Hypertension is the medical term for blood pressure that remains elevated over time. According to the National Institutes of Health, it affects most people in the United States at some point in their lives.
Normal blood pressure is 120 over 80 millimeters of mercury. Hypertension is considered mild or stage one when systolic pressure (the first or top number) is between 140 and 159 and diastolic pressure (the second or bottom number) is between 90 and 99.
Guidelines from the Seventh Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure advocate early treatment with anti-hypertensive medications for people with mild hypertension and millions of Americans take them.
The well-respected Cochrane Collaboration, an international, independent, not-for-profit research organization, recently published a meta-anaylsis, a study of studies, that calls this practice into question.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia analyzed data from 4 randomized placebo-controlled trials (the gold standard). The studies lasted 4 to 5 years and followed nearly 9,000 people with mild hypertension taking diuretics, beta blockers, reserpine, or placebo. Some people were taking two or more medications.
The researchers concluded that drug therapy did not reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular events like heart attacks and strokes, or death.
Not only were the drugs ineffective, but their negative side effects caused 9 percent of participants to withdraw from the studies.
The most effective treatments for mild hypertension are natural ones that correct underlying imbalances in the body:
- A healthy diet low in easily digestible carbohydrates like sweets and starches including bread and other bakery items, cereal, milk, pasta, rice, and starchy root vegetables like potatoes
- Daily consumption of dark green leafy vegetables which are rich in magnesium and other important nutrients
- Regular consumption of healthy omega-3 fats found only in fish and seafood
- Daily exercise
- Restful sleep: eight or more hours in the summer and nine or more hours in the winter
- Optimal blood levels of vitamin D
- Weight loss if you are overweight
- Testing for heavy metal toxicity and detoxification if tests are positive
People who need more support should talk to their naturopathic doctor for individualized recommendations. Natural supplements can be helpful but they aren't right for everyone, so always seek advice before adding anything new to your routine.
Diao D. et al. 2012. Pharmacotherapy for mild hypertension. Cochrane Database Systemic Reviews 8:CD006742.