It’s a lot to take in, and you have questions, including:
“How long does it take to lower blood pressure (also called hypertension)?” and
“What’s the best way to do it?”
Here are answers.
How long does it take to lower blood pressure?
It depends on how high your blood pressure is, and how aggressive the drug therapy is that your doctor may be prescribing.
Many doctors also begin therapy, not with drugs, but with lifestyle change recommendations that involve healthy eating and daily exercise.
One diet-and-exercise program whose success with lowering blood pressure has been documented in several studies is the Pritikin Program, which has been taught at the famed Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami for nearly four decades.
Within 3 weeks
Studying men with hypertension who came to Pritikin, scientists at UCLA found that within three weeks, the men had significantly healthier levels of blood pressure. In fact, those who arrived at Pritikin taking hypertension drugs left Pritikin two to three weeks later no longer needing their medications, or with their dosages significantly reduced.1
Another study by UCLA researchers of 1,117 men and women with high blood pressure reported that within three weeks of arriving at Pritikin, systolic blood pressure fell on average 9%. Diastolic pressure also fell 9%. Of those taking blood pressure drugs, 55% returned home medication-free. Many of the remaining 45% left Pritikin with their dosages substantially reduced.2
“Just 3 days…”
While the published research on the Pritikin Program focuses on results achieved after following the program for three weeks, the physicians at the Pritikin Longevity Center point out that for many people, blood pressure begins dropping much sooner – almost immediately, in fact.
“We have many people with hypertension who come to Pritikin,” says Pritikin’s Associate Medical Director Danine Fruge, MD, “and within three days, many have blood pressures that have dropped so low that we need to reduce their medications or take them off their pills altogether. Yes, just three days. That’s how quickly and powerfully our bodies respond to healthy food, exercise, and other lifestyle changes.
“I used to think these dramatic drops in blood pressure were something that happened to only a very few people. But I’ve been here at Pritikin for 10 years, and I see results like these every week. This isn’t a miracle. It’s simply what happens when we start taking good care of ourselves.”
What is the Pritikin Program for lowering blood pressure?
The Pritikin Program, taught by the dietitians, exercise physiologists, physicians, and psychologists at the Pritikin Longevity Center, addresses all the adverse effects associated with hypertension by:
- Providing at least 5 servings of vegetables and 4 servings of fruits daily, which help ensure that you eat plenty of foods that are full of stomach-filling volume yet are low in calories, enhancing weight-loss efforts. Losing excess weight is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure in the short term. Eating plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables also means you’ll be eating excellent sources of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Many studies have found that foods rich in these minerals help blunt some of the toxic effects of sodium.
- Cutting back on calorie-dense foods loaded with fat, sugar, and/or refined grains to promote weight-loss efforts.
- Limiting the consumption of sodium to a healthy level – less than 1,500 mg daily for people under 50 years, less than 1,300 mg daily for those 50 to 69 years, and no more than 1,200 mg daily for people 70 years and older.
- Discouraging excess alcohol drinking (which has been shown to increase hypertension when consumed in excess of 3 drinks daily).
- Adding a daily exercise regime that aids in weight loss and stimulates nitric oxide production, a beneficial chemical that relaxes muscles in the artery walls and lowers blood pressure.
- Getting an adequate intake of calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D by consuming moderate amounts of nonfat milk or soymilk, seafood, and a little sunshine.
A key take-away for many guests at Pritikin is the education they receive. “I knew I had to lower my sodium intake,” says Pritikin alumnus Juan O’Callahan of Stonington, Connecticut, “but before coming to Pritikin, I didn’t really know how to do it.
“I thought, for example, that simply removing the salt shaker from my kitchen would solve the problem. I had no idea that 80% of the sodium Americans eat comes from outside the kitchen – from restaurant meals and commercially processed foods like breads, soups, and salad dressings.”
Drugs vs Lifestyle Change
First, keep in mind that drugs have limited success. Most studies on diuretics and other blood pressure-lowering drugs suggest they lower the risk of cardiovascular events among those with Stage 1 hypertension (blood pressure between 140/90 and 159/99) by 15 to 20%.3 The problem is, Stage 1 hypertension is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular-related deaths by 300 to 400%.
“So, while treating hypertension with drugs is generally better than no treatment, it is far from a cure,” asserts Dr. Jay Kenney, Nutrition Research Specialist at the Pritikin Longevity Center.
“In fact, most research suggests that drug therapy to lower blood pressure is not likely to be as effective as eliminating the causes of hypertension, which include over consumption of salt, a sedentary lifestyle, and a high-calorie-dense diet, which leads to excess weight.”
What’s more, drug treatment for high blood pressure frequently has annoying and sometimes serious side effects. Below is a summary of common medications for blood pressure control, and their common side effects.
Medications Prescribed For High Blood Pressure
Possible Side Effects: fatigue, leg cramps, erectile dysfunction, frequent urination, sudden, intense foot pain, weight gain
Insomnia, erectile dysfunction, depression, fatigue, weight gain
Angiotension Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors:
Possible Side Effects: dry, hacking cough, loss of taste, skin rashes
ACE inhibitors are often the blood pressure drugs of choice; they improve artery function, protect the kidneys, and protect the heart while lowering blood pressure. “However, in controlled clinical trials, most showed no significant reduction in total or cardiovascular mortality compared to a diuretic,” points out Dr. Kenney.
Drug-Free Alternative For Lowering Blood Pressure: Pritikin
“For nearly 40 years now, the Pritikin Program has offered a safer and more effective alternative to pharmacological therapy because the program eliminates the dietary insults and other lifestyle-related factors that caused hypertension to develop in the first place,” summarizes Dr. Kenney.
“Our Pritikin guests who still need medications usually require a lower dose and/or fewer drugs, thereby reducing their risk of suffering adverse side effects from the medications.”