Alternative treatments like transcendental meditation, biofeedback and guided
breathing appear to reduce high blood pressure in some people, a new report
suggests. But only one method that does not involve medication - aerobic exercise - is
both proven to have a major impact and highly recommended.
The report, by the American Heart Association, also says research doesn't
support a reduction in high blood pressure from other relaxation and meditation
techniques, yoga or acupuncture. However, the quality of research into these
strategies is limited, the report adds, suggesting that there's still hope they
have an effect.
"In general, there's a surprising level of evidence supporting some of the
alternative techniques being effective, and surprisingly little or conflicting
evidence in regard to other techniques," said Dr Robert Brook, an associate
professor of medicine at the University of Michigan. "These alternative
techniques are a neglected stepchild and often not given nearly as much
attention or funding for research, and are often not taken as seriously as other
No harm in alternative approaches
Two things are clear, he said: The alternative approaches don't appear to be
harmful, and they shouldn't be used instead of following a doctor's advice
The American Heart Association launched its report to give guidance to
doctors and patients about treatments for high blood pressure, Brook said.
"Traditionally, we'll talk about weight loss, diet, salt restriction and
exercise. They're difficult to comply with, and people don't follow them. We
decided it was time to review all of the research into alternative ways to lower
The report ranks aerobic exercise, like brisk walking, as having the greatest
effect on high blood pressure and the highest quality research to support
Biofeedback, weight lifting, transcendental meditation and synchronised
breathing (such as breathing to a series of tones) also scored well in terms of
When they're effective, the techniques may reduce the systolic number in a
high blood pressure reading - the top number - by a modest 5 to 10 millimetres
of mercury (mmHg), Brook said. A reading of 140 or higher is a sign of potential
How do the strategies work to reduce blood pressure? It's not clear in some
cases, he said, although exercise appears to boost the functioning of blood
vessels by widening them.
Samuel Sears, director of health psychology programmes at East Carolina
University, in Greenville, NC, said the report is important but its focus misses
the "mental benefits" of alternative treatments.
"Patients seek and may gain broader benefits from some of these therapies,
such as psychological and perceived control of their condition," he said.
So, should you try these strategies?
Dr Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an associate professor of medicine at the
University of California, San Francisco, said they're generally considered safe.
However, "the inappropriate reliance on these approaches could result in delays
in seeking medical treatment of hypertension," she said.
"And many of these interventions are associated with out-of-pocket costs for
patients, which is an additional consideration particularly if such
interventions are ultimately shown not to be effective."
For more about high
blood pressure, try the US National Library of Medicine.