Let Thy Food Be Thy Medicine!
By Wyler Hecht, ND., L.Ac.
In the last issue of Southern Distinction, I addressed the basics of high blood pressure– what exactly does a blood pressure reading mean and how can chronic high blood pressure lead to so many other maladies. With no obvious symptoms to accompany high blood pressure, it’s an easily missed and easily dismissed disease. That’s why hypertension, the medical term for chronic high blood pressure, is called “the silent killer.”
Fortunately, a healthy diet and lifestyle can help to lower your blood pressure and is often enough to keep it within a healthy range.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has become the gold standard of dietary intervention for high blood pressure. Indeed this regimen which emphasizes low-sodium and low-fat whole foods has been shown to reduce blood pressure in several large scale studies. The regimen includes dietary guidelines with tiered caloric intake for those who need to lose weight as well as physical fitness guidelines. Managing your weight and body mass index is often the key to reversing a diagnosis of hypertension. In fact, studies have shown that for some people, regular daily exercise can lower blood pressure as much as some medications. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily, and stick to it long enough to make it a habit! For details go to dashdiet.org.
There are specific foods worth focusing on. Oatmeal, asparagus, bananas, and potatoes have all been shown to lower blood pressure. The same is true for garlic, low fat yogurt, lima beans, and hawthorne berry tea. Each of these foods has one or more natural compounds capable of lowering blood pressure, and all are worthy of adding to your daily diet. None of these, however, have shown the capacity to lower blood pressure to the degree that blueberries and beet juice have.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial published in 2015, postmenopausal women with pre- and stage 1-hypertension who ate 22 grams of freeze-dried blueberry powder daily, (the equivalent of one cup of fresh berries), saw an average drop of seven points in systolic blood pressure and five points in diastolic pressure in just eight weeks. Not only did their blood pressure drop, their arterial flexibility increased by six percent. The women who were given the placebo powder had no improvement in these parameters. Postmenopausal women are at risk of developing hypertension, and one cup of fresh berries daily is an attainable goal. Eat them fresh, frozen, or in a freeze-dried powder on oatmeal or in a smoothie.
The first study regarding beet juice and blood pressure appeared in 2009. In that study, participants who drank two cups of beet juice daily saw a reduction in blood pressure by an average of 10 points– an effect that is comparable to many blood pressure medications. In 2013, a similar randomized, placebo-controlled study looked at the effects of just one cup of beet juice on hypertensive patients. In this study, the participants who drank the juice had an average blood pressure drop of 11.2 points, compared to less than one point reduction in the participants who drank the placebo. As it turns out, the natural nitrates found in beets convert to nitric oxide, a compound that relaxes arteries and reduces the pressure of the circulating blood on the arterial walls. Can’t stomach the idea of drinking a cup of beet juice daily? Consider a pure freeze dried beet juice powder. You can mix it in water, diluted juice, or a smoothie.
While diet and exercise are essential components of any hypertension treatment plan, eating healthfully and staying fit is not always sufficient to keep your blood pressal supplements that are clinically proven to help lower blood pressure. These are often enough to prevent the necessity of pharmaceutical drugs. Pick up a copy of the next edition of Southern Distinction for a review of these supplements. Until then, eat your berries and drink your beet juice!
Dr. Hecht received her doctorate in naturopathic medicine and a master’s level degree in acupuncture from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in Tempe, Az. In 2004 she opened Oconee Natural Healthcare in Watkinsville, Ga. She practices naturopathic family medicine and traditional acupuncture and often combines the two for a comprehensive approach to wellness. www.oconeenaturalhealthcare.com.