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High blood pressure is famously dubbed the “silent killer” because it creeps up unannounced. A rising blood pressure reading may sound relatively benign but it forces the heart to work harder. Over time, this can lead to heart and circulatory diseases such as a heart attack or stroke.
Whole grains have been shown to be particularly beneficial for lowering high blood pressure.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet – diets proven to lower high blood pressure – both recommend including whole grains as part of a healthy diet.
“Select breads, pasta, and other carbohydrate-rich foods that are made from whole grains instead of highly refined white flour,” advises Harvard Health.
What to avoid
The most important countermeasure against high blood pressure is to reduce your salt intake
Evidence shows that eating too much salt is more strongly related to the development of high blood pressure, particularly the rise in blood pressure with age.
According to Action on Salt, a group concerned with salt and its effects on health, based at Queen Mary University of London, the effect is due to salt disrupting the natural sodium balance in the body.
“This causes the body to retain water, which increases the pressure of the pushing of blood against the vessel walls,” explains the health body.
How much salt should we consume?
According to official UK health guidelines, adults should eat no more than 6g of salt a day (2.4g sodium) – that’s around one teaspoon.
In addition to tweaking your diet, regular physical activity can bring your blood pressure down to safer levels.
“Regular physical activity — such as 150 minutes a week, or about 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure by about five to eight mm Hg if you have high blood pressure
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).
“Some examples of aerobic exercise you may try to lower blood pressure include walking, jogging, cycling, swimming or dancing,” adds the Mayo Clinic.
Garlic is rich in many compounds that may benefit your heart.
In particular, garlic contains sulfur compounds, such as allicin, which may help increase blood flow and relax the blood vessels. Collectively, these factors may help lower blood pressure.
A review of 12 studies in over 550 people with high blood pressure found that taking garlic reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 8.3 mm Hg and 5.5 mm Hg, respectively.
This reduction was similar to the effects of blood pressure medications.
A 24-week study in 30 people found that 600–1,500 mg of garlic extract was just as effective at lowering blood pressure as the drug Atenolol.
Garlic contains compounds, such as allicin, that have been shown to help relax blood vessels and aid blood flow. Collectively, these factors may help reduce blood pressure.
Thyme is a flavorful herb packed with numerous healthy compounds.
Rosmarinic acid is one such compound. Research has linked it to many benefits, such as reduced inflammation and blood sugar levels, as well as increased blood flow. It may also help reduce blood pressure.
Animal studies have shown that taking rosmarinic acid helped significantly reduce systolic blood pressure by inhibiting angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE).
ACE is a molecule that narrows blood vessels and raises blood pressure. Thus, inhibiting it may lower blood pressure.
Other animal studies have shown that taking thyme extract reduced heart disease risk factors, such as total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure.
That said, there’s limited human research on thyme and blood pressure. Scientists need to do more research to investigate these effects in humans.
Thyme contains powerful compounds, such as rosmarinic acid, that appear to help relax blood vessels in animal studies. However, researchers need to do more studies in humans.
Cinnamon is an aromatic spice that comes from the inner bark of trees from the Cinnamomum genus.
People have used it for centuries in traditional medicine to treat heart conditions, including high blood pressure.
While it’s not fully understood how cinnamon lowers blood pressure, animal research suggests it can help dilate and relax the blood vessels.
A review of 9 studies including 641 participants showed that taking cinnamon reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 6.2 mm Hg and 3.9 mm Hg, respectively.
This effect was stronger when people took cinnamon consistently over 12 weeks .
Moreover, a review of 3 studies including 139 participants with type 2 diabetes looked at the effects of taking cinnamon.
Those who took 500–2,400 mg of cinnamon daily over 12 weeks experienced an average reduction of 5.39 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 2.6 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure.
Cinnamon is easy to incorporate into meals. Concentrated cinnamon supplements are another option.
Cinnamon appears to help dilate and relax the blood vessels, which may help lower blood pressure.
Ginger is incredibly versatile and a staple in alternative medicine.
People have used it for centuries to improve many aspects of heart health, including circulation, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure .
Both human and animal studies have shown that taking ginger reduces blood pressure in several ways. It acts as a natural calcium channel blocker and natural ACE inhibitor .
Calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors are types of blood pressure medication.
A study in more than 4,000 people found that those who consumed the most ginger — 2–4 grams per day — had the lowest risk of developing high blood pressure.
Ginger is delicious and easy to incorporate into your diet with meals. Alternatively, you can purchase ginger supplements online. These are more concentrated.
Ginger appears to lower blood pressure by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker and dilating the blood vessels.
Cardamom is a delicious spice with a slightly sweet, intense flavor. It’s packed with various antioxidants that may help lower blood pressure.
A 12-week study in 20 adults that were newly diagnosed with high blood pressure found that taking 3 grams of cardamom powder daily significantly reduced blood pressure, lowering it close to the normal range.
Test-tube and animal studies suggest cardamom may help reduce blood pressure by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker and diuretic.
A diuretic is a compound that helps remove water buildup through urination.
While these findings are promising, research in this area is still quite new. Therefore, scientists need to conduct additional studies to further investigate cardamom’s effects in humans.
Cardamom is simple to incorporate into your cooking or baking. Alternatively, you could take a cardamom supplement or extract under the guidance of your healthcare provider.
Animal and human research suggest cardamom may help lower blood pressure by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker and diuretic. Still, more human studies are needed.
The bottom line
High blood pressure is the most common, preventable risk factor for heart disease. It affects nearly half of all American adults.
The best way to manage high blood pressure is through a combination of the right medications, a healthy diet, regular exercise, and engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors.
That said, there are several promising herbs and spices you can incorporate into your diet that may help lower your blood pressure.
They include basil, parsley, celery seeds, Chinese cat’s claw, Bacopa monnieri, garlic, thyme, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom, to name a few.
Keep in mind that many herbs and spices may interact with common blood thinner medications, and many extracts and supplements discussed above lack sufficient safety research.
For this reason, always consult a healthcare provider about what herbs and spices you’re considering incorporating into your diet, and never discontinue a medication without consulting them first.