Some 65 million Americans—approximately 29% of the U.S. population—have hypertension, and many don’t even realize it. Those who manage their condition with medication run the risk of side effects that could include kidney damage and sexual dysfunction, among others. Instead of reaching for another pill, people with high blood pressure might want to consider taking up meditation.
Patients on medication to lower hypertension reduced their need for prescription drugs through consistent practice of meditation, according to a study published in the American Journal of Hypertension (2005; 18 [1, Pt. 2], 88–98). “The prevention of hypertension and the reduction in the use of antihypertensive drugs would be expected to result in major healthcare cost savings and the prevention of adverse side effects associated with blood pressure drugs,” said Frank Staggers Jr., MD, coauthor of the study and senior drug detoxification specialist at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic’s Drug Rehabilitation Program in San Francisco.
Researchers in Oakland, California, completed a 1-year study of 150 African-American men and women with stage 1 hypertension (average blood pressure, 142/95 millimeters [mm] of mercury). Mean age was 49 years. Nearly two-thirds of the participants were taking medication to manage their blood pressure. Scientists assigned the subjects to transcendental meditation (TM), progressive muscle relaxation or health education. The TM group practiced meditating for 20 minutes twice daily during the course of the study.
Over the yearlong trial, the meditators significantly lowered their blood pressure, bringing it back to normal or borderline hypertension levels. Diastolic pressure fell by nearly 6 mm and systolic pressure by 3 mm. Participants in the other two groups reduced their diastolic pressure by 3 mm and had no change in systolic pressure.
The good news regarding the practice of TM is that not only did participants on antihypertensive medication lower their blood pressure, but they also successfully reduced their use of drugs. Compared to participants in other groups, the TM practitioners lowered medication use by a relative 23%. These reductions in blood pressure and medication use have many longer-term benefits, both in reducing the likelihood of stroke or heart attack and in reducing healthcare costs.
Staggers recommends four practices to promote heart health and to effectively prevent and treat high blood pressure naturally. The practices are TM, proper diet, exercise and early detection. Fitness professionals who are knowledgeable about the benefits of exercise and meditation should share this information with interested clients, especially those on blood pressure medication. Clients might also be advised to discuss complementary management strategies with their healthcare providers.
Another smaller study on this topic was reported by WebMD Medical News and presented at the Second International Conference on Women, Heart Disease and Stroke (held in Orlando, Florida). Participants—36 sixteen-year-old African-American females—had prehypertension, formerly referred to as high-normal blood pressure. Some girls were assigned to practice TM; the others received health education. After 4 months of consistent practice, the meditators had significantly improved blood vessel function compared to the other group. Healthy blood vessels are pliable, contracting and expanding easily. With hypertension, this pliability is lost.