Two new studies suggest that people with high blood pressure may do an even better job than their doctors at lowering it, especially if insurance would pay for a good blood-pressure monitoring kit to use at home.
One study, published Aug. 27 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that older patients in England who monitored their own blood pressure at home and adjusted their medication as needed had lower blood pressure levels after a year than those who went for the usual doctor's office visits. The self-monitoring patients were guided by a treatment plan a doctor had set up for them, but they didn't need to consult a doctor each time they changed their medication if it was within the plan's guidelines.
In addition, research published in July in the American Heart Association's journal Hypertension urged insurance companies to reimburse for home blood-pressure monitoring kits. Scientists found that using the kits saved the companies money by helping older patients to avoid unnecessary treatment and to have fewer heart attacks.
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Add to that the recent large international salt study, in which experts noted that encouraging patients to eat more foods high in potassium may do more to lower blood pressure than merely telling them to slash their salt intake, and it seems that empowering patients can make a huge difference in controlling high blood pressure.
With that in mind, here are seven simple ways you can help lower your blood pressure naturally:
Sip hibiscus tea. Herbal hibiscus tea can help lower blood pressure in people with mild hypertension, a Tufts University study found. Subjects, age 30 to 70, who drank three cups of the tea daily lowered their blood pressure levels significantly — by seven points after six weeks, which is on par with some medications. The tea had the greatest effect in those with the most elevated blood pressure levels — their systolic blood pressure (the top number) went down by 13 points.
Avoid the saltiest restaurant meals. Reducing the salt in your diet is crucial for those with high blood pressure, but eating out can often sabotage your efforts. To avoid the saltiest restaurant meals, check out the latest survey of 136 meals from national chains by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The nonprofit nutrition action group found that four meals at Red Lobster and Olive Garden dished up the most salt; Subway, McDonald's and Burger King had reduced the sodium in their offerings, while KFC and Jack in the Box had actually increased it.
Say yes to yogurt. The probiotics in yogurt and other fermented foods (like some cheeses) can help lower your blood pressure, Australian researchers recently reported. A carton of yogurt a day is all you need — just check the label to be sure it says "live and active cultures."
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Take 10-minute walks. Three brisk 10-minute walks a day worked better to lower blood pressure than one 30-minute walk, a 2012 Arizona State University study found. Researchers wanted to find an exercise approach that would fit more easily into people's lifestyles but still be beneficial. Volunteers who broke up their exercise into three short walks daily — morning, after lunch, near dinner — had significantly lower average blood-pressure readings and fewer blood-pressure spikes during the day compared to the group who walked once a day for 30 minutes.
Think potato and tomato. Fruits and veggies are loaded with potassium, a crucial mineral your body needs to maintain a healthy blood pressure level. One of the worst things for high blood pressure is a diet that's high in salt and low in potassium — it doubles the odds for fatal heart disease, research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found. The good thing is that plenty of your favorite foods are high in potassium: potatoes (both sweet and regular), tomatoes, bananas, orange juice, beans, avocados, cantaloupe, raisins and nuts.
Indulge in dark chocolate. Great news for chocolate lovers — a square of dark chocolate a day (the kind that's 50 to 70 percent cocoa) can help lower blood pressure. A recent Harvard Medical School study found that chocolate lowered blood pressure in all participants, but most notably in those with hypertension.
Switch to decaf. If you're having trouble controlling your blood pressure, switching to decaf coffee might help, according to Harvard's Rob Van Dam, an assistant professor of nutrition and coffee expert. Caffeine can also cause a spike in blood pressure if you're not a regular coffee drinker, a 2011 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported.
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