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Health Hacks: 9 alternative ways to manage your high blood pressure

February 28th, 2017 by Stephanie Hall

Ranking up 1,000 internet searches for ‘high blood pressure management’ will soon teach you that most of the advice given on the internet is not fit for human consumption. (Believe me, I’ve done a LOT of research for this article).

Herbal remedies are one of the most commonly recommended treatments for lowering high blood pressure ‘naturally’, but what so many health bloggers neglect to mention is that you’d probably have to eat an unsavoury concoction of raw ginger, garlic and cinnamon in very high quantities every single day in order to see any long-term benefits from spice-based ‘restoratives’.

In response to some of the more outrageous claims I’ve seen on the internet suggesting ‘miracle cures’ for hypertension (a condition that should be thought of in terms of management rather than cure), I’ve compiled a reliable guide for managing your high blood pressure using alternative methods.

Please note that I have purposely not suggested alternative ‘treatments’. The suggestions given in this guide are intended as alterations you can make to your life outside of the medication you take, and the team here at Echo does NOT recommend that you stop using any medication you have been prescribed.

Please continue to take the medication you have been prescribed by your doctor, in the way that you have been advised to take it, and integrate the options below into your existing lifestyle.

1) Eat a ‘good’ breakfast

Nutritionists are always telling us that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day.’

But that’s not what I’m about to tell you.

Though a recent study conducted by researchers at Columbia University found that people who eat breakfast on a daily basis are less likely to have high blood pressure, it’s also important to keep an eye on the type of breakfast you eat.

The British Nutrition Foundation recommends that you:

“Include high-fibre and wholegrain foods in your diet like wholegrain breakfast cereals, wholewheat pasta and pulses.”

A BMJ study found that introducing more high-fibre foods into your diet can lower your risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) and cardiovascular disease.

With the NHS stating that your risk of developing CHD and cardiovascular disease increases with high blood pressure, swapping your full English fry-up for a bowl of wholewheat, high-fibre cereal is an easy way to lower your chances of developing heart disease.

(And you could also switch your sandwich lunch for a salad laid on top of some wholewheat pasta, if you’re feeling really adventurous).

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Cereal

2) Swap your coffee for a tea

While some studies have suggested that caffeine only causes short-term rises in blood pressure (with pressure peaks lasting three hours or less), NHS Choices continue to stipulate on their website that:

“Drinking more than four cups of coffee a day may increase your blood pressure.”

In light of this statement, it’s a good idea to cut down on your caffeine intake. (It’s better to be safe than sorry, after all.)

Figures provided by The Guardian have suggested that the average cup of tea contains half the amount of caffeine compared to the average cup of coffee.

While a standard, 100g serving of black coffee contains 40mg of caffeine, a 100g serving of tea contains just 20mg of caffeine.

So why not live up to the ‘Brits just love tea’ stereotype and give your heart a helping hand?

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Coffee-and-Tea

3) Introduce more fish into your diet - twice a week, in fact

The BBC British Nutrition Foundation recommends, as part of their ‘Tips for a healthy heart’, that you should eat fish twice a week, and that:

“Once should be an oily type (such as mackerel, salmon or sardines).”

According to Public Health England’s revised Eatwell Guide, eating more fish can reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, which is higher if you have high blood pressure.

The governmental guide notes that you should:

“Aim to eat at least two portions (2 x 140g) of sustainably-sourced fish each week, at least one of which should be oily fish.”

The guide also specifies that you cannot expect to reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular disease if you substitute the fish you eat with omega-3 supplements, because:

“There is not enough evidence to recommend supplements including omega-3 capsules to reduce CVD risk”.

So if you’ve ever considered becoming a pescatarian in the past, and you’ve recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure, now is the time to get hooked back on this protein-rich, heart-healthy food.

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Salmon-and-Vegetables

4) Ditch the dijon, kick the ketchup and get rid of the gravy

You may have heard your more health-conscious friends fighting tooth-and-nail over whether or not table sauces contain more salt than the meals they accompany.

(I know I’ve been a victim of my friends’ audible, shame-inducing gasps after I’ve layered too much mayo on my chicken caesar salad.)

The NHS Change 4 Life campaign, first launched in 2009 and aimed at encouraging UK inhabitants to adopt healthier food and behaviour habits, has drawn attention to the fact that:

“Brown sauce, ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and gravy can all contain a lot of salt.”

The organisation suggests that we swap our table-top condiments for herbs and spices in order to lower our salt intake, along with our chances of increased cholesterol and blood pressure.

But if you don’t see yourself being able to avoid sauces completely, you could try swapping out salty options for low-sodium alternatives. However, you have to be careful with this kind of approach, as many ‘no salt added’ alternatives contain potassium chloride substitutes that will interfere with heart, liver and kidney medications.

Your best bet is to just kick high-calorie sauces altogether. (Swapping the chips that usually go with these sauces for a portion of salad or rice will also help to reduce your calorie intake and keep your waistline trim; both of which can help to lower your blood pressure too.)

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Table-Top-Sauces

5) Join a power-walking group

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found “evidence that walking groups have wide-ranging health benefits”, one of which includes a reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels.

This study complements the findings of a similar, six-year investigation into the health benefits of walking as opposed to running, as conducted by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in North America.

According to the American Heart Association, who reported on the six-year study, researchers based in California found that:

“The same energy used for moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years.”

Data collected from 33,060 runners and 15,045 walkers is hardly going to lead you astray, and strapping on your running (or walking) shoes before setting off with a group of friends is a great step in the right direction towards lowering your blood pressure.

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Walking-Group

6) Get a good night’s sleep

In recent years, universities and pharmaceutical companies alike have put aside increasingly large funds for researching the benefits of sleep.

This research has paid off in many areas, one of which is heart health.

According to a study published in the medical journal Chest:

“Both sleep deprivation and insomnia have been linked to increases in incidence and prevalence of hypertension.”

The doctors leading this study and investigating the relationship between ‘Sleep and Hypertension’ found a strong correlation between severe cases of hypertension and severe cases of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA).

These findings suggest that interruptions in normal sleeping patterns can increase the severity of a person’s hypertension, inversely meaning that a fuller night’s sleep can help reduce the chances of increasing one’s high blood pressure.

Advocating a message that supports this finding, the NHS note the following on their hypertension web pages:

“Long-term sleep deprivation is associated with a rise in blood pressure and an increased risk of hypertension. It's a good idea to try to get at least six hours of sleep a night if you can.”

Who knew that a good night’s sleep could be so important?

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Sleep

7) Cut down on your alcohol intake

The NHS state on their hypertension web pages that:

“Regularly drinking alcohol above recommended limits can raise your blood pressure over time.”

While most of us know that drinking too much alcohol can put a strain on our livers and cause irreversible damage in the form of cirrhosis, it’s important that we remember to drink sensibly not just for the sake of our livers, but for our hearts too.

In addition to limiting your alcohol intake to a maximum of 14 units per week (for men and women), the NHS advises that you:

“Spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week.”

The British Heart Foundation adds that:

“Drinking alcohol to excess can cause other serious health conditions, such as cardiomyopathy (where the heart muscle is damaged and can’t work as efficiently as it used to) and arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). Some of these conditions can increase your risk of stroke.”

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Red-Wine

8) Monitor your breathing rate using mobile apps

Back in 2012, the NHS began prescribing a device known as RESPeRATE to people with high blood pressure, at a cost of just £7.40.

The RESPeRATE machine, which lowers high blood pressure by slowing down a person’s breathing in time to music, was heralded as a highly effective treatment for managing high blood pressure, with one national newspaper going so far as to claim that the device could:

“help tens of thousands of patients control high blood pressure without having to take endless drugs with unpleasant side effects.”

The device was the first of its kind to be approved by medical authorities, following tests suggesting that it could drop diastolic pressure readings by as much as 36 points and systolic pressure readings by as much as 20 points.

Nowadays, RESPeRATE is largely only available on the US version of Amazon, as it is no longer prescribed by the NHS.

But the principles on which the respiratory pacing device worked have been brought forward into present-day hypertension treatments in the form of health apps teaching controlled breathing techniques.

Apps like BreatheSync, Breathing Zone and Paced Breathing (latter Android only), are aimed at reducing your breathing rate and making you feel less stressed. Though not all breathing apps use music to aid more controlled breathing, as REPeRATE did, most breathing apps do allow you to measure your blood pressure before and after a controlled breathing session, meaning that you can measure the effectiveness of each session in the same way you could with RESPeRATE.

The beauty of breathing apps is that they’re a cheap alternative to many high-cost yoga and meditation courses. Plus, you can use them as and when you choose to, with immediate, 24 hour access.

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Breathing

9) Get fitted with a ‘coupler’ ... if you're up for surgery

This tip is one to bear in mind for the future.

Back in 2015, the BBC reported on the health benefits of a new blood pressure management device known as a coupler.

Inserted into the groin, the coupler links the artery found in the upper thigh to the vein found in the upper thigh.

This bridging of the upper thigh artery and vein reportedly results in “an immediate reduction in blood pressure” in those fitted with the paper-clip sized device.

It’s thought that the coupler helps to lower resistance in the blood flowing through the artery and the vein found in the upper thigh, thereby reducing high blood pressure.

The creators of the coupler, ROX Medical, published a study in The Lancet, which found that the coupler:

“significantly reduced blood pressure and hypertensive complications. This approach might be a useful adjunctive therapy for patients with uncontrolled hypertension.”

Reportedly effective among the 5% of people in the UK who have resistant hypertension (i.e. hypertension that does not respond to treatment), as well as those with non-resistant hypertension, the coupler could turn out to be one of the most significant advances in high blood pressure treatment for decades.

And it’s only the size of a paper clip.

Echo-NHS-Healthcare-Paper-Clip

So that’s the end of Echo’s high blood pressure health hacks. But you’ll be able to read our health hacks for many other conditions on our blog very soon.

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