Last month I wrote about the conundrum of high blood pressure and the medications used to treat it - now I’m going to share with you my top five herbal and nutritional strategies for dealing with the problem naturally.
It is very possible to treat high blood pressure with herbs and diet - it just depends on the cause as to which treatment you chose. There are of course many other possibilities than those discussed above, so feel free to get in touch or book a consultation for further information.
The microcirculatory diet
This is the cornerstone of my approach to high blood pressure, and is based on the fact that plant-based diets, along with exercise and daily meditation, have been shown to both protect against and reverse heart disease.
The microcirculation is the network of tiny capillaries in the body responsible for supplying cells with nutrients and taking away waste products. Maintaining these tiny vessels is the key to the health of the wider cardiovascular system as well as the kidneys, which are themselves very important in controlling blood pressure.
Foods for microvascular health include beetroot, spinach, dark chocolate, berries, fresh garlic, and herbs and spices like green tea, turmeric, and black pepper. Garlic especially has been shown to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and arterial stiffness - a main cause of heart disease and high blood pressure.
Arterial stiffness is often a result of general inflammation in the body - built up over time by a poor diet, high alcohol consumption and a sedentary or stressful lifestyle - so a plant-based diet already goes a long way to correct this imbalance and provide good anti-inflammatory plant compounds.
Mistletoe (Viscum album)
This is one of my go-to herbs for hypertension. Viscum, meaning sticky, refers to the toxic white berries employed in medicine from the time of Hippocrates. The leaves are traditionally used in disorders of the nervous system such as convulsions, hysteria, neuralgia, and cardiovascular troubles.
Mistletoe is a powerful heart tonic, reducing heart rate and opening up the circulation by relaxing blood vessels. It is also a nervine, promoting reflection and recovery from grief & bereavement.
This emotional aspect to hypertension is a crucial one that is often overlooked. A single stressful event can be the catalyst for a lifetime of high blood pressure, and psychological counselling alongside herbs can be of real benefit here.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Another herb for the nervous system, motherwort has profound effects on high blood pressure when specifically related to anxiety, tension or psychological stress, and especially when associated with an irregular heart rhythm.
It is often used in the management of hypertension associated with an overactive thyroid gland, due to its calming action on the heart.
Another interesting use of Motherwort that I have recently started experimenting with is in the management of ‘white coat hypertension’ - an acute syndrome where elevated stress levels cause a temporary spike in blood pressure.
Traditionally, the herb is a bitter digestive tonic and antispasmodic for the female reproductive system, helping with painful periods and premenstrual tension. It is certainly a trusty little ally for many an occasion.
Hawthorn (Crataegus laevigata)
This strong tree with its protective thorns and delicate flowers is considered among herbalists to be of great help to anyone with a weak or sensitive heart, in emotional as much as in medical terms.
Hawthorn flowers, berries and leaves contain proanthocyanidins - anti-inflammatory compounds which protect the blood vessels and heart from damage.
Hawthorn increases the force of contraction of the heart muscle, decreases heart rate, regulates heart rhythm, relaxes blood vessels and improves the microcirculation. Together, these actions all help to lower blood pressure, especially in combination with the herbs above.
Magnesium at around 300 mg/day helps relax the blood vessels, protect against insulin resistance and improve sleep - another crucial aspect to blood pressure maintenance.
Nuts, seeds, spinach, beetroot greens and dark chocolate are the highest vegetarian food sources of magnesium, whereas magnesium glycinate or a combined magnesium preparation are good supplements to take.
The effect of magnesium is best seen in combination with good potassium and calcium intake. For potassium, have potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas and a variety of fish in the diet - good food sources of calcium are watercress, sesame seeds and broccoli.