There are numerous complementary and alternative approaches to managing your blood pressure. Some have a strong body of evidence behind them and are well accepted by the medical community, whilst others are little more than old wives tales.
Complementary therapies are defined as those that are used alongside with conventional medical treatments, whilst alternative therapies are used instead of mainstream interventions.
There is little doubt that evidence-based complementary therapies can have a very positive effect in supporting mainstream interventions, as long as they are discussed with - and approved by - your doctor or specialist first.
Alternative therapies, as the sole treatment, carry with them a greater risk of not achieving good management of your blood pressure - or worse, allowing your blood pressure control to deteriorate further, so it's absolutely imperative that you discuss alternative therapies with your doctor or specialist first before you decide on this approach.
Complementary and alternative approaches to blood pressure management
Regular, moderate-intensity exercise and a low-fat diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will help you to maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, will help to reduce your blood pressure.
Controlling your sodium intake is a key part of managing your blood pressure. Minimise your intake of high-sodium foods such as packeted and tinned soups, savoury snacks and crisps, cured meats, cheeses and breads - and certainly avoid as far as possible adding salt to your food, either during preparation or at the table. Seasoning with herbs and spices is a great alternative.
Minimising how much alcohol you drink will help to improve your blood pressure control and by avoiding all forms of tobacco you will significantly reduce damage to the walls of your arteries, which can lead to hardening and increased blood pressure.
Finally, keep calm and… manage the stresses in your life - this will reduce the frequency of transient increases in your blood pressure.
Herbs such as Stephania tetrandra (tetrandrine), Crataegus species (hawthorn), Panax notoginseng (ginseng) and Rauwolfia serpentina (snakeroot) are all purported to help reduce elevated blood pressure. However, the evidence base behind these herbal therapies is still relatively limited so a discussion with your GP or specialist is important, especially as they may interact with mainstream blood pressure medication.
Remember that certain herbs can actually increase blood pressure such as licorice, yohimbine and ephedra (Ma Huang), so if you're already taking these, you should consider stopping and you certainly shouldn't start taking them.
A number of nutritional supplements have been shown to reduce blood pressure, although once again, the evidence is variable. One of the most substantiated supplements is coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), for which there is good evidence of significant blood pressure reductions as well as negligible side effects.
Magnesium and potassium supplementation has also been shown to help control blood pressure levels. Like CoQ10, evidence is strong for these nutrients and they are well worth considering. Other supplements include omega-3 fatty acids and the amino acids L-arginine and L-taurine - all of which have been shown to have moderate effects on blood pressure although the evidence is less consistent.
Although a great deal of research has been carried out on the ability of acupuncture to reduce blood pressure, many of the studies have found to have significant weaknesses. However, the risks are minimal so whilst more good quality research is needed, it may well be worth giving acupuncture a try.
Remember - consultation with your doctor or specialist is imperative. They will not only be able to advise you on how safe and effective the therapies you're considering are, but also ensure that they are right for you and integrate effectively with any medical treatment you may be receiving.