Blood pressure control via deep breathing may have more to do with its ability to break down salt in the body and less to do with relaxation. The theory sheds light on the link between hypertension, stress and diet

Meditation and other relaxation techniques that incorporate slow, deep breathing have long been recommended for patients suffering from high blood pressure. Research to back up the therapeutic effects of breathing and blood pressure has been sketchy however. While slow, deep breathing does have the effect of relaxing and dilating the blood vessels in the short term, an explanation as to why couldn’t be found.

Now scientists from the National Institutes of Health think that they may have found out how breathing can regulate blood pressure. Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center undertook research into breathing and hypertension and came up with some surprising results.

Sodium regulation linked to breathing and blood pressure

Blood pressure control via deep breathing may have more to do with its ability to break down salt in the body and less to do with relaxation. The theory sheds light on the link between hypertension, stress and diet. According to the scientists, if you have a diet high in salt, and under-breathe, your kidneys may be less effective at ridding your body of salt than those of more active people.

Stress may inhibit sodium regulation leading to high BP

When people under chronic stress breathe, they tend to take fast shallow breaths, and hold them – something termed inhibitory breathing. Holding your breath diverts extra blood to the brain in order to make us more alert. This is great if you have to get out of a risky situation, but it simultaneously affects the blood’s chemical balance and renders blood more acidic. This makes the kidneys less efficient at pumping out sodium.

Tests have shown that in animals, inhibited breathing delays the excretion of salt to the extent that it raises blood pressure. If the same is true in humans, it could be a reason for why high blood pressure is the disease caused by a sedentary lifestyle – because inhibitory breathing might be changing blood gases and altering the way the kidneys regulate salt.

Americans tend to eat double the limit of salt they should for good health as well as live more sedentary
lives. By dropping a few pounds and even walking the dog, as well as eating less sodium (no more than 2.3 milligrams a day) the risk of high blood pressure could be reduced. In conjunction with adopting a healthier lifestyle, breathing slowly for just a few minutes a day could also be enough to help some people nudge down their high blood pressure. Good results can be achieved by using a device that regulates breathing and learning how to take less than 10 breaths per minute with prolonged exhalation has been found to lower BP significantly, if done daily for 15 minutes.

More than 70 million Americans are estimated to suffer from high blood pressure. Since high blood pressure increases the risk of strokes, heart disease and kidney failure, evidence that breathing and blood pressure are linked gives us pause for thought.

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