How to lower blood pressure quickly

high blood pressure gauge

Get an in-depth look at what blood pressure is, what it means to have high blood pressure, and how to lower blood pressure naturally using treatments that are safer and more effective than drugs.

By Alan Goldhamer, DC, and Doug Lisle, PhD • A version of this article was originally published on

High blood pressure, also known as “hypertension,” is the number one reason people visit their doctor in the United States. Each year, more than 100 million doctor visits are made for medical management of this condition.

High blood pressure is both a sign, as well as a causal factor, in heart attacks, strokes, and congestive heart failure, which makes it the leading associated cause of death and disability in westernized societies.

Medical doctors overwhelmingly recommend drug therapy for this condition, making blood pressure drugs the number one prescription medication in this country.

But is drug therapy the best approach? And, is it safe?

There are many popular medical myths about high blood pressure. For example, many physicians believe that high blood pressure is an “inevitable consequence of aging;” that the “only viable treatment option for high blood pressure patients is medication”; that high blood pressure patients must take their medications “for the rest of their lives”; and, worst of all, that high blood pressure medications are “safe and effective.”

What Is Blood Pressure?

taking blood pressure

Although high blood pressure does not cause any pain and cannot be detected without a special device, it is clearly a serious health problem worthy of your rapt attention.

But what is “blood pressure,” and what can cause it to become “high”?

If you have ever been in a hot tub with the “jets” on, you have observed a circulating system. When the pump is “on,” the water circulates from the hot tub, through pipes, into a pump, and then back to the hot tub. In this way, the water can be put through a filter to remove impurities and be re-utilized again and again. A hot tub with its pump “on” is a simple circulatory system. When the pump is “off,” the water stops circulating and stays wherever it is in the system.

Your circulatory system is very much like the hot tub’s. Your blood is like the water. Your heart is like the pump, and your blood vessels are like the pipes. Your heart pumps your blood through the circulatory system in order to feed oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout your body, and to remove waste products. By circulating through the system, your blood is filtered and re-utilized, again and again.

In a hot tub, as the water comes through the pipes, it has a degree of force. This force is caused by the action of the pump, which puts energy into the circulating system and forces the water through the pipes. When the pump is off, there still may be water in the pipes, but there is no force. The degree of force in the system when the pump is on can be gauged in several ways, such as by putting your hand in front of a “jet.” Another way would be to have a device to measure the amount of force that the water exerts against the walls of the pipes as it circulates. Such a device might yield a numerical measurement of the force, or pressure, of the water within the pipes.

Similarly, your blood exerts a force against the walls of your blood vessels as it circulates through your body. The degree of this force is called your “blood pressure,” and it can be measured with a blood pressure monitoring device.

Unlike the water pressure in the hot tub, however, human blood pressure is highly variable. In the hot tub, the water ejected by the jets comes in a steady, pressurized stream. But in the human circulatory system, blood pressure varies dramatically from one moment to the next.

Unlike the smooth action of the hot tub pump, the human heart expands and contracts mightily each second or so, causing your blood pressure to be comparatively high one moment, and comparatively low in the next. That is why we need two measurements when checking your blood pressure: one at the moment when the pressure is highest (your systolic blood pressure), and one a moment later, when the pressure is lowest (your diastolic blood pressure).

Your systolic blood pressure is always higher than your diastolic blood pressure and is always the “top” number when your pressure is reported.

If your doctor tells you that your blood pressure is “120 over 80,” this means that your systolic blood pressure was measured at “120,” and your diastolic was at “80.” Both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements are important because they indicate how well your circulatory system is working.

If either of these measurements is unusually high, this warrants your serious attention. Because, as previously mentioned, elevated blood pressure may be not only a sign of cardiovascular disease, it is a cause of disease, as well.

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

Think back for a moment to the circulatory system in a hot tub. When the system is working as designed, there is a certain level of water pressure in the system.

However, we could arrange things that would increase this level of pressure. One way would be to partially clog the pipes. In this way, the pressure in the whole system would rise, just as the water pressure in your garden hose rises when you put your finger over the spout and impede the flow.

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In the human circulatory system, it also is possible to “clog the pipes.” By consuming a diet that is excessive in fats, cholesterol, and animal proteins, it is possible to develop atherosclerosis, a condition of fatty deposits in the cardiovascular system.

Editor’s Note: Considerable controversy exists about whether fat or cholesterol are, per se, drivers of atherosclerosis. They are implicated in some studies, while others indicate that quality of fat, and placement in a wider dietary pattern, may be more significant to ultimate impact. What seems clear, however, is that a diet high in animal products, sugar, and processed foods is often a recipe for high blood pressure and heart disease.

Success of various approaches to the reduction of systolic blood pressure

Over time, people can build up such significant deposits that their “pipes” are clogged up, to some degree. This is one of the main causes of high blood pressure and is one reason why high blood pressure tends to become more prevalent as people age.

But this condition is not inevitable. More encouraging still is the finding, by Dr. Dean Ornish and others, that this condition is reversible with dietary and lifestyle modifications, the first step of which is to adopt a plant-based diet derived from whole, natural foods.

While “clogging the pipes” is a major cause of high blood pressure, there are other causes, as well. A second major factor is that excessive dietary salt causes there to be too much fluid in the circulatory system.

Consider once again the analogy of the garden hose. If you turn on the water “harder,” there is more pressure in the hose. Excessive salt in the diet can result in excessive fluid volume in the blood, which results in elevated blood pressure. This cause, too, is reversible, as a plant-based diet of whole, natural foods, devoid of added salt, is naturally low in sodium chloride.

We can see that two major causes of high blood pressure: atherosclerosis and excessive fluid in the circulatory system, are reversible, given dietary modifications.

Such modifications directly address the causes of high blood pressure and thus might be expected to be quite effective. The curious reader might wish to know just how effective such dietary modifications are, as compared to the drug treatments offered by most doctors.

A summary of results from a variety of studies on diet and lifestyle modifications, as compared with drug treatment, appears in Figure 1.

Impressive Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally

food and blood pressure

As you can see in Figure 1, dietary and lifestyle modifications are very impressive as compared with drug treatment.

In a study conducted by Dr. John McDougall and his colleagues, a program utilizing a moderately low-sodium, vegetarian diet with moderate exercise resulted in an average blood pressure reduction of 17/13 in just eleven days!

This is particularly striking when we compare these results with medications, which have been found to reduce blood pressure only about 12/6 points, on average. This should be encouraging for those who have been told that they must take blood pressure medication for the rest of their lives.

It is notable that relaxation and meditation, though useful for many purposes, have not been found to impact high blood pressure. Many people find this surprising, possibly since high blood pressure also is known as “hypertension.” Because of this potentially misleading term, many people have assumed that high levels of stress or “tension” are a major cause of “hypertension,” or high blood pressure. This is not the case. High blood pressure is an essentially mechanical, and not psychological, problem.

The causes are most often some combination of clogged “pipes” and excessive salt in the diet. Lifestyle changes, such as appropriate diet and exercise, are among the most effective treatment strategies for high blood pressure. Relaxation, meditation, and otherwise “taking it easy” are not effective solutions, as valuable as such strategies may be for your psychological well-being.

As you examine Figure 1, you may observe that the real key to the treatment of high blood pressure is to practice a diversity of health-promoting behaviors.

By avoiding alcohol use, stopping smoking, switching to a high-fiber, low-sodium, vegan-vegetarian diet, and engaging in moderate, regular exercise, the problem of high blood pressure usually will eliminate itself.

However, as alluded to at the beginning of this article, high blood pressure is not only a sign of distress in your cardiovascular system but also a cause.

If your blood pressure is elevated above what is normal and healthy for our species, the pressure itself causes damage to arterial walls of your circulatory system, which can facilitate the build-up of atherosclerosis and, thus, exacerbate the high blood pressure condition itself.

For this reason, it can be useful to reduce high blood pressure as quickly as possible, rather than to patiently wait for the often-moderate healing pace of healthful lifestyle changes.

“The real key to the treatment of high blood pressure is to practice a diversity of health-promoting behaviors.”

The Evidence Says: Water Fasting Is An Effective Way to Normalize Blood Pressure Rapidly

In the study, funded in part by a grant from the National Health Association, it was discovered that by having patients consume nothing but pure water in a supervised environment of complete rest, blood pressures rapidly normalized.

In fact, many patients who began their fasts while on high blood pressure drugs were required to quickly discontinue their medications, so that their blood pressures would not drop artificially low!

Over a 12-year period, 174 patients diagnosed with mild to severe high blood pressure were seen at the Center for Conservative Therapy and were placed on a medically-supervised, water-only fasting regime. The treatment procedure included an average water-only fasting period of 10.6 days, followed by a supervised refeeding period of about one week with a whole, natural foods diet. The results of the study are summarized in Figure 2.

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Effect of fasting on reducing systolic blood pressure of various severities

In the final analysis, this safe and simple procedure demonstrated extraordinary effectiveness. By the end of their stay, all patients were able to discontinue their medications, no matter how severe their initial condition.

In fact, a review of Figure 2 indicates that the most impressive results were observed with the most serious cases. In cases of “moderate” to “severe” hypertension (blood pressures of 174/93 or greater), the average reduction at the conclusion of treatment was a remarkable 46/15! For these cases, which medical practitioners generally would insist need lifetime medical intervention, the average exit blood pressure was 128/78, using no medication whatsoever!

The reasons for this astonishing success are not yet entirely understood. Certainly, two of the major causes of high blood pressure are being addressed: excessive dietary salt is completely eliminated, and it is likely that some patients experience some reversal of the atherosclerosis process. However, Dr. Campbell has suggested that additional mechanisms may be partly responsible for fasting’s remarkable effects, such as the rapid reduction of a phenomenon known as “insulin resistance.”

Though the details are incompletely understood, the clinical results are clear and convincing. Water-only fasting represents an astonishing breakthrough in the treatment of high blood pressure, with the only “side effects” being that people lose weight and feel great.

Note: The fasting and high blood pressure study described in this article was funded in part by a grant from the National Health Association. It was conducted at the Center for Conservative Therapy in Penngrove, California. The results appeared in the article, “Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Hypertension,” published in June 2001 in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.

Editor’s Note: Are You Interested in Using Water Fasting Or a Residential Cleanse Program to Lower High Blood Pressure And Reset Your Health?

drinking water in glass

Fasting can be a powerful healing tool, and it’s been used for thousands of years. But only recently have research studies started to uncover the incredible potential of fasting for a variety of medical challenges, including high blood pressure.

For more about the benefits and science behind water fasting, check out Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease.

If you want to use water fasting or a medically supervised residential cleanse program, here are two resources you may want to consider:

  • Joel Fuhrman, M.D. has just opened a brand-new Wellness Center in California, designed for (longer) monthly stays, where guests under his care get help achieving dramatic weight loss, resolving food addiction and emotional overeating, and reversing serious diseases. He incorporates fasting and vegetable juices when appropriate at his retreat.
  • TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California, offers highly effective medically supervised water fasting and cleanse programs.

And remember: If you do a water fast, it’s critical to drink high-quality water. (Many Food Revolution members like the AquaTru water filter because it delivers high-quality water for a remarkably affordable price. Find out more and get a special discount here. If you order from this link, the AquaTru manufacturer will contribute a portion of the proceeds to support Food Revolution Network’s mission of healthy, ethical, sustainable food for everyone who eats.)

It’s heartening to know that we have natural treatments that can lower high blood pressure naturally. And unlike most of the blood-pressure-lowering drugs, the side effects of healthy eating are good ones — like increased energy, expanded mental clarity, and better sexual function. I’d call that a win!

Tell us in the comments:

Did you know? Eating to lower high blood pressure can be delicious!

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How To Lower Blood Pressure Without Medication

It’s normal for your blood pressure to fluctuate throughout the day. Excitement, being active, sleeping and waking up are all situations where blood pressure changes naturally. When your activity ends, your blood pressure should return to its normal range.

A normal blood pressure is usually defined as systolic pressure below 120 mmHg and diastolic pressure below 80mmHg. Systolic pressure is the measurement of blood pressure from your heart beats. Diastolic pressure is when the heart is at rest between beats. Unfortunately there is no cure for high blood pressure currently, but you can take steps to manage it even without medication. Here are 7 ways to lower your blood pressure naturally:

  • Exercise! Regular exercise is great for your overall well-being, and it can also help with lowering your blood pressure. Regular exercise keeps your heart strong and healthy. Plus, it’s a natural stress reliever, and stress is a common cause of high blood pressure.
  • Change your diet. Diets high in fatty, sodium-rich foods are detrimental to your blood pressure. Choose diets high in fruits and vegetables, lean meats, high fiber and whole grains.
  • Maintain your weight. Watching your weight and maintaining a healthy weight for your body will reduce the amount of strain on your heart, and help regulate blood pressure.
  • Limit sodium intake. Sodium occurs naturally in many foods, but most processed food contains added sodium. Look for food items with low or no sodium to reduce overall intake and help lower HPB.
  • Lower your stress levels. You can work to reduce stress levels through meditation, finding an enjoyable hobby, exercising, or anything else that helps you relax.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol can raise your blood pressure, so watch your consumption if you drink.
  • Stop Smoking. Smoking cessation isn’t just good for lowering blood pressure; it offers many additional health benefits such as healthier lungs and a lower chance of developing heart disease.
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Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure

Some people are more prone to developing high blood pressure than others. Certain lifestyle choices can also increase your risk of developing HBP. Lowering your blood pressure is especially helpful if you have one or more risk factors for HBP. People most at risk for developing HBP are:

  • Women (especially over age 65)
  • African-Americans
  • People with family history of HPB
  • People with diet high in sodium
  • People with obesity or inactive lifestyles
  • Heavy drinkers

Some factors, such as gender, ethnicity, and family history cannot be controlled. That’s why changing the factors you can control is important!

Why Lowering Your Blood Pressure Matters

Over time, high blood pressure can lead to an array of health complications. HBP does not have symptoms, so it’s especially important to visit your primary physician on a regular basis. They will be able to determine if your blood pressure is abnormal and prescribe a treatment plan for you.

HPB can lead to:

  • Kidney damage
  • Stroke
  • Damage to your heart and arteries
  • Memory loss
  • Angina
  • Peripheral Artery Disease
  • Vision loss

When to Seek Emergency Care for High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure causes damage to your organs over time. However, it’s possible for blood pressure to rise suddenly and cause what is called a hypertensive crisis. Hypertensive crises can manifest as either hypertensive urgency or hypertensive emergency.

When checking your blood pressure, measurements over 180 for systolic and 120 for diastolic are warning flags. Wait a few minutes before you check again. If readings still exceed 180/120, then this is indicative of a hypertensive emergency.

If left unchecked, a hypertensive emergency may have severe consequences. Possible outcomes of uncontrollable high blood pressure include:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Aortic dissection
  • Eclampsia
  • Pulmonary edema

Seek medical attention immediately if your blood pressure readings exceed 180/120. This amount of pressure can be damaging to organs and cause potentially serious conditions. If you are seeking help for controlling your high blood pressure, please visit our Primary Care Doctors library and schedule an appointment to discuss your options.

Understanding Your Numbers

Picture this–You are at the doctor’s. She takes your blood pressure and turns to you. “100 over 70.” It seems like she’s happy, but… What does that mean!?

How to interpret blood pressureTop number: systolic blood pressure

When your heart beats, it contracts and pushes blood through your arteries. The pressure created by this force is called your systolic blood pressure. A normal reading is below 120 while a reading of 140 or more indicates hypertension (high blood pressure).

Bottom number: diastolic blood pressure

Your diastolic blood pressureis the pressure in the arteries when your heart rests between beats. At this time, the heart fills with blood and oxygen. A normal reading is below 80 while a reading of 90 or higher indicates hypertension (1).

7 Ways to Minimize without Medication

Medication isn’t the only way to lower your blood pressure. Consider the following lifestyle changes to reduce your blood pressure and keep it down!

1: Lose weight

As your weight increases, your blood pressure is also more likely to increase. Losing as little as 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) can help! (2)

2: Watch your waistline

Extra inches around your waistline can increase your blood pressure so, limit the amount of body fat around your stomach. Men’s waist measurements should be less than 40 inches (102 cm) and women’s waist measurements should be less than 35 inches (89 cm) (2).

3: Exercise

The best exercise to reduce blood pressure is any exercise, so take your pick! (3) Many people enjoy walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, or weight lifting! Find out what works best for you, and move for at least 30 minutes a day. If that seems overwhelming then, complete three 10-minute workouts to gain the same benefits! (4)

4: Choose healthy foods

Stock your fridge with healthy options that are low in sodium and high in nutrients that can help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium (5) (6).

  • Eat whole, healthy foods. Dark leafy greens and fish are heart healthy choices!
  • Avoid processed (boxed) foods whenever possible
  • Read food labels to check for sodium (Learn how)

5: Limit alcohol

Drinking alcohol in small amounts may slightly lower your blood pressure. But having more than 1-2 drinks can actually raise your blood pressure by several points and could reduce how well your hypertension medications work (7).

6: Quit smoking

Cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine narrows your arteries and as a result, raises your heart rate and blood pressure. Smoking increases your risk of hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. If you quit smoking, then you can lower your risk of these complications and your blood pressure (8).

Not a smoker? Inhaling secondhand smoke also puts you at risk of high blood pressure and other health issues.

7: Breathe

While chronic stress may not directly cause hypertension, stress contributes to hypertension by promoting unhealthy habits linked to high blood pressure (e.g., binge eating or drinking, smoking) (9). Meditation is an excellent way to reduce stress and lower your blood pressure! Check out our One Drop Guide to Meditation.

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