In a new scientific statement published in its journal Hypertension, the American Heart Association (AHA) said “alternative approaches could help people with blood pressure levels higher than 120/80 mm Hg and those who can’t tolerate or don’t respond well to standard medications.”
In response to questions about the value of alternative high blood pressure treatments by patients fed up with the significant side effects of medications, the AHA decided to tackle the issue head on. A panel of researchers, led by Dr. Robert Book, a professor of medicine from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, was set up by the AHA to compare the effects of non-drug therapies to drug treatments. Dr. Brook explained that, “A common request from patients is, ‘I don’t like to take medications, what can I do to lower my blood pressure?’ We wanted to provide some direction.”
The group of researchers looked at existing data compiled from previous studies with the goal of devising an overall analysis on the effects of alternative therapy options in treating hypertension. The data, which was provided from 1,000 studies that took place between 2006 and 2011, was composed from people with blood pressure over 120/80 mm Hg. The researchers focused on three categories of treatment, which included exercise routines, behavioral therapies, and non-invasive therapeutic options, such as acupuncture.
According to WebMD, Dr. Brook stated that: “In general, there’s a surprising level of evidence supporting some of the alternative techniques being effective, and surprisingly little or conflicting evidence in regard to other techniques. These alternative techniques are a neglected stepchild and often not given nearly as much attention or funding for research, and are often not taken as seriously as other approaches.” Exercise was the leading therapy to lower blood pressure naturally, with device guided breathing – specifically RESPeRATE – following, and yoga and meditation requiring more research.
- Aerobic Therapy: Alternative therapies such as aerobic exercise, resistance or strength training and isometric handgrip exercises reduced blood pressure. Walking programs provided modest benefit while, somewhat surprisingly, four weeks of isometric handgrip exercises resulted in some of the most impressive improvements – a 10 percent drop in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. However, isometric exercise should be avoided, researchers warned, among people with severely uncontrolled high blood pressure (180/110 mm Hg or higher).
- Breathing Devices: Device-guided slow breathing, the researchers explained, did prove effective in lowering blood pressure when performed for 15-minute sessions three to four times a week. The researchers named in their research RESPeRATE as the FDA Cleared device that demonstrated “significant” reductions in blood pressure and that they believe future research will evidence far more positive results.
- Behavioral Therapies: Biofeedback and transcendental meditation may help lower blood pressure by a small amount. However, there’s not sufficient data to support using other types of meditation, the AHA explained.
- Yoga: Strong clinical evidence is also lacking to recommend yoga and other relaxation techniques for reducing blood pressure.
- Acupuncture: There isn’t enough evidence to recommend acupuncture for lowering blood pressure, particularly given the complexities involved in employing this treatment.
- New Comprehensive Treatment Plan: The alternative therapies rarely caused serious side effects and posed few health risks, but the analysis revealed some approaches were more beneficial than others and could be part of a comprehensive blood pressure-lowering treatment plan.
- Combination Treatment Approach: Due to their modest effects, alternative therapies can be used with — not as a replacement for — standard treatment. Individuals should focus, the researchers emphasized, on a combination of drugs and therapy in treating their hypertension.
The report stated that, “Most alternative approaches reduce systolic blood pressure by only 2-10 mm Hg; whereas standard doses of a blood pressure-lowering drug reduce systolic blood pressure by about 10-15 mm Hg… So, alternative approaches can be added to a treatment regimen after patients discuss their goals with their doctors.”
The panel agreed that, “It is also important to re-emphasize that many of the reviewed alternative therapies (e.g., resistance and aerobic exercise, yoga, meditation, acupuncture) may provide a range of health or psychological benefits beyond BP-lowering or CV risk reduction,” they said.
AHA further emphasized that alternative therapies shouldn’t replace other proven methods to lower blood pressure — including physical activity, managing weight, not smoking or drinking excess alcohol and eating a low sodium balanced.