The path to lower blood pressure may not necessarily be through a prescription pad: Taking over-the-counter magnesium supplements may lower your blood pressure, research in the journal Hypertension suggests.
After examining 34 clinical trials, the researchers concluded that people who took an average of 368 milligrams of magnesium supplements daily for 3 months lowered their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by 2.00 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
Their diastolic number—the bottom number in a BP reading—dropped by 1.78 mmHg by the end, too.
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A normal blood pressure reading will be 120/80 or lower. Readings between 120-139/80-89 signal pre-hypertension, and those above that are hypertension.
Related: What Do Your Blood Pressure Numbers Really Mean?
This drop may not sound like a lot, but even this slight dip in blood pressure can potentially lower your risk for a number of medical conditions, says meta-analysis coauthor Yiqing Song, Ph.D. of Indiana University.
For instance, prior research has shown that lowering your systolic blood pressure by that 2 mmHg for over 10 to 15 years can decrease your risk of dying from a stroke, he says.
And reducing your diastolic blood pressure the same amount can reduce your chances of developing of blood clots, which can cause heart attacks or stroke, he says.
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Magnesium signals your heart to release chemicals that relax and dilate your blood vessels.
This allows the blood to flow more smoothly, which causes your blood pressure to drop, he says.
Related: The New Blood Pressure Number You Should Strive For
You’re probably already getting a regular dose of this heart-healthy mineral through foods like whole grains, beans, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
Related: Top 10 Sources of Magnesium
But it’s not easy to accurately tally how much of the mineral you’re getting through your diet, since the soil where your food was grown could skew the magnesium content, Song says.
So ask your doctor about whether you should take a magnesium supplement to make sure you’re getting enough: The National Institutes of Health recommends the average guy take in no more than 350 mg a day through supplements.
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But if you already have high blood pressure, the supplements aren’t a substitution for your BP-lowering meds, says Song. Ask your doctor if you can safely take them along with your prescription heart drugs.
A healthy, balanced diet plays a major role in blood pressure control. And you should consume some specific minerals on a regular basis for good blood pressure management: calcium, magnesium, and potassium. But do most of us get enough of these? "If you're eating a healthy diet, you probably have nothing to worry about. But people eating a diet of processed and canned foods or taking certain medications might not be getting enough of these micronutrients," says Dr. Randall Zusman, director of the Division of Hypertension at the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center.
3 ounces of cooked
1/2 cup cooked spinach:419 mg potassium, 78 mg of magnesium, and
146 mg of calcium.
Normal body levels of potassium are important for muscle function, including relaxing the walls of the blood vessels. This lowers blood pressure and protects against muscle cramping. Normal potassium levels also are important for the conduction of electrical signals in the nervous system and in the heart. This protects against an irregular heartbeat.
Potassium is found naturally in many foods, such as prunes, apricots, sweet potatoes, and lima beans. But food may not be enough to keep up your potassium levels if you take a diuretic for high blood pressure such as hydrochlorothiazide (Esidrix, HydroDiuril). These drugs cause potassium to leave your body in the urine, thereby lowering your body's potassium levels. "I'd say at least a third of patients on diuretics for heart failure or high blood pressure or edema don't get enough potassium from their diets. In those cases, we do use supplements," says Dr. Zusman. Don't try a supplement on your own. Too much potassium, like too little, can lead to dangerous irregular heart rhythms.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of potassium is 4.7 grams per day for both men and women ages 51 and older.
Magnesium helps regulate hundreds of body systems, including blood pressure, blood sugar, and muscle and nerve function. We need magnesium to help blood vessels relax, and for energy production, and bone development. Just like potassium, too much magnesium can be lost in urine due to diuretic use, leading to low magnesium levels.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that most older adults in the U.S. don't get the proper amount of magnesium in their diets, although extreme magnesium deficiency is very rare. It's best to get the mineral from food, especially dark, leafy green vegetables, unrefined grains, and legumes. The RDA of magnesium is 420 milligrams (mg) per day for men ages 50 and older; 320 mg/day for women ages 50 and older.
Too much magnesium from a supplement or from magnesium-containing drugs such as laxatives may cause diarrhea. There are no known adverse effects of magnesium intake from food.
Calcium is important for healthy blood pressure because it helps blood vessels tighten and relax when they need to. It's also crucial for healthy bones and the release of hormones and enzymes we need for most body functions. We consume it naturally in dairy products, fish (such as canned salmon and sardines), and dark, leafy greens.
The RDA of calcium for men ages 51 and older is between 1,000 and 1,200 mg per day. For women ages 51 and older it's 1,200 mg per day. However, many experts believe that these levels are set too high and some studies suggest an association between calcium supplements and higher risk of heart disease.
"It's been controversial, so most of us advise our patients to get their calcium from food rather than from supplement pills," says Dr. Zusman. If it's not possible to get enough calcium from food, talk with your doctor if you think you may need a calcium supplement.
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