We’ve all heard high blood pressure can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease, but here’s another reason to keep levels in check: High blood pressure can sap the immune system and affect your risk for COVID-19. “With high blood pressure, the heart can’t pump blood as effectively”, explains cardiologist Steven Gundry, M.D. “This produces inflammation in the blood vessels that leads the immune system to overreact.”
An overreactive immune system also makes women with high blood pressure more susceptible to COVID-19, and new research shows high blood pressure leads to a two-fold increase in symptom severity if you do have coronavirus.
The good news: Getting your levels below 120/80 not only safeguards the heart, it also reduces the risk of contracting COVID-19 and of developing severe complications by up to 60 percent. Read on for three ways to do it.
Best Food Cure: Sesame Oil
Commonly found in stir-fries, dressings, and marinades, sesame oil contains a unique compound (sesamin) that keeps blood vessels flexible. “Studies show that sesame oil blocks the effects of molecules that promote inflammation, a cause of high blood pressure,” adds Dr. Gundry.
The payoff: In a study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, subjects who replaced all the oil in their diet with sesame oil lowered their blood pressure by 20 points in 45 days — an effect that’s comparable to medication. Dr. Gundry suggests cooking with plain sesame oil, which has no taste and a high smoke point, instead of toasted sesame oil, which has a lower smoke point. Or try making a marinade of 1/4 cup of sesame oil, 1/3 cup of soy sauce or coconut aminos, 2 Tbs. of lemon juice, 1 tsp. of ground ginger and 1 minced garlic clove.
Best Home Remedy: A Foot Soak
Soaking your feet in warm water for 15 minutes each day isn’t just a soothing way to wind down: It can also trim up to 15 points off your blood pressure in just one week. That’s the word from Canadian scientists, who say that warming the blood prompts the blood vessels to release nitric oxide, a chemical that relaxes artery walls.
To increase the benefits, add one cup of Epsom salts and five drops of ylang-ylang essential oil to your soak. “Epsom salts lower blood pressure because you absorb magnesium, which is great for opening up blood vessels,” says Dr. Gundry. Meanwhile, the fruity, floral scent of ylang-ylang promotes calm and relaxation, an effect Korean researchers say decreases blood pressure by up to 17 points after just 20 minutes.
Best Supplement: Pine Bark Extract
“The polyphenols in French maritime pine bark dramatically improve blood-vessel flexibility, which restores normal blood flow to lower blood pressure,” explains Dr. Gundry. Also sold under the brand name Pycnogenol, this tree extract has been found to trim up to five points off of blood pressure, plus increase the effects of blood-pressure medication by as much as 75 percent.
Taking a daily supplement also reduces waist circumference measurements and lowers fasting blood-glucose levels by 15%, according to a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research. To get the benefits, take 100 mg. daily like this one from Life Extension (Buy on Amazon, $27.29).
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.