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Nutrition Mailbag: Supplements For Healthy Blood Pressure

November 3rd, 2008

Nutritional supplements may help with high blood pressure, but it's not just a matter of popping a few pills.

Supplements may help with high blood pressure, but it's not just a matter of popping a few pills.

Dear AllStarHealth,

Help! My doctor’s told me that I have to go on a blood pressure medication.  I just looked up the side effects and I think it went up a few more points! I just hate the idea of taking prescription drugs. Are there any supplements I can take instead? I currently take a women’s multi and extra calcium.


Woodstock, NY

Dear Rachel,

There are some nutritional supplements that support healthy blood pressure. And we don’t blame you for wanting to leave the meds as a last resort – some blood pressure drugs are notorious for their side-effects, some are not. But supplements can’t take the place of any drug, nor vice-versa; we can’t make that representation.

But we suggest you have a conversation with your doctor about using some specific supplements for a period of time before starting the drug.  You and your doctor could assess how much of a reduction you’re getting from the supplements, if any. He or she may then be comfortable with the idea of you using a lower dose of the drug or not using it all. But again, supplements aren’t drugs; you can’t just pop a different set of pills and expect the similar results.  Especially where blood pressure is concerned,  it’s really important to not just depend on supplements OR drugs. This is the time to get serious about incorporating as many of the blood-pressure-critical lifestyle changes as possible; regular exercise, weight-loss if applicable, stress reduction, smoking cessation and for some people, a low sodium diet.

Lifestyle factors like exercise, weight reduction and smoking cessation are non-negotiable factors in healthy blood pressure.

Lifestyle factors like exercise, weight reduction and smoking cessation are non-negotiable factors in healthy blood pressure.

In terms of supplements, keep taking your multi and calcium and consider the following:

Arginine – This amino acid is used by the body to increase nitric oxide (No) levels in the blood. NO induces the smooth muscle layer in arteries to relax, which allows them to widen and accommodate greater blood flow and reduced pressure against arterial walls.  Take 1-3 grams 1-3 times a day.

Magnesium – Magnesium is a mineral under supplied by most diets (and most multi vitamins, too, for that matter).  Magnesium is an important enzyme cofactor and is critical for overall cardiovascular health including blood pressure.   The mechanism behind magnesium’s beneficial effect on blood pressure has not yet been identified to the best of our knowledge.  Take 500-750 mg per day, minus what your multi and calcium provide. Best to take magnesium in divided doses with solid food.

Co Q-10 – Co Q-10 is another critical factor for cardiovascular health and has been studied with respect to blood pressure.  100-300 mg per dose, 2-3 times per day, always taken with a fat such as fish oil.

Fish oil – Is the best source of a nutrient virtually everyone needs; the omega 3 fatty acids, directly supplying the active forms DHA and heart-critical EPA. Take at least 1 gram of EPA/DHA in combination (as they are in every fish oil) 1-3 times per day.

Potassium – Potassium has diuretic effects that may benefit blood pressure, but it’s not clear exactly what dose to use for best results. It’s sold in 99 mg tablets, and is a prescription medication in higher doses. Try 1 or 2 tablets 1-3 times per day, and let your doctor know before using potassium with a blood pressure medication.

It’s impossible to predict which of these supplements will work best for you, you could use one, several or all of them.  But be consistent with each one, don’t skip doses and take them as directed.  That way way you’ll know with greater certainty whether that supplement just didn’t work at all, or didn’t work because you were taking it improperly or irregularly.

Did your doctor explain what high blood pressure or (hypertension) is and why it’s dangerous?

If you need a refresher click here.  Take your time and really try to understand what it is and why it’s dangerous; the supplements and lifestyle recommendations will make a lot more sense.

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