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Helpful Supplements for High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is often termed the "silent killer" because it typically produces no symptoms. Untreated however, it can wreak havoc on your blood vessels and internal organs, setting the stage for the later development of a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure.

Many doctors agree that antihypertensive medications are overprescribed, especially for people with mild elevations of their blood pressure. Lifestyle changes, combined with helpful supplements, can dramatically lower blood pressure and may eliminate (or at least postpone) the need for prescription drugs, particularly in people with mild hypertension (140 to 159 systolic, or upper number, and 90 to 99 diastolic, or bottom number). If your blood pressure is higher or you're already taking medications, it's particularly important to consult your doctor before starting any supplements.

An array of supplements

Calcium and magnesium
The minerals calcium and magnesium may be effective only for some people with hypertension. Several studies have shown that calcium may be particularly beneficial for people who are salt sensitive, pregnant women, and African Americans. A diet low in magnesium may raise your blood pressure; supplements or magnesium-rich foods (whole grains, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, dried peas and beans) may lower it.

Suggested dose:
1,000 mg calcium and 500 mg magnesium a day. Take with food for best absorption. Check with your doctor if you have kidney disease.

Vitamin C
The antioxidant vitamin C may help lower high blood pressure by enlarging blood vessels, according to recent studies in Germany and Italy of intravenous (IV) infusions of the vitamin. Further research is needed to determine whether pills have the same effect. Scientists also speculate that damage caused by free radicals may impair the dilation of blood vessels in patients with hypertension and that the antioxidant powers of vitamin C may help correct this damage. Another recent study in England also found that higher blood levels of vitamin C were correlated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures.

Suggested dose:
1,000 mg vitamin C 3 times a day. Take with food. Reduce dose if diarrhea develops.

Coenzyme Q10
A natural substance produced by the body, coenzyme Q10 helps speed up vital metabolic processes. More than a third of people with hypertension are thought to be deficient in this substance. In a 1994 study, more than half of the hypertensive patients who took the supplement were able to discontinue one to three of their antihypertensive medications. A more recent trial in India also found that the substance decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressures.

Suggested dose:
50 mg coenzyme Q10 twice a day. Take with food for best absorption. Rarely, may cause digestive upset.

Flaxseed and Fish Oils
Flaxseed oil and fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce high blood pressure in numerous double-blind studies. Although you can get fish oils in supplement form, an easy way to get them is by eating fatty fish (e.g., mackerel, salmon, or bluefish).

Suggested dose:
Flaxseed oil: 1 tbsp. (14 grams) a day. Take with food to enhance absorption. Keep refrigerated to ensure freshness.

Fish oils: 1,000 mg 3 times a day. Take supplements if you don't eat fish at least twice a week. Keep refrigerated to ensure freshness.

Hawthorn
The herb hawthorn widens arteries by interfering with the action of angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which constricts the arteries. Hawthorn also appears to strengthen the heart's pumping action by inhibiting enzymes that weaken the heart muscle.

Suggested dose:
100 to 150 mg hawthorn 3 times a day. Hawthorn can also be taken in tincture form: 1 tsp. 3 times a day. May cause rash or sweating, but appears to be very safe.

Taurine
The amino acid taurine is thought to lower blood pressure by balancing the ratio of sodium to potassium in the blood. It may also regulate the increased nervous system activity that can contribute to high blood pressure.

Suggested dose:
500 mg L-taurine twice a day. Take on an empty stomach. If using longer than a month, add mixed amino acids.

Garlic
Garlic inhibits clot formation by making platelets less likely to clump, and it can help lower cholesterol levels and prevent formation of artery-clogging plaques. There is also some evidence that garlic can decrease blood pressure in individuals who have mild hypertension.

Suggested dose:
500 mg twice a day. Use enteric-coated preparations. Look for garlic pills that provide 4,000 to 5,000 mcg of allicin.

How to take the supplements

Start with calcium and magnesium. If, after a month, your blood pressure does not decline, stop taking them (while maintaining other lifestyle changes) and try either vitamin C and hawthorn or coenzyme Q10. To these, add fish and flaxseed oils. Taurine and garlic can be added as well.

Call the doctor if...

     Your blood pressure remains elevated (140/90 or higher) after two months of supplement therapy.
     You experience ringing in the ears, dizziness, recurrent headaches, or nosebleeds--these symptoms may indicate dangerously high blood pressure levels.

Date Published: 12/07/2000
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