Vitamin D for High Blood Pressure?
If you have high blood pressure, listen up! New research suggests that increasing vitamin D could lower your blood pressure in addition to its other nutritional benefits. Find out more about this silent killer and how a deficiency in D can make it worse.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, has many causes. The normal blood pressure is 120/80, and as the numbers increase, so does the risk of long-term sequelae. One in three Americans has hypertension, yet a third of those who do have elevated blood pressure are unaware. The long-term consequences of untreated hypertension include increased cardiovascular risk, stroke, and damage to the kidneys.
Study Shows the D vitamin Drops Blood Pressure Modestly
Because some research studies had suggested that vitamin D deficiency could be linked to cardiovascular disease, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts decided to test vitamin D in a randomized controlled prospective study They investigated vitamin D and its effects on hypertension. The principal investigator, Dr. John Forman, is a nephrologist who chose 250 African Americans for the study, because they have a greater likelihood of vitamin D deficiency than other races. They also are more at risk for hypertension.
In this study, participants divided into four groups received doses of 1000 international units, 2000IU, or 4000IU of vitamin D, with one group assigned to a placebo group. The improvement in systolic blood pressure was modest, but significant, a drop of 4 points on average among the group taking the higher dose of vitamin D. The placebo group, in contrast, averaged a 1.7 point gain in their systolic blood pressure.
The mechanism of action is unclear, but Dr. Forman speculated that vitamin D might decrease the resistance of the blood vessels, or perhaps help the kidney eliminate salt. The study did suggest that the drop in blood pressure might be the reason vitamin D deficiency is linked to cardiovascular disease. Because people stay indoors more these days, vitamin D is not absorbed by many. The body requires this nutrient for several functions.
The Salt Factor
There are many causes of hypertension. The kidney normally keeps the body in salt balance, and in some people, the system that maintains the salt and water ratio in the body does not respond to the body's elaborate feedback system. These people tend to retain sodium and this in turn increases the intravascular volume, increasing the blood pressure. There are several classes of medication that are used to treat hypertension that work through maintenance of the sodium and water balance in the blood that filters through the kidney.
As people age, their blood vessels also become less elastic. They are less able to dilate and constrict as needed, and instead may become somewhat sclerotic. These people can be treated with medications that decrease the intravascular volume, or diuretics.
Lifestyle adjustments that can help decrease blood pressure will also have a positive affect on cardiovascular health. These lifestyle adjustments include eliminating or reducing dietary salt and processed foods, which usually rely upon high levels of salt to make them tasty.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, or DASH diet, can lower blood pressure within weeks. The National Institutes of Health recommend the DASH diet, which limits sodium consumption to 2400 mg per day, through consumption of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and low fat dairy. There is also a more restricted DASH low sodium diet, which keeps sodium consumption at 1500 mg per day. This diet is linked to significant drops in blood pressure.
Stress and Smoking Cause Vasoconstriction
Exercise has a positive effect upon blood pressure, and experts believe this has to do with body relaxation. Increased discharge by the body's sympathetic nervous system, also are responsible for producing the "fight or flight" reflex, and this mechanism can cause hypertension. One of the ways in which the body reacts to stress is by vasoconstriction in some areas of the body, so that blood can preferentially flow to the head and gut. If the body is perpetually under stress, the vessels eventually lose their ability to adapt to changing conditions. The vessels remain constricted, and the blood pressure elevates.
Cigarette smoking stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and contributes to high blood pressure. If you smoke, your blood vessels constrict every time you light up. Blood pressure regulation is extremely complex, and the process involves various body systems. There are physiologic feedback systems that help the body maintain a healthy blood pressure. Sometimes those systems fail, leading to high readings of blood pressure.
Alternative Remedies that Seem to Work
Some homeopathic remedies for hypertension make sense, in the light of what we know about blood pressure regulation. One is the coenzyme Q supplement, and researchers found this alternative medicine causes a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The mechanism of action is unclear, but they also found that it has a beneficial effect in reducing blood sugar in type II diabetics. Fish oil, another natural product, contains docohexanoic acid, which many claim lowers blood pressure.
Garlic has been used traditionally to lower blood pressure, but it interacts with many medications and vitamins. For this reason, you should not use it frequently or without consultation with your physician. It has a mechanism of function similar to aspirin, which prevents blood from clotting. It should not be used prior to or just after surgery.
Holistic practitioners believe that folic acid lowers blood pressure by decreasing homocysteine levels in the blood, and also that calcium has a modest effect on blood pressure. Potassium intake may also be linked to lower blood pressure, possibly working at the kidney level. Just as magnesium helps asthmatics by relaxing the smooth muscles surrounding the airways, some experts claim that it helps with blood pressure by relaxing the smooth muscle of the arterial walls.
In addition to exercise, several activities appear to have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, including meditation, yoga and biofeedback. Biofeedback is a technique through which people become aware of their bodily processes and learn to better control them. Traditional Chinese medicine utilizes acupuncture and herbs for control of blood pressure. They attribute hypertension to anger, obesity and high intake of fatty acids. Finally, you should avoid some dietary supplements, as they cause an increase in blood pressure. These include licorice, ephedra and ginseng.
Can vitamin D help bring your blood pressure down? Are you deficient in this essential nutrient? These are things you should discuss with your doctor. Hypertension is a serious disease with serious consequences. Now that you understand the causes, treatment options, and current research, make a decision to get your rates down and keep them down.
John Forman, M.D., M.Sc., assistant professor of medicine, renal division and Kidney Clinical Research Institute, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; Michael Holick, M.D., professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics, Boston University School of Medicine; Gregg Fonarow, M.D., spokesman, American Heart Association, and professor, cardiology, University of California, Los Angeles; April 2013, Hypertension.
National Institutes of Health (2013). The DASH diet. Retrieved from:
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