Alternative Therapies Can Help Lower High Blood Pressure
April 23, 2013

Alternative Therapies Can Help Lower High Blood Pressure

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

While they are not a substitute for medication, alternative therapies such as transcendental meditation and isometric exercise can be effective in a battle against high blood pressure, according to a new report in the American Heart Association's (AHA) journal Hypertension.

"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," co-author Dr. Robert Brook, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, told HealthDay. "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."

In the report, the authors note that alternative therapies shouldn´t replace physical activity, managing one´s diet, and taking medications as prescribed — more conventional recommendations for high blood pressure.

For the study, an AHA panel of experts analyzed three different categories of alternative remedies: physical exercise, meditation and other behavior therapies, and non-invasive treatments such as acupuncture. They reviewed studies published from 2006 to 2011, including 1,000 studies on the three different kinds of therapies.

“There aren´t many large well-designed studies lasting longer than a few weeks looking at alternative therapies, yet patients have a lot of questions about their value,” Brook said. “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.”

For physical exercise, the panel looked into three different categories. They found that walking programs provide a modest blood pressure benefit, while four weeks of isometric hand grip exercises resulted in some of the most notable health gains, a 10 percent dip in systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The study authors advised that isometric exercise should be avoided by people with an untreated high blood pressure condition.

The panel also found that behavioral therapies such as biofeedback and transcendental meditation may help lower blood pressure by a small amount. However, the panel wasn´t able to find a significant benefit from other types of meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques.

While acupuncture wasn´t found to be an effective tool for lowering blood pressure, a therapy called “device-guided slow breathing” did prove effective when performed in 15-minute sessions, three to four times a week.

Brook noted that the beneficial treatments only offer modest gains when compared to prescribed blood pressure medications.

“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,” Brook said in a statement. “So, alternative approaches can be added to a treatment regimen after patients discuss their goals with their doctors.”

While the analysis revealed that some approaches were more beneficial than others, the alternative therapies in the study rarely caused serious adverse side effects and posed few health risks, the study said. The authors concluded that both pharmaceuticals and alternative treatments could be part of a successful blood pressure-lowering treatment plan.