Do you know your blood pressure numbers? The general consensus is that about one third of adults in the United States have high blood pressure. Of them, less than half are controlling it effectively. Another concerning fact is that blood pressure tends to rise beginning with perimenopause and continuing thereafter to menopause, which means millions and millions of women around the world are at risk of the complications associated with hypertension along with other symptoms of perimenopause and menopause they may be experiencing. Those complications can be serious and include greater chances of developing stroke, heart disease, an aneurysm, kidney damage, and more.
The good news is that you can lower blood pressure naturally in menopause, beginning right now. But first, let’s better understand this silent yet critically important health factor.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the pressure of blood as it pushes against the walls of your arteries. Generically, it means the amount of force in the brachial artery, which is the location where blood pressure is usually measured. Two measurements are taken and given as millimeters of mercury (mm/Hg): systolic, which is the amount of pressure your blood exerts against your artery walls when your heart contracts and the top or first number in a reading; and diastolic, which is the amount of pressure your blood exerts against your artery wall when the heart is resting between contracts. It is the second or bottom number.
Blood pressure is typically classified into six categories:
- Low blood pressure (hypotension): 90 mm/Hg or lower and 60 mm/Hg or lower
- Normal: less than 120 mm/Hg and less than 80 mm/Hg
- Elevated: 120-129 mmHg and less than 80 mm/Hg
- High stage 1: 139-139 mm/Hg or 80-89 mm/Hg
- High stage 2: 140 or higher mm/Hg or 90 or higher mm/Hg
- Hypertensive crisis: Higher than 180 mm/Hg and/or higher than 120 mm/Hg
Blood pressure in perimenopause and menopause
The great number and variety of changes that occur during perimenopause and menopause can increase a woman’s risk of developing high blood pressure. One of them is the decline in estrogen levels. Estrogen has multiple helpful qualities, and among them are allowing the blood vessels to widen to facilitate healthy blood flow and improving nitrous oxide levels, a chemical involved in relaxing blood vessels. Once estrogen levels begin to decline in perimenopause and menopause, these benefits begin to fade. The result can be a rise in blood pressure.
According to the results of a 2015 study, the prevalence of high blood pressure increases the further along a woman is in her perimenopause phase. This is a good reason to be sure to have your blood pressure checked regularly—at least once a year—once you begin perimenopause.
What if you experience premature menopause—menopause that occurs before age 40? The findings of a 2020 study indicate that women who have had premature menopause should have their blood pressure screened more frequently. Women who have already reached menopause are five times more likely to have a heart attack than women who have not yet reached this life stage, and this is probably due to higher blood pressure, according to Blood Pressure UK.
How to lower blood pressure naturally
If you have high blood pressure, there are many natural ways you can bring your pressure down to healthy levels without the use of medications. As noted by Dr. Felix Thomas, cardiologist at Houston Methodist, “In certain cases, making significant modifications to your lifestyle is sufficient for lowering high blood pressure, even reversing it altogether.”
Are you ready to take some steps to lower your blood pressure by adopting some healthy habits? As an added bonus, these lifestyle suggestions can help improve, reduce, or even eliminate other issues or symptoms you may be facing in perimenopause and menopause.
- Drop some pounds and inches. Losing extra pounds is one of the most effective best lifestyle changes to help lower blood pressure. Generally, blood pressure rises when body weight increases, and many women experience the appearance of additional weight around menopause. As a general rule, blood pressure may drop by about 1 millimeter of mercury (mmHg) with every 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) of weight loss. Another entry in the “loss” department is inches around your waist. A waist size of 35 inches or greater has been associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, and one of the factors in metabolic syndrome is high blood pressure.
- Adopt a healthy diet. Food and beverages choices have a significant impact on blood pressure. Fresh, whole foods and those low in cholesterol and saturated fat are best for helping lower high blood pressure. If you want a few standard guides to help you, follow the Mediterranean diet or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet for lots of suggestions. These programs focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of many nutrients, including potassium and antioxidants. Potassium has been shown to help lower blood pressure and in turn reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Try These Recipes
- 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt (non-dairy yogurt works as well). Look for yogurts with very low sodium (35 mg or less per serving).
- 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped with stems removed
- 1 frozen banana
- ¼ avocado
- ¼ cup almond milk (plain or flavored, your choice)
- 4 medium sweet potatoes (about ½ lb each)
- ½ cup fat-free Greek yogurt
- 1 small orange, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
- Ground cinnamon
- Cut down on salt (sodium) intake. It’s so easy to reach for the salt shaker or processed foods high in sodium, which are everywhere in grocery stores and restaurants. Yet introducing a few new habits around salt intake can greatly improve blood pressure. Generally, sodium intake of 1,500 mg daily is best for most adults. To help you achieve this goal: Limit your intake of processed and fast foods, use herbs or spices rather than salt to season your food, check food and beverage labels for sodium content, and prepare your own food whenever possible so you can control salt use. When shopping, check nutrition labels. Very low sodium per serving is considered to be 35 mg or less.
- Try natural supplements. A natural supplement that has been shown to help reduce blood pressure contains black seed oil (Nigella sativa). The supplement, Thymoquin, contains thymoquinone, which helps to lower blood pressure, as shown in a study appearing in Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology. In this study, three groups of individuals with mild high blood pressure were tested: one group received a placebo, one group took 100 mg of black seed oil extract twice daily, and one group took 200 mg twice daily. After 8 weeks, systolic blood pressure among those who took the extract was significantly reduced.
- Reduce alcohol use. Consuming too much alcohol can not only elevate blood pressure but also reduce the effectiveness of any blood pressure medications you may be taking. You don’t have to avoid alcohol completely—unless you choose to—but it’s recommended women limit themselves to one drink daily: 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor, or 12 ounces of beer.
- Keep moving. Much research has examined the benefits of regular physical exercise on controlling and reducing high blood pressure. That means dedicating at least 30 minutes per day to aerobic activity such as walking, jogging, cycling, dancing, swimming, pickleball, or tennis. Twice a week, include some strength training (hand weights, exercise bands, weight balls), which also helps lower blood pressure and improve muscle strength. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.
- Get quality sleep. Sleep challenges are not uncommon in perimenopause and menopause, but getting consistent, quality sleep is essential for helping keep blood pressure in check. Results of a recent (2021) survey that involved more than 12,000 participants found that “participants with poor sleep patterns … [had] an increased risk for hypertension.” If you are having trouble sleeping, you need to discuss your concerns with your doctor so it can be determined whether you have sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome, which can be treated. If, however, you are experiencing insomnia, there are many helpful tips to resolve it. A few include limiting or eliminating use of caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine close to bedtime, sticking to a sleep schedule every night, creating a relaxing sleep environment, and avoiding use or exposure to electronic devices at least 60 minutes before retiring.
- Destress. Perimenopause and menopause can be stressful, and long-term emotional turmoil can take a toll on your overall health. Chronic stress can increase the risk of high blood pressure as well as stroke, headache, heart attack, and more. It’s essential to incorporate stress-management techniques into your daily routine to aid in alleviating this negative impact on your blood pressure. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Say no. If you have too much on your calendar, prioritize and say no to the activities that are not necessary or that can be delegated. Overloading your schedule will only kick your blood pressure into high gear.
- Relax. Take time each day to destress. Deep breathing (see box), yoga, tai chi, progressive relaxation, dancing, taking a walk in nature, and visualization are some relaxing activities to make a part of your day.
- Meditate. A short 5 to 10 minute meditation in the morning before work or during breaks in the day can lower stress levels and blood pressure.
- Socialize. Getting together with friends and talking can be a great stress reducer.
- Sit with your back straight in a comfortable chair or you can stand straight
- Close your eyes (if you are in a situation where you can safely) and breathe in through your nose while counting to four.
- Hold your breath while counting to four. Stay relaxed with your mouth closed
- Exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of four.
- Be watchful. Have your blood pressure checked periodically—at least once a year and more often if you have hypertension. Consider using a home blood pressure monitoring device as well, especially if you are taking any hypertensive medications. Talk to your doctor about how often you should check your blood pressure.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, get help immediately to help you quit. Smoking increases blood pressure, and quitting has nearly immediate effects in helping lower it. Second-hand smoke is also associated with hypertension, so avoid it as much as possible.
High blood pressure is not uncommon among women in perimenopause and menopause. With hypertension comes a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and other serious conditions. Women can incorporate various lifestyle habits into their daily routines that can significantly lower and control blood pressure. Any changes or new habits should be discussed with your healthcare provider.