People living with pulmonary hypertension (PH) and pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) have a variety of treatment options. Medication and surgery (such as lung transplantation) are the most effective ways of treating the condition. However, many people diagnosed with PH choose to use complementary therapies alongside medical treatments to help improve their quality of life and sense of well-being.
In this article, we’ll explore various complementary therapies that might help manage pulmonary hypertension and its symptoms. Note that only drugs or procedures approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be said to treat PH or PAH. FDA-approved treatments have been rigorously studied to ensure that they are safe and effective.
Many of the treatment options discussed below, although effective in early stages of research, have not been thoroughly tried and tested. As always, talk with your doctor before introducing a new therapy — whether natural or not — for PH or PAH.
Several naturally occurring plant compounds may be effective in helping people with pulmonary hypertension. Be sure to talk to your doctor before introducing any of these products into your PH management routine.
Researchers have investigated plant compounds including alkaloids, flavonoids, glycosides, diterpenoids, pyanocoumarins, and stilbenes. However, most of these have not been studied enough to determine their ideal dosages or how they interact with other medications, including those for PH. Most side effects (and the risk factors for them) are also unknown. This makes it even more important to take these under the supervision of a medical professional who is experienced in their use.
Researchers have studied alkaloids — organic compounds found in many plants — in clinical trials for modern drugs, some of which include these natural products.
These two specific alkaloids may be effective for PH:
Flavonoids are best known as being found in leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree, which is used in popular herbal supplements. However, they’re also effective compounds can also be found in Puerarin lobata (commonly referred to as kudzu, a vine).
For people diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, extracts from Ginkgo biloba may offer lung protection and help lower inflammation. This, in turn, may reduce the tightening of blood vessels so that blood flows more freely.
Findings from one study on animals suggest that flavonoids from the Puerarin plant can also help open blood vessels and help the cardiopulmonary (heart and lung) system move and use oxygen more efficiently.
Glycosides, especially salidroside from the Rhodiola plant, may be beneficial for those living with pulmonary hypertension. These plant compounds may help lower inflammation in blood vessels and keep them dilated, so blood and oxygen can flow more easily.
Two other glycosides, icariin and polydatin, may help protect or restore the heart, lungs, and blood vessels from damage due to PH.
Plant compounds called diterpenoids that may help with PH include:
Pyanocoumarins, particularly Praeruptorin A, can help reduce inflammation in the lungs and improve function of the right ventricle (right side) of the heart. It may also lower the concentration of certain chemicals that make PH worse.
The best-known stilbene is resveratrol, which is used to treat a number of cardiovascular conditions, including PH. Resveratrol helps open up blood vessels and decreases inflammation in pathways (courses of body processes) specific to pulmonary hypertension.
A large number of plant products — perhaps more than researchers can study — may be effective for people diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. A doctor or cardiology professional who is open to adding natural compounds to your treatment strategy may know which ones are most effective and won’t interfere with your other therapies.
Certain types of Chinese medicine appear to be effective for treating high blood pressure. Although it would make sense that these treatments could also help manage pulmonary hypertension, more research is needed.
People who try these approaches, such as acupuncture, qi gong, and tai chi, should do so with the help of a doctor. A health care provider can monitor the effects of the strategy and determine whether it is helpful in improving PH.
Acupuncture seems to help the body balance itself and, therefore, better regulate blood pressure. Specifically, acupuncture has been shown to lower both aortic and brachial blood pressures — measures involving the aorta (your largest artery) and brachial artery (in your upper arm), respectively — which may affect pulmonary hypertension.
This Chinese medical practice — which involves inserting very thin needles into the body at specific sites — may affect blood pressure in many ways. Among them, it can change how the brain uses and balances neurotransmitters (your body’s chemical messengers). It can also affect the central nervous system — which, in turn, regulates blood pressure. Further study is needed to determine acupuncture’s exact effect on blood pressure, particularly pulmonary hypertension.
Qi gong and tai chi are both forms of meditative movement. These practices differ in types and sequences of moves, but both can effectively lower blood pressure. Qi gong and tai chi can be beneficial complements to other treatments. While helpful, they don’t work as well as medications.
These practices aren’t strenuous, so they may be especially useful for people diagnosed with PH. The movements are unlikely to put too much stress or strain on your body while they help lower blood pressure.
Proper nutrition also may play a key role in managing hypertension, and research suggests that certain dietary strategies might be especially useful. For example, in a small study with 15 participants, drinking beetroot juice boosted production of nitric oxide, a naturally occurring compound that relaxes and opens blood vessels.
In addition, several types of food and supplements, including garlic, vitamins C and D, and iron, may be useful for people diagnosed with PH. Once again, it’s important to work with a medical professional who understands how certain dietary practices may benefit you or affect your particular symptoms.
Garlic seems to be somewhat effective at lowering blood pressure. Again, more studies are needed to determine its impact specifically on pulmonary hypertension. Eating more garlic, which is available as supplements, may help if you’re living with PH.
Some researchers believe that extreme vitamin C deficiency could bring on pulmonary hypertension. Preliminary evidence suggests that taking extra vitamin C could help people diagnosed with PAH feel better, though specifics regarding the amount, frequency, and side effects of supplementation have not been determined.
Vitamin D deficiency may make pulmonary hypertension worse, but further research is necessary to solidly establish this connection. If you’ve been diagnosed with PH, it may be a good idea to ask your doctor about monitoring your vitamin D levels and taking supplements if your numbers are low.
Low amounts of iron in the body may worsen PH. Although some people diagnosed with PH benefit from oral iron supplements, others require IV iron for their condition to improve. This may be related to how well the gut of people diagnosed with PH absorbs iron.
At myPHteam, you’ll find an online support group for people who have been diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension and those who love and care for them. Here, you can ask about natural treatments for PH, find out what has worked for other people, and learn which doctors and other health care professionals are open to complementary options.
Reach out today to learn more about complementary treatments for PH, share your experience, or join ongoing conversations. Before long, you’ll be connected to a group of people from around the world.