Dear Doctors: I have been having anxiety, and now my blood pressure is getting high, too. Are they related? I understand that medications might become necessary, but I would prefer to try nonmedical treatments first. Can you recommend supplements that can help to reduce these issues?
Dear Reader: You've asked about two topics that will be of interest to a large number of people. Health data show that close to half of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure. According to the latest guidelines, this is defined as systolic blood pressure (that's the top number) readings of 130 mmHg or more, or diastolic blood pressure (that's the bottom number) greater than 80 mmHg.
When it comes to anxiety, that is a condition that is estimated to affect close to one-fifth of us, making it the most common mental health issue in the U.S. And while anxiety doesn't always lead to high blood pressure, it can be a contributory factor for some people. Surges of anxiety can cause blood pressure spikes, but these are typically temporary. Over time, however, chronic anxiety can begin to have an adverse effect on someone's baseline blood pressure.
We understand your desire to manage each of these conditions without the use of medication. At the same time, we are glad you understand that in order to safeguard your long-term health and well-being, medication may become necessary.
To that end, we think it's important that you bring up your concerns about anxiety and blood pressure with your medical care provider. If your blood pressure isn't dangerously or chronically high, they can offer guidance as you make lifestyle changes to improve it and accurately assess and track the results. These include regular exercise, improving diet and avoiding stress. They will also advise if delaying medication might become a health risk.
Regarding supplements, there are several that can be potentially helpful. For anxiety, these include magnesium, ashwagandha, lemon balm, chamomile, l-theanine and valerian root. Supplements such as garlic, green tea, magnesium and l-arginine can be useful in improving blood pressure. But don't go it alone. Always check with your doctor when adding supplements to your daily regimen. Some can interact or interfere with medications, or they can have adverse side effects. Getting guidance with dosages is important, as well.
When talking about these issues with our own patients, we emphasize that supplements, however natural, should never be the sole approach. This holds true for both anxiety and blood pressure. With anxiety, it's important to identify any specific triggers that lead to that feeling. This awareness can then help you understand the root cause. With this knowledge, you can make the appropriate changes in your life that can begin to bring relief. Additional natural approaches can include meditation, mindfulness, deep breathing, yoga, weightlifting, running or other aerobic exercise. Each of these have been shown to help.
Sleep is also extremely important. Studies have linked poor sleep to both anxiety and elevated blood pressure. And please don't discount therapy or, if needed, appropriate medication.
(Send your questions to [email protected], or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.)