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Ways to reduce your dependence on blood pressure medications

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Blood-pressure monitor

These diet and lifestyle interventions can make a big impact.

High blood pressure can be stubborn: three to five medications are often needed to bring it down. The good news is that making simple changes to your everyday life may help reduce your dependence on drugs. How much they will help can’t be predicted, however. You won’t know until you try them.

“Blood pressure may drop a little or a lot. Even if it doesn’t change, all these recommendations are good for your general health,” says Dr. Randall Zusman, a blood pressure specialist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Eat a colorful diet

“We encourage a healthy diet that is high in red, green, yellow, -orange, and purple foods, and low in salt, carbohydrates, and fats,” says Dr. Zusman. It’s important to increase potassium intake, particularly if you take a diuretic. Fortunately, many colorful foods are high in potassium.

Go easy on the salt

Two rules: One, never add salt to your food; two, avoid foods that are high in salt. This includes most canned, bottled, or bagged foods; lunch meats; fast foods; breads; and many cereals. “Stick with fresh foods. At the grocery store, I recommend people start in the produce section, then go to uncooked meats and chicken, then to the dairy aisle, then to the checkout,” says Dr. Zusman.

Nibble on chocolate

Researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that a bite or two a day of dark chocolate can cause a small drop in blood pressure. Just make sure the chocolate has a cocoa content of 70% or higher. And remember that a little chocolate is good, but a lot may lead to diabetes and obesity.

Drink responsibly

Limit your alcohol intake to two drinks a day if you’re a man, one drink if you’re a woman. People who drink this amount tend to have lower blood pressure than people who do not drink at all. Drinking more than the recommended amount, however, may cause your blood pressure to rise.

Get moving

Exercises that put the body in motion, such as walking, can lower blood pressure provided they are done daily. Although weight lifting can temporarily raise blood pressure, lifting light weights can lower cholesterol and blood pressure. “For muscle toning, we advise doing multiple repetitions with 5- to 10-pound weights,” says Dr. Zusman.

How much your blood pressure is likely to drop depends on how much exercise you do. “Exercise to the extent you are able. More exercise is better than some, and some is better than none,” says Dr. Zusman.

Slim down

Why does being overweight tend to boost blood pressure? No one really knows. But overweight people who lose weight usually find their blood pressure drops along with the pounds.

Stay away from smoke

People with high blood pressure should avoid smoking as well as secondhand smoke. Cells in the lining of blood vessels produce a substance that lowers blood pressure. Exposure to smoke can damage these cells, causing blood pressure to rise.


Elevated blood pressure is a natural response to stress. Invoking the relaxation response can counteract this effect. Relaxation techniques help people learn how to use their mind to control their blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and muscle tension (see for instruction). “It puts you in control, it’s free, there is no gym to join or equipment to buy, and you can do it at any age,” says Dr. Zusman.

Does acupuncture work?

The jury is still out on this one. When Dr. Zusman and colleagues conducted a large randomized, controlled, NIH-funded trial of acupuncture in people with high blood pressure, one-third of those who received the sham treatment (needles inserted randomly under the skin) responded favorably, as did one-third of those who received true acupuncture. “Acupuncture works for pain, headaches, muscle spasms, and infertility, but we could not demonstrate a clear benefit for high blood pressure. Therefore, I don’t recommend it for the treatment of high blood pressure,” says Dr. Zusman.

Posted by: Dr.Health

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