High blood pressure kills people. Maybe not right away, but over the long term, hypertension increases the chance that a person will have a heart attack, stroke, kidney disease or dementia.

The trouble is that medications to control high blood pressure often have side effects. That's why many health professionals like to encourage their patients to start with lifestyle modifications. Losing weight, exercising, eating lots of vegetables and cutting back on meat and sugar can lower blood pressure for many people.

There are plenty of other nondrug approaches that may help get high blood pressure under control. Some health care professionals might be surprised to learn that there is science to support many of these strategies.

People in Finland and other Scandinavian countries are devoted to their sauna baths. Rather than seeing this as a luxury, they use the sauna for hygiene and social interaction, as well as for health. A study of Finnish men showed that those who visit the sauna regularly (four to seven times weekly) are only about half as likely to develop high blood pressure as those who go only once a week (American Journal of Hypertension, Nov. 1, 2017). Perhaps the benefits for blood pressure help explain why sauna bathers are also at lower risk for stroke (Neurology, May 29, 2018) and dementia (Age and Ageing, March 1, 2017).

No sauna bath handy? You also can lower your blood pressure with slow breathing or meditation. People who hate the idea of meditating may find the RESPeRATE device, which helps pace respiration, useful (Journal of the American Society of Hypertension, January 2015). Practicing the relaxation response also can help bring blood pressure down to normal (Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, May 2018).

What you sip also can help with blood pressure. Hibiscus tea, made from red Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers, can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure about as much as common medications (Journal of Hypertension, June 2015).

Hibiscus works through a classic mechanism. It inhibits angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE). This is the way commonly prescribed blood pressure medicines such as lisinopril work. In one study, hibiscus tea lowered ACE as well as lisinopril (Indian Journal of Pharmacology, September-October 2015).

Tart cherry juice works through an identical mechanism (Food Chemistry, June 30, 2018). In one study, volunteers drank 2 cups of tart cherry juice or a placebo beverage daily. Those drinking cherry juice significantly lowered both their systolic blood pressure and their LDL cholesterol (Food & Function, June 30, 2018).

Another beverage that has been well-studied is beet juice. A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension (October 2016) found that a cup of raw beet juice daily significantly lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure. It also lowered markers of inflammation and improved blood vessel flexibility.

Perhaps the tastiest nondrug approach to lowering blood pressure is dark chocolate. One study found that people eating a bit less than an ounce of high-potency dark chocolate a day lowered their blood pressure significantly (ARYA Atherosclerosis, January 2015).

There are many ways to lower blood pressure with and without medications. If nondrug strategies are inadequate, doctors can choose from a wide range of effective antihypertensive medications.

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Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website:

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