Staying Healthy Newsletter - Getting a Handle on Blood Pressure
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Getting a Handle On Blood Pressure

Blood Pressure Basics

About 1 in 3 U.S. adults have high blood pressure according to the Centers for Disease Control, which increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. It’s also been linked to a higher risk of eye conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and some types of cataract.

Blood pressure doesn’t stay the same all the time, dipping during the night, and rising when we’re excited, nervous or active. But levels that stay above 120/80 mmHg most of the time can raise the risk of health problems. (Systolic pressure is the first number, and diastolic the second number). Blood pressure also tends to go up with age, but there are ways to delay or prevent this.

Blood Pressure-Lowering Strategies

Some people with hypertension will require medication to keep their blood pressure under control. But for most of us, making healthy choices can mean avoiding, delaying or reducing the need for drugs. The key to control is losing weight, being physically active, and watching your diet.

Shedding extra weight – even just 10 pounds – can reduce blood pressure. And, generally, the more weight you lose, the greater the blood pressure reduction. Since carrying too much weight around the waist raises the risk for elevated blood pressure, watching your waistline is important too.

Regular physical activity – about 30-60 minutes on most days – can lower blood pressure by as much as 9 points. Boosting your intake of potassium and magnesium-rich foods while lowering sodium-containing foods and added salt can reduce blood pressure by another 2-9 mmHg.

Research on Nutrients & Blood Pressure

Research suggests that other nutrients may also be helpful in keeping blood pressure levels in check.

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin). From Ireland comes a report that about 1 in 10 people could significantly lower their blood pressure by raising their intake of vitamin B2. Hypertension is often linked to a particular genetic or inherited factor found in around 10% of the population.

The researchers found that for these people, B2 was able to lower blood pressure to target levels while having no adverse effects on those who didn’t have the gene (1). They saw this response even in people already taking blood pressure-lowering drugs.

The test to determine whether you fall within this genetically-at-risk group may not always be readily available. But it’s safe, say the authors, for anyone to get more of this B-vitamin from dairy or fortified foods, and/or taking a B-containing multivitamin supplement.

Vitamin C. Researchers from Johns Hopkins recently analyzed 29 controlled trials looking at vitamin C’s effect on blood pressure (2). The analysis revealed that vitamin C supplementation (median level of 500 mg) was associated with reductions of almost 4 mmHg for systolic pressure, and about 1.5 mmHg for diastolic readings. For those who already had hypertension, the benefits were even better: a decrease of nearly 5 and 2 mmHg for systolic / diastolic pressures, respectively.

Cocoa-Rich Chocolate. A research team from the UK, Australia and Harvard, analyzed 42 studies (1,297 total participants) that examined the effects of cocoa-rich chocolate on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk factors (3).

They concluded that consuming chocolate has mild blood-pressure lowering effects, as well as other heart-healthy benefits. Some research (4) suggests that 1-2 ounces daily of dark, cocoa-rich chocolate (at least 50% cocoa) is sufficient to achieve these effects while still keeping calorie intake reasonably low.


  1. Wilson CP, et al. Riboflavin offers a targeted strategy for managing hypertension in patients with the MTHFR 677TT genotype: a 4-y follow-up. AJCN 95:766-72, 2012.
  2. Jursachek, SP et al. Effects of vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. AJCN 95:1079-88, 2012.
  3. Hooper L, et al. Effects of chocolate, cocoa, and flavan-3-ols on cardiovascular health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. AJCN 95:740–51, 2012.
  4. Ellinger S, et al. Epicatechin ingested via cocoa products reduces blood pressure in humans AJCN [Epub ahead of print], May 2, 2012.
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