Just like my brush with high cholesterol, this year saw me with a blood pressure that seemed to be running high by about 10 points on both sides. So instead of the acceptable 119/79 systolic/diastolic, I was more typically in the range of 125-135/85-95. Blood pressure does tend to increase with age, and I thought maybe it was catching up to me.
Bear in mind these measurements were usually made with my own home monitor, although my every-other-month visit to donate blood also usually showed my pressure in the same range. It’s also interesting to note that my blood pressure was lower in the mornings (<120 systolic and <80 diastolic). By the afternoon, however, it had (usually) increased.
It was high enough on the day of my physical (I get one every 5 years and this year I turned 50) that the doctor put me on a 24-hour monitoring cuff. A monitoring cuff is a blood pressure cuff worn around the upper arm with a tube that runs to a little pump thingie on a belt around your waist. It goes off every 30 minutes during the day, and every hour at night. I give the cuff a 0/10 – do not recommend.
The results from the cuff were concerning enough that the doctor’s office called me and wanted me to start on blood pressure medication, and this was before I even had my follow up appointment. They told me I’d averaged out around 160/100. I was skeptical… like I said, I check it occasionally myself at home and it had never been that high even at its highest.
I told them I wanted to talk to the doctor first. My appointment was 8 days off. I decided to make a log with my home monitor. I checked my blood pressure in the morning, when I got home from work, sometime in the evening, and again before I went to bed. I checked it standing, sitting, and laying. In all the measurements I took, I never came close to 160/100, although I did record some high 140s over 90s. My average of all the measurements taken over eight days was 117/78, a far distance away from the the 160/100 the 24-hour cuff recorded.
I went back to the doc for my appointment and took along log and home monitor. He had me use the monitor in the office and then had a nurse take my BP — my home monitor was accurate. He looked over my log and shrugged, suggesting “white coat” syndrome. He suggested I keep an eye on it and that was that.
The experience, however, got me interested in supplements to help lower blood pressure. I’d had success with diet changes and supplements when it came to improving my cholesterol profile, so why not blood pressure?
I’ll spare you the uninteresting research details and get right to the results. I will tell you that if you go looking, you will find A BUNCH of information on a huge variety of supplements that all have some studies done showing blood pressure reduction. I picked what seem to be the best of the bunch.
Alpha Lipoic Acid/Acetyl-L-Carnitine
These are taken in conjunction. A definitive assessment is still pending, but this study (admittedly a small one) shows good results in lowering blood pressure in hypertensive and pre-hypertensive people. Note that the sample group was made up of individuals 55+ who had already been diagnosed with coronary artery disease.
There are also some studies of Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) used by itself that indicated no beneficial effects on blood pressure, so it can be assumed that ALA (in isolation) has no significant influence on blood pressure.
300 – 600mg daily is the dosage range for ALA and 630-2,500mg daily for ALCAR.
Garlic has been touted by “natural health” gurus as a cure-all for some time, but it turns out when it comes to blood pressure, the evidence is in: it helps. This “meta-analysis” looks at the results of 21 studies and concluded that supplements of garlic supplements containing the ingredient allicin consistently led to reductions in blood pressure. Allicin is produced when raw garlic is crushed, but is mostly destroyed during cooking. Bonus: allicin also seems to help lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides too.
Garlic supplements can interact with other medications, especially blood thinners, so talk to the doc before starting a garlic supplement.
Dosage here is from 600 – 1,200mg daily.
Most people have heard taking fish oil can help with cholesterol and systemic inflammation (although some recent studies are showing contrary results). It’s interesting to note that fish oil can actually raise total cholesterol (though part of that is an increase in high density lipoprotein (HDL), the good stuff). Also interesting is that fish oil seems to work really on improving your cholesterol numbers when used in conjunction with garlic, so if you’re already taking fish oil, adding in a garlic supplement can only help.
When it comes to blood pressure, fish oil may help decrease blood pressure in people who already are already high, but it doesn’t seem to have an affect on people with normal level blood pressure.
The American Heart Association recommends 1,000mg a day although dosages up to 6,000mg a day (or more) have been used with no ill effect.
There are bioactive compounds found in cocoa products, including flavanols, procyanidins and a particularly high level of (-)-epicatechin. Research has established a link between taking cocoa extract or eating dark chocolate and better blood flow and improved insulin sensitivity. Supplementing with (-)-epicatechin also increases the production of nitric oxide, a molecule that widens blood vessels and improves blood flow.
The neat thing here is that instead of taking a cocoa extract supplement, you can just eat dark chocolate. About 26-40g of dark chocolate containing at least 85% cocoa does the job. That’s about 200 calories worth. Only dark chocolate works though, milk chocolate and white chocolate don’t, so toss out the Hershey’s.
Dosage wise, you want to aim for 500 – 1,000mg of extract daily.
Cocoa extract supplements can be hard to find, but Swanson sells one: Swanson Ultra Organic Cocoa Extracts — it’s not cheap though.
Magnesium appears to have beneficial effects on blood pressure, but only in two circumstances:
- There’s already a magnesium deficiency in the body (deficient)
- The person already has elevated blood pressure (140/90 or above)
Note that the person doesn’t have to be deficient in magnesium if he or she meets the second condition.
This study looked at magnesium oxide and also indicated a reduction, but only in people who where already hypertensive, condlugin”
the usefulness of increasing magnesium intake as a lifestyle modification in the management of hypertension, although its antihypertensive effect may be small.
The standard dose for magnesium is 200-500mg a day. Too much has been associated with a laxative effect.
This isn’t a supplement, but there’s a pretty wide consensus now that taking a baby aspirin daily if you’re a man over age 50 or a woman over age 60 is a food idea, especially if you have any risk factors, including a family history of cardiac disease.
My Blood Pressure Supplement Stack
Here we are, the meat and potatoes. Here’s the daily supplements I take to help reduce my blood pressure:
- Alpha Lipoic Acid – 600mg in the morning
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine – 1500mg daily: 1,000mg in the morning, 500mg in the evening
- Garlic – 2,000mg daily: 1,000mg morning, 1,000mg evening
- Fish oil – 5,200 mg daily: 2 x 1,300 morning, 2 x 1,300 evening
- Magnesium Oxide – 500mg morning, 500mg evening
- Baby aspirin – 88mg before bed
You might notice that I’m not taking cocoa extract despite the abundance of evidence that it helps blood pressure. I just wasn’t able to find a good cocoa supplement at what I considered to be a reasonable price. If I locate one, I’ll up update.
Does it work?
As I wrote above, when I kept a log for the doctor, I ended up with an average reading of 177/78 for my blood pressure, taken 4x a day (first thing in the morning, late afternoon, evening, before bed). After 60 days of my stack my average for the past week (taken first thing int he morning and before bed) has been 175/75, so that is a couple of points lower on both sides.
I’m curious to see how it works for someone who starts out with a higher average.
If you try this stack, post a comment and let me know how it worked for you.