and 2008, and again between 2009 and 2013. Half them were monitored for at least eight years.
The upshot? Those getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise — specifically from programmed physical activity as opposed to household tasks — were 24 percent less likely to have developed high blood pressure than people who didn't.
How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally
Most doctors charged with helping their patients with high blood pressure issues will hand their patients a pharmaceutical prescription, but there are remedies for this condition that cost far less, financially, physically, overall time consumed and long-term effects combined. Time15 and Authority Nutrition listed several, including:
- Breathe. Mindfully slowing the breaths you take and breathing more slowly helps you relax, and relaxing helps improve your heart rate, makes your arteries more flexible and lowers your blood pressure, naturally.
- Relax. Stress does more to negatively affect your body than you can imagine. Bouts of anger or stress, triggering your "fight or flight" hormones, can literally increase your risk of developing heart-related issues. Try the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) and other natural methods to calm and soothe your mind.
- Curb the coffee and alcohol. While there are studies that contend that moderate alcohol intake can provide heart benefits, overdoing it can raise your blood pressure, as well as cause subsequent health problems. Caffeine can also be a culprit, and it may come from drinking soda. Give it a rest — literally.
- Walk and exercise regularly. Your heart is strengthened and pumps blood more efficiently, lowering arterial pressure. Just 150 minutes of moderate exercise like walking or 75 minutes of strenuous exercise such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can improve both.16
- Lose weight. Even losing 5 percent of your total weight can significantly lower your blood pressure,17 and the effect is even greater when you exercise.18