Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alternatives to High Blood Pressure Medication

So it has been awhile since I was able to post last. I’m so sorry to all my readers for not being more on top of things. Life has a way of taking over. My posts last week were about common pharmaceuticals and I would like to continue with blood pressure drugs. As Americans gain weight and become less active, high blood pressure becomes more and more of an issue. Young kids are being diagnosed with high blood pressure and instead of making lifestyle changes, these kids are becoming doomed to take prescriptions for the rest of their lives.

So let’s talk about alternatives, but before I do, I must remind you that below are suggestions to do before you start taking medication. Although many of these alternatives are safe to do in conjunction with prescription drugs, it is important to consult your health care professional prior to doing so because your blood pressure will need to be monitored as you progress. Plus, if you are attempting to come off of blood pressure medication, it is important to do it under the supervision of your doctor.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is defined as the force of blood pushing against the walls of the blood vessels. Systolic pressure is when the heart is contracting and when pressure is at its highest. Diastolic pressure is when the heart relaxes and blood pressure is at its lowest. Blood pressure is expressed as: systolic / diastolic mmHg (millimeters of mercury). Below is a chart that defines the parameters for blood pressure.

Normal blood pressure
Less than 120
Less than 80
140 or higher
90 or higher

High Blood Pressure and Hypertension

Blood pressure naturally fluctuates based on your current activity level. If you are sleeping it remains low, but if you are running it will increase to accommodate the current stress on the body and heart. When your blood pressure stays high for extended periods of time, including when you are resting, then there is grounds for diagnosis of high blood pressure or hypertension. Currently, 1 in 3 adults in the US has high blood pressure and African Americans are twice as likely to have elevated blood pressure in comparison to Caucasians. If there is no other health issue present to be causing the high blood pressure, this is called primary hypertension. If your high blood pressure is being cause by another medical problem then you are said to have secondary hypertension.  

Long term high blood pressure can be damaging to many parts of the body, but the cardiovascular system takes brunt of the force, leading to arteriosclerosis, myocardial infarction, an enlarged heart, kidney damage or stroke. But the worst part about hypertension is that for many people they don’t know that they have high blood pressure because it often presents itself with no symptoms. For this reason it is referred to as the “Silent Killer” because you won’t know about it until it is too late.  

Common Blood Pressure Prescriptions

Two blood pressure medications made the top 10 most prescribed drugs in the US, Lisinopril and hydrochlorothiazide, so I thought I would provide a little information about them.

Lisinopril (brand name Prinivil) was the third most prescribed drug in 2010. It works by blocking angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). This relaxes the arterial walls and decreases blood pressure, allowing the heart to work less. It does come with some side effects, including dizziness, headaches and fainting. The side effect that is usually makes the most impact is lisinopril’s ability to decrease sexual function and libido. His would definitely discourage me from taking it.

Hydrochlorothiazide (brand name HydroDIURIL) was the tenth most prescribed drug in 2010. As a diuretic, it works by decreasing the fluid load in the body and therefore decreasing blood pressure. Side effects include lightheadedness, increased blood sugar, increased uric acid and decreased potassium, magnesium and zinc. A long term disruption in electrolyte balance is a recipe for disaster. Decreased blood magnesium and potassium increases the risk of sudden cardiac death.

Alternatives to Blood Pressure Medication

There is a reason the pharmaceuticals are so popular among the American culture: because Americans like a quick fix. We are so busy that taking the time to fix ourselves is out of the question. I’m here to encourage you to take back your health. If you do some of the alternatives provided, you will not only help your blood pressure, but you will also be affecting your entire body including your emotional state. The time you take for you is an investment in your health. Specific alternatives to blood pressure medication include:
  • De-Stress: here is a blog post about getting your stress under control
  • Get moving and drop some pounds: exercise can decrease your blood pressure even without losing weight, but dropping some pounds and getting to a healthy body weight can lower your risk of heart disease by 2/3’s!
  • Make healthy lifestyle choices: decrease your consumption of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine
  • Increase Fruits and Veggies: so many different studies state that different fruits and vegetables can decrease blood pressure, so I interpret it as eat a lot of them and eat a variety
  • Decrease your intake of Salt
  • Hoffmann suggests the following supplements
    • Mg 800-1200 mg/day
    • Vitamin C 500-1000 mg/3x a day (in one study, low levels of vitamin C accounted for 1 in 4 cases of high blood pressure)
    • Vitamin E 400-800 IU/day
    • Coenzyme Q10 50 mg/2-3x a day
    • Fresh Garlic 4000 mg/day

The Herbal Approach to High Blood Pressure

When it comes to herbs, it is easy to take a multifaceted approach to blood pressure. So many herbs have many different valuable heart healthy actions. With pharmaceutical if you want an ACE blocker and a diuretic you would have to take two different drugs. When it comes to herbs, one herb can do both of the actions.  Here are some of the herbal actions that you may wish to incorporate into your treatment plan:
  • Cardiac tonics: help to strengthen and tone the cardiac system (hawthorn, linden)
  • Hypotensives: lower blood pressure (hawthorn, linden, yarrow, cramp bark, valerian)
  • Vasodilators: open the blood vessels to help relieve some of the pressure
  • Diuretics: decreases the build up of excess fluid in the body (hawthorn, yarrow, linden)
  • Vascular tonics: nourish the tissue of the veins and arteries (hawthorn, linden, yarrow
  • Circulatory stimulants: increase peripheral circulation  

A Few Herbs in Detail

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp): Hawthorn is the most well known and effective cardiac tonic around. Its proanthocyanidins and several falvonoids help to increase the hearts metabolism allowing for better nutrition and more rhythmic contractions. It also decreases the release of ACE which is linked to high blood pressure and it protects the heart tissue from oxidative damage. In the early stages of heart disease, hawthorn can be more effective than drugs with fewer side effects. It can be taken with blood pressure medications; however, you need to do this under a doctors supervision because it can increase the effectiveness of the drugs resulting in the need for less.

Garlic (Allium sativum): Garlic is such a wonderful herb and it is so easy to incorporate into daily life, just by adding it to food. Allicin is its major active constituent and, crazy as it sounds, it is not found in garlic. Instead, garlic contains allinase and alliin in isolated little blocks within the garlic clove and when they mix together via chewing or crushing the clove it creates allicin, which based on studies, can lower systolic pressure by 20-30 mmHg and diastolic by 10-20 mmHg.

Linden (Tilia platyphyllos): Linden is another valuable cardiac tonic that is also very relaxing. It helps to prevent the development of arteriosclerosis and hypertension.

If you have been diagnosed with prehypertension or hypertension it is important to take action immediately. Above, I have provided numerous ways to get your heart healthy and avoid the silent killer.


Duke, J. A. (2000). The green pharmacy herbal handbook: your comprehensive reference to the best herbs for healing. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Reach.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, Vt.: Healing Arts Press.

Rybacki, J. J. (2004). The Essential guide to prescription drugs 2004 (Pbk. ed.). New York, NY: HarperResource.


  1. love your work and words Kacie. I'm a clinical herbalist and aromatherapist involved in integrative healing for many years. My only comment is about salt and our need to distinguish the difference between refined iodized table salt (pure sodium chloride) and unrefined sea salt, especially the beautiful Himalayan version which still contains minerals needed by the body. All in moderation of course!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Nancy. I completely agree on your comment about salt, I should have made the distinction. Refined salt is bleached and in the process so many of the trace minerals that naturally occur in salt are lost. I love to use Celtic salt. It tastes great and it is necessary for proper muscle function while providing other minerals essential to life.