High blood pressure symptoms may go unnoticed, but over time this condition can increase the risk of several health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, kidney damage and memory loss. Blood pressure is recorded as 2 numbers -- the systolic pressure, or the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, over the diastolic pressure, which is the pressure when the heart relaxes. Blood pressure levels above 120/80 are considered abnormal, and high blood pressure, or hypertension, is defined as 140/90 or higher. Elevated blood pressure is easily detected and can be managed with either lifestyle changes alone or lifestyle in combination with medications. Certain nutrition supplements may also help control blood pressure.
People with hypertension have been found to have lower levels of coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10), an antioxidant and an enzyme involved in energy production. A meta-analysis, or combination of data from 12 clinical trials, investigated the role of this supplement in hypertension. This research linked CoQ10 supplementation with as much as a 17 mm Hg drop in systolic pressure and a reduction of up to 10 mm Hg diastolic pressure, according to an April 2007 article published in “Journal of Human Hypertension.” This meta-analysis also reported CoQ10 is generally well tolerated without side effects.
Another meta-analysis linked cocoa to improved blood pressure. Published in the April 2007 issue of “JAMA Internal Medicine,” participants who consumed a cocoa-enriched diet had average drops of 4.7 mm Hg systolic pressure and 2.8 mm Hg diastolic pressure. The benefits may stem from the polyphenols, a plant chemical that give plants their color, and also protects them from disease, pests and drought. These polyphenols are known to dilate blood vessels, which can lower blood pressure. Since chocolate is also rich in fat and calories, incorporating powdered cocoa into the diet may be a lower calorie way to obtain this plant nutrient.
Historically, research on the effects of garlic supplements on blood pressure has led to mixed results. However, a meta-analysis in the January 2015 issue of “The Journal of Clinical Hypertension” analyzed the results of 17 trials, concluding that garlic improved systolic blood pressure 3.75 mm Hg and diastolic pressure by 3.39 mm Hg, with slightly greater improvements in study participants who had hypertension. Allicin, a widely-studied component of garlic, is thought to be responsible for these benefits.
An August 2011 review published in “The Journal of Clinical Hypertension” summarized research on many non-drug interventions, linking several other supplements to small improvements in blood pressure. Potassium supplements have been found to lower systolic blood pressure between 3 and 12 mm Hg, and there is evidence that dietary potassium confers a similar benefit. Vitamin D supplementation can lower systolic blood pressure an average of 2.4 mm Hg, and fish oil supplements are associated with a systolic blood pressure reduction of 2 to 3 mm Hg. In addition, incorporating 40 grams of soy protein into the daily diets of people with hypertension has been linked to average systolic blood pressure improvements of 7.8 mm Hg. The reason for the benefit is not clear, but study authors propose the soy protein or isoflavones, a polyphenol, are linked to the blood pressure improvements.
While many individual supplements have a small but notable impact on blood pressure, the DASH diet pattern, coined after the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension research trial, has been linked to significant improvements in blood pressure, according to research published in the January 2001 issue of “The New England Journal of Medicine.” The DASH diet, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and nuts is rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium and fiber, among other nutrients. In this landmark study, study participants who followed the DASH diet and reduced dietary sodium experienced an average drop of 12 mm Hg systolic and 6 mm Hg diastolic blood pressure readings. This research indicates that the whole diet and interactions among the many nutrients and plant chemicals may be a more important focus in blood pressure management than the isolated impact of individual nutrients or supplements.
Precautions and Next Steps
If you have elevated blood pressure, work with your doctor on a treatment plan. Lifestyle changes including the DASH diet, reduced dietary sodium, weight loss and physical activity can help lower blood pressure, and several nutrition supplements may benefit blood pressure even more. Before you add supplements to your blood pressure management plan, discuss risks and benefits with your doctor. If your blood pressure readings are not in control despite your efforts, see your doctor.
Reviewed and revised by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD