Less Pressure

Photography by: Tracy Walker
Less Pressure
The DASH regimen is rich in magnesium, potassium, calcium, and fiber. For reasons not fully known, the synergy of these nutrients appears to have a beneficial effect, especially when obtained through food. If you pull [the nutrients] out and take them as separate supplements, you get a modest decrease in blood pressure, says Jane Higdon, Ph.D., a research associate with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University and author of An Evidence-Based Approach to Vitamins and Minerals. But when you put them all together in the diet, you get a better one. Of course, if your diet is deficient for some reason, supplements provide a useful backup. Here are the top nutrients to consider.

Magnesium: Research indicates that getting enough magnesium lowers your risk for hypertension. Food sources include dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains. For women over 30, the recommended daily allowance of magnesium is 320 mg per day. One-half cup of cooked spinach or 1 ounce of almonds has about 80 mg each.

Calcium: Observational and clinical studies suggest that calcium is an integral part of a diet that lowers blood pressure, according to the National Institutes of Health. The recommended amount for adults is 1,000 mg per day to age 50, and 1,200 mg a day after that. Food sources include all dairy products, sardines, fortified juices, and dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C: Results are mixed, yet vitamin C may benefit cardiovascular health by enhancing the ability of blood vessels to dilate. (This doesnt necessarily lower blood pressure, Higdon says.) A report in The Lancet found that systolic and diastolic pressures each dropped about 9 percent in hypertensive individuals taking 500 mg of vitamin C daily for one month. If you dont get at least 400 mg a day in your diet, consider adding 250 to 500 mg in supplement form.

Omega 3s: It takes high doses of these fatty acidsat least 3 grams dailyto achieve a modest pressure-lowering effect. But more moderate intakes do promote heart health. The American Heart Association advises eating a variety of fatty fish at least twice a week, plus walnuts, flaxseed, and canola and soybean oils. Ask your doctor before taking fish oil capsules, especially if you use blood thinners.

Coenzyme Q10: A few small studies have found benefits in lowering blood pressure, but its too early to know if supplementing is effective, Higdon says. Standard dosage in clinical trials ranges from 50 to 100 mg twice daily ingested with foods that contain fat; consult your health-care provider if you take blood thinners.