In the vast expanse of nature’s pharmacy, a plethora of herbal remedies exist that offer an impressive array of properties, especially when it comes to managing blood pressure, the heart and the circulatory system.
This is the second in a three part series on blood pressure. Here we cover herbs that can help to lower blood pressure.
The first article covered the basics of blood pressure, hypertension, and both conventional and unconventional treatments for it. If you missed that you can check it out here: Blood Pressure and Hypertension. The third and final article in this series will cover herbs that can raise blood pressure.
How Herbs Work on Blood Pressure
In that previous article, I shared a chart from one research study that showed drugs that work via a number of different mechanisms. As I mentioned then, herbs can be working across these many biological actions as well as was covered inside of “Role of natural herbs in the treatment of hypertension“.
The following chart comes from Medicinal Plants in the Treatment of Hypertension: A Review, also showing a variety of herbs working by a variety of actions to promote vasorelaxation and increase vasodilation all leading to antihypertensive effects.
Shown differently but getting to the same concept, with some same and some different herbs, is the below chart from Plants Used as Antihypertensive.
For example, if you were on an ACE inhibitor for hypertension, were you aware that Black Seed (Nigella sativa) or Tribulus plays some of the same role?
Wouldn’t you be interested to know that Celery (Apium graveolens) is a potent calcium ion channel blocker in its own right? Did your doctor ever tell you to juice celery daily and see what that does to your numbers?
Overall, these papers cover a laundry list of about one hundred different herbs! You’re welcome to dive deeper into the research for yourself, but I’ll focus on a smaller number of some of the most popular.
Blood Pressure Mechanisms of Action
Before we dive into the herbs themselves it is helpful to get an overview of these different mechanisms of action, what they are and how they work.
Antioxidants work by neutralizing Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), which are harmful molecules produced in the body. ROS can damage blood vessels and contribute to hypertension by making the vessels stiffer and less able to expand. By scavenging these ROS, antioxidants help maintain the health and flexibility of blood vessels, thus aiding in blood pressure control. Please note that all richly colored foods are high in antioxidants. Pretty much every herb is going to have some, though certain ones are richer in antioxidants than others. Some herbs support your own endogenous antioxidant systems in different ways as well.
Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) plays a role in the production of angiotensin II, a molecule that narrows blood vessels. By inhibiting ACE, these compounds reduce the amount of angiotensin II, leading to the relaxation and widening of blood vessels, which in turn lowers blood pressure.
Endothelium-Dependent Pathway and Endothelium-Independent Pathway
The endothelium is a thin layer lining the inside of the blood vessels. The dependent pathway is is like having a team work inside your blood vessels. When this team works, it sends signals to the blood vessels to relax and open wider, which helps blood flow more easily. The independent pathway is like doing the job without the team. Instead of relying on the endothelium, this pathway uses other methods, like blocking calcium entry, opening potassium channels, or using other chemical messengers, to tell the blood vessels to relax and widen. It doesn’t need the signals from the endothelium layer. It’s like the blood vessels figuring out on their own how to make more space for blood to flow.
Calcium Ion Channel Blockers
These blockers prevent calcium from entering the muscle cells in the walls of blood vessels. Calcium is crucial for muscle contraction. When it’s blocked, the muscles relax, leading to dilated or wider blood vessels. This dilation helps to reduce the pressure within the blood vessels, thus lowering overall blood pressure.
PG12/KATP Channel Opener
Prostacyclin (PGI2) and ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channels play a role in controlling the diameter of blood vessels. Opening these channels leads to the relaxation of vascular smooth muscle cells and vasodilation. This process reduces the resistance in blood flow, effectively lowering blood pressure.
Enhanced NO Production and Release
Nitric oxide (NO) is a natural vasodilator, meaning it helps to relax and widen blood vessels. Enhancing its production and release leads to more significant vasodilation, improving blood flow and reducing blood pressure. This is especially important in maintaining the health of the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels. NO is something that is commonly looked at in erectile function and athleticism. Activating eNOS-NO signaling is a specific biochemical process that increases NO production, focusing on the role of the eNOS enzyme. This is just one of several pathways for enhanced NO production and release.
Biogenic Amine (Catecholamine) Depletion
Biogenic amines, such as the catecholamine noradrenaline, can constrict blood vessels. By reducing the levels of these amines, the blood vessels can remain more relaxed and less constricted, which helps in lowering blood pressure. This mechanism is particularly relevant in stress-related hypertension, which is one of the possible causative factors.
Decreasing Inflammatory Mediators like TNFα, IL-6
Inflammation can damage blood vessels and lead to atherosclerosis, which narrows and stiffens the vessels, increasing blood pressure. Reducing inflammatory mediators like TNFα and IL-6 can help prevent this damage, maintaining healthier blood vessels and thus contributing to lower blood pressure. You can think of both oxidation and inflammation in similar ways as they both cause damage.
Angiogenesis is the formation of new blood vessels. Stimulating this process can improve blood supply and circulation, particularly in areas with compromised blood flow. Improved circulation can help distribute the workload across more vessels, reducing the pressure in any single vessel and thereby potentially aiding in blood pressure management.
Diuretics are substances that help your body get rid of extra water and salt through urine. When you have too much water in your body, it increases the volume of blood in your blood vessels. Think of your blood vessels like a garden hose. If you put more water into the hose, the pressure inside it goes up. Similarly, in your body, more blood volume means higher blood pressure. so by urinating more it’s like turning down the water flow in the garden hose so the pressure inside it isn’t too high.
As you can see, blood pressure is a complex topic with a wide variety of factors at play. Therefore, aiming to reduce blood pressure can take one or more of these tracks. While drugs almost always target a single biological action, you’ll see that many herbs work across these different mechanisms.
Top 9 Herbs and Foods for High Blood Pressure, and How They Work
#1 Hawthorn: Unveiling the Heart’s Best Friend
Known as Crataegus in the scientific world, this herb has a storied history of heart-related uses dating back to Greek antiquity as well as use in China. Today, it’s particularly recognized for its potential blood pressure-regulating properties.
The above studies mention Hawthorn’s action on supporting the endothelium-dependent and independent pathways, enhancing nitric oxide through eNOS signalling, significant antioxidant activity, modulating inflammation as well as having a tonic action on cardiac myocytes, meaning strengthening your heart cells.
Some of the compounds that help with these functions include the flavonoids, such as quercitin, oligomeric procyanidins, and grataegic acid.
Multiple studies have found that people with mild hypertension taking hawthorn extracts have seen decreases in both DBP and SBP. With the myriad of compounds and multiple method’s of actions Hawthorn makes the top of the list.
While we do not have Hawthorn available regularly at Lost Empire Herbs, it is available in our Heart Formula exclusively available to VIP customers.
#2 Hibiscus: The Blood Pressure Bloom
The vibrant hibiscus flower, a jewel of tropical regions, isn’t just eye candy. It’s long been brewed into a tart, refreshing tea enjoyed globally. Beyond its pleasing aesthetics and taste, hibiscus has sparked scientific curiosity for its potential hypertension-soothing qualities.
Research has found that regular hibiscus tea drinkers might enjoy lower systolic blood pressure levels.
It’s believed that hibiscus acts as a natural ACE inhibitor, found as effective as the drug captopril but less effective than lisinopril. Other mechanisms of action include endothelium dependent and independent pathways, increasing NO, acting as an antioxidant, and reducing inflammation.
Hibisicus is rich in anthocyanins.
#3 Tribulus: The Caltrop Herb
Tribulus terrestris has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. While these days it is known more for supporting male hormone and sexual health, Tribulus has great benefits to the cardiovascular system. For a long time this herb has been used in cases of heart disease, hardening of arteries, heart attacks, blood clots, and high blood pressure due to it’s benefits in stimulating angiogenesis.
Tribulus works like a diuretic, helping your body get rid of excess water which in turn can help lower blood pressure.
It has different kinds of saponins (like furostanol, spirostanol, tigogenin and diosgenin) that stop the production of oxidative molecules like H2O2 and stop the excessive growth of vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs). Both these help to keep your blood vessels healthier.
In addition to the saponins there are flavonoids, alkaloids and glycosides (including quercetin and kaempferol). Additional actions include boosting NO production and inhibiting ACE.
#4 Ginseng: All Healing
The Latin name is Panax ginseng, and Panax means “all healing”. This is one of the most popular herbs in the world and for good reason.
Showing off it’s adaptogenic properties, Ginseng is interesting because it can help both high and low blood pressure. In other words it can help to normalize the blood pressure. Some of the research saw that mall doses of ginseng increased blood pressure, whereas larger doses lowered it.
The active part of Ginseng includes the ginsenosides (like Rb1, Rg1, Rg3, Rh1, Re, Rd and about 40 more) which are helpful in vasorelaxation and increasing NO. Rg3 specifically was found to increase expression of eNOS.
Like was mentioned with Celery, Ginseng also inhibits adrenal catecholamines emission which can play a role in blood pressure especially related to stress.
Ginseng contains many antioxidants and is helpful in reducing inflammation. Still more effects are from it stimulating calcium and potassium gated channels and having an anti-proliferative influence on VSMCs, thus keeping blood vessels healthy.
As you can see there is a wide range of action in the cardiovascular system (let alone other systems!) from this powerful root.
#5 Green Tea: A Classic Favorite
No list of beneficial herbs would be complete without a nod to green tea, Camellia sinensis. This ancient elixir has been linked to an array of health benefits, including potential blood pressure reduction.
Studies suggest that the antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory green tea leaves can help blood vessels relax and dilate, promoting better blood flow. Plus, consistent green tea consumption may aid in the reduction of LDL cholesterol, another boon for heart health.
Interestingly, black tea does not seem to show the same benefits to blood pressure as green tea does. At least not to the same effect.
The main compounds in tea are the catechins, most well known of these is epigallocatechin gallate, better known as EGCG. There are also ECG, EC and EGC, and all of these catechins are known as vasodilators. In addition to the above mentioned effects they also play a role in increased NO. Other compounds of tea include purine alkaloids, phenolic acids, flavan-3-ols, flavonols, saponins, and tannins.
Numerous studies have shown tea can benefit blood pressure and cardiovascular disease risk.
#6 Black Cumin Seed: The Seed of Blessing
Black cumin seed, or Nigella sativa, has been used in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa for many years. It has recently become more popular in the USA for it’s many benefits.
It helps to relax blood vessels by blocking calcium channels. It also inhibits the ACE enzyme.
Some of the main compounds are thymol, thymoquinone, thymohydroquinone, dithymoquinone. Other compounds include α-hederin, essential oils, flavonoids, antioxidants, alkaloids, saponins, proteins, fatty acids and more. Thymol has been shown to work via the endothelium independent pathway. Meanwhile thymoquinone works to vasodilate by reducing synthesis and release of metabolites of COX-1 and COX-2.
With the black color, often an indicator of Jing capabilities, this seed is also rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, fighting NF-kB and TNF-a.
Black seed even has some diuretic action.
#7 Garlic: More Than a Kitchen Staple
Garlic, also known as Allium sativum, a beloved culinary cornerstone, has some wonderful effects on blood pressure.
It’s believed that the organosulfur constituent called allicin, a compound in garlic, helps relax blood vessels and prevents the production of the hormone angiotensin, thereby acting as an ACE-inhibitor, to reduce blood pressure.
In addition, garlic helps increase NO production, antioxidation, anti-inflammation, and more. Other compounds in garlic include ajoene, S-allyl-l-cysteine, diallyl disulfides (DADS), methyl thiosulfonate, diallyl trisulfides and much more.
Specifically, in some studies aged-garlic extract performed better than other forms.
Garlic is definitely something I use regularly in cooking.
#8 Celery Seeds and Juice
Celery, known in Latin as Apium graveolens, is a vegetable often used in cooking. And it has some surprising health benefits, especially for high blood pressure. Sometimes drinking the juice is used. Other times the seeds are used. One study which involved four weeks of seed extract use saw a reduction of blood pressure by 12%.
Celery’s principle mechanism of action seems to work by reducing certain stress hormones (catecholamines) in the body and making it easier for blood to flow through vessels. Here we see that Celery contains a compound called n-butylphthalide (NBP), which gives celery its unique smell and taste and may be responsible for this effect.
It is also rich in flavonoids which are known for their antioxidant effects. One flavone, apigenin, helped effect voltage and receptor gated channels via blocking of calcium ions.
Another culinary favorite Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is a great one for blood pressure. Ginger has a lot of potassium, which is important for controlling blood pressure and keeping the heart beating right.
Ginger has an interesting effect. Two compounds in Ginger called gingerol and shogaol, when administered, made blood pressure go down quickly, then a slight increase, and then finally, back down again. Gingerol appears to fight against the Ang II type 1 receptor, which in turn helps blood vessels relax and become wider.
Ginger is an ACE-1 inhibitor and calcium channel blocker.
Other compounds in Ginger include beta-carotene, gingerdiol, gingerol, gingerdione, caffeic acid, capsaicin and curcumin (the last two being the principle compounds in Cayenne and Turmeric respectively).
Some studies showed that Ginger could be used in addition to antihypertensive drugs for an additional effect in lowering blood pressure.
Many More Anti-Hypertensive Herbs
Cardiovascular health has not been a mainstay of what we’ve focused on here at Lost Empire Herbs. While pretty much all herbs are going to have some action, through common pathways such as antioxidant capability and assisting with inflammation, this list has given a few more of the best herbs and foods available.
Of course there are many others out there. Once again, you may refer to the three scientific papers linked above to find about one hundred more.
I’ll mention that we offer a couple of these herbs, Hawthorn in our Heart Formula, as well as American Ginseng and Tribulus, in spagyric tincture form as part of our VIP program but otherwise don’t have any of these publically available at this time.
As high blood pressure is a common symptom in the world, leading to some devastating health problems, this is an area worth further exploration. Part three of this blood pressure series to learn about herbs that raise blood pressure is available now.