Roughly one-third of Americans are living with hypertension and even fewer have their high blood pressure under proper control. As a result, there are numerous drugs and dietary options available to help people lower their blood pressure and better reduce their risk of complications such as heart attack or stroke, and among them is fish oil.
Fish oil helps to lower blood pressure and should be considered when looking for options to manage hypertension. The effects of fish oil on lowering blood pressure have been repeatedly documented.
Studies Show Link between Fish Oil, Blood Pressure, and Vasodilation
How does fish oil lower blood pressure? The answer lies in its omega-3 fatty acid content. Numerous studies have been conducted on the impacts that omega-3 may or may not have on blood pressure. From a meta-analysis (that is, a “study of studies”) that tested the effects of omega-3 on blood pressure versus a placebo, the following findings can be drawn:
- The average blood pressure reduction was −3.0/−1.5 (the left number is highest point when arteries are contracting; the right number is lowest when arteries are relaxing).
- The reduction was greatest in subjects who already had hypertension.
- The reduction was lowest, or nonexistent, in people with normal blood pressure.
- The effect was increased the larger the dose of omega-3, with an average reduction of −0.66/−0.35 per gram of omega-3.
In other words, fish oil—due to its omega-3 content—can produce lower blood pressure, and it will have more noticeable effects if you are already hypertensive.
How Omega-3 in Fish Oil Helps Lower Blood Pressure
Omega-3 lowers blood pressure for a few different reasons:
1. It has vasodilatation properties, meaning it helps relax blood vessels and keep them open, promoting ease of blood flow.
2. Omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory, and helps prevent arteries from swelling, further ensuring that blood flows easily.
3. Lastly, omega-3 has anti-coagulant effects, meaning it, and subsequently, fish oil, can thin the blood and reduce the likelihood of clots and blocked arteries.
Incidentally, the blood-thinning behavior is why you really shouldn’t take fish oil without consulting your doctor—especially if you have other coronary conditions.
It’s worth noting that the daily recommended value for omega-3 is only one gram per day, and possibly up to four when trying to manage blood pressure; this translates into a small-but-noticeable decrease in blood pressure on average. However, this is very different than saying that fish oil alone can treat hypertension. A normal blood pressure reading is anything below 120/80, with hypertension starting at 140/90, and prehypertension falling in between. Unless you are on the cusp of the hypertension category, it is unlikely that fish oil alone will be a sufficient treatment, but it may be combined with other lifestyle and medical approaches.
Lifestyle Changes to Lower Blood Pressure
Since fish oil alone won’t likely stop hypertension, you should try combining it with some of these other natural methods as a way to lower your blood pressure.
- Exercise: A brisk 30 minutes per day spent doing physical activity can help keep blood pressure manageable. Although you don’t need to do this every day, consistency is important so don’t take more than a single day off in a row. Preferred activities include walking, jogging, swimming, or dancing. Your doctor can be consulted about other possible exercises that will be most suited to your specific health situation.
- Lose weight: Being overweight increases your blood pressure, and it also increases your chance of developing conditions that can further provoke blood pressure, such as sleep apnea or coronary issues. The good news is that taking steps such as exercising or incorporating more fruits and grains and less salt and sugar into your diet can lower blood pressure on their own, so you can enjoy a two-for-one benefit!
- Eat more fruit and less salt: Fruit is a good source of potassium particularly bananas which helps mitigate the impact sodium has on your blood pressure. However, potassium can’t lower your blood pressure as well as you’d like it to unless your potassium intake is greater than your sodium intake, so as you try to eat more fruit you should take steps to eat less salt as well.
- Drink less… or possibly more: Alcohol has an interesting effect on blood pressure. In low amounts it can actually reduce blood pressure modestly. However, drink too much—more than two drinks per day—and you will see an increase instead. Too much alcohol can also interfere with blood-pressure medications. Remember: one drink is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
- Fish: It’s important to remember that the effects of fish oil on blood pressure come from its omega-3 content. This means that fish oil itself is not, strictly speaking, necessary. Eating a few servings of fish per week can help provide your body with omega-3s without the use of supplements.
- Quit smoking: Among the many other undesirable effects on the body, smoking also raises blood pressure. Ditching the cigarettes will improve much more than your blood pressure and is worth trying.
- Relax: Stress is a known contributor to high blood pressure, so finding ways to minimize it is important. This can involve meditation, getting a good night’s sleep, finding time for hobbies and fun, or developing better problem-solving techniques.
- Track your blood pressure: It’s very easy, especially when battling hypertension, to let your blood pressure get away from you simply because you haven’t been keeping track of it regularly. Blood pressure testers are not hard to obtain and don’t require a prescription. Ideally, you should talk with your doctor before starting any home-monitoring attempts since they can give you more tailored guidance.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Morris, M. C., et al, “Does Fish Oil Lower Blood Pressure? A Meta-analysis of Controlled Trials,” Circulation, 1993: 523–33; doi: 10.1161/01.CIR.88.2.523.
“Understanding Blood Pressure Readings,” American Heart Association web site, last updated December 18, 2015; http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/AboutHighBloodPressure/Understanding-Blood-Pressure-Readings_UCM_301764_Article.jsp#.VtSDNPkrJ1t, last accessed March 4, 2016.
“10 Ways to Control High Blood Pressure without Medication,” Mayo Clinic web site, May 30, 2015; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974, last accessed March 4, 2016.
“10 Ways to Control High Blood Pressure without Medication,” Mayo Clinic web site, May 30, 2015; http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974?pg=2, last accessed March 4, 2016.
“Omega-3 Fatty Acids,” University of Maryland Medical Center, web site, last updated August 5, 2015; http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids, last accessed March 4, 2016.