Expert advice on which herbs can help correct hypertension.
Q. Can herbs help keep my blood pressure in a healthy range? Why is regulating blood pressure important, anyway?
A. When your heart pumps, each life-giving squeeze sends blood coursing through your arteries, which pipe that blood to every corner of your body. The force of blood pushing against those arterial walls is, simply put, your blood pressure. Normal pressure is less than 120/80, but if it climbs above 150/90 (stage 2 hypertension), you’re getting into rough territory. The wall of the artery can be weakened by the constant high blood pressure, and eventually can tear and cause complications, such as a stroke.
About 73 million adults in the United States—one in three people older than 20—have high blood pressure. Upwards of 90 percent of those with chronic high blood pressure have no obvious damage or disease; the American Heart Association conjectures that 30 percent are unaware of their condition, prompting its “silent killer” moniker. Over time, high blood pressure is likely to damage every one of your organs.
It’s important to normalize your blood pressure, but rarely would it ever need to be lowered instantly. Just don’t ignore it. Herbs can be an effective way to lower blood pressure over a period of one to two months, and then to maintain healthy blood pressure.
Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is the European jack-of-all-trades herb for safe and effective treatment of heart and circulatory disorders, due to its potent bioflavonoid-like complexes. Traditionally, the berries were used, but scientists have found active ingredients in other parts of the plant. Studies have shown that hawthorn extracts lower blood pressure. A recent British study successfully used hawthorn to lower blood pressure in diabetics.
A common dose is 80 to 300 mg of standardized extract with total bioflavonoid content (often 2.2 percent) or oligomeric procyanidins (usually 18.75 percent), two to three times per day. You also can use a tincture of 4 to 5 ml three times daily, or at least 4 to 5 grams per day in capsules. Allow at least two to four weeks for the herb to take effect. It is a long-term therapy, so the effectiveness of hawthorn might still be increasing even after one to two months.
Though it is rather new to us here, arjuna bark (Terminalia arjuna) is famous in Ayurvedic medicine, where the thick, red bark is the most widely used herbal cardiac medicine. Modern clinicians in the United States are using arjuna for coronary artery disease, heart failure, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Several Indian studies over the last few years have shown that arjuna, in animals and in humans, reduces total cholesterol and increases HDL (“good” cholesterol). One study showed that this herb was as effective an antioxidant as vitamin E, and that it reduced cholesterol in the human subjects quite substantially. Considering its benefit for cholesterol, it is not surprising that it lowers blood pressure; many cases of high blood pressure in the United States are caused by cholesterol accumulation in the arteries. Use 1 to 3 grams of dried arjuna bark per day, in capsules.
Maybe high blood pressure can be reversed with simple spaghetti sauce. According to recent research in Australia and the United States, garlic (Allium sativum)seems to reduce blood pressure by about 5 to 10 percent. Every bit helps in offsetting the chronic damage from hypertension.
One German study looked at 47 subjects with mild hypertension. For 12 weeks, the patients received a daily dose of 600 mg of garlic powder, standardized to 1.3 percent alliin, which reduced the maximum pressure on the artery (systolic blood pressure) by 6 percent and the minimum pressure (during the slack space between beats or diastolic pressure) by 9 percent. A 2009 Russian study found garlic to be effective at reducing blood pressure in men with mild and moderate arterial hypertension. Numerous other experiments showed approximately the same results.
Garlic powder extract standardized to contain 1.3 percent alliin is typically given in a dosage of 900 mg daily. Higher doses of garlic can reduce blood pressure more markedly. You can include more garlic in your diet or use a higher dose as a supplement.
Green tea (Camellia sinensis) is a panacea for the cardiovascular system. It can reduce total cholesterol, LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides, and improve the ratio of LDL cholesterol to HDL cholesterol. Norwegian research confirms that people who drink the beverage have lower blood pressure. EGCG, a main active ingredient, reduces blood clotting about as much as aspirin or Ginkgo biloba extract, reducing the chance of stroke. A 2009 scientific review by faculty at The University of the West Indies found that green tea likely reduces heart attack and stroke. Most of the research supports a dose of about three cups per day (providing 240 to 320 mg of polyphenols). Standardized extracts of polyphenols, particularly EGCG, are available.
Herbalist and author Karta Purkh Singh Khalsa is Senior Research Scientist and Chief Medical Formulator for Yogi Tea.