Many years ago I lived in Boulder Colorado. I was in my twenties, and had simply packed up my car and drove from my childhood home in New England to lovely Boulder. Nestled snug against the Rockies, Boulder back then was a town full of fresh ideas, world-class athletes, college kids, and natural foods.
One of my earliest memories from that time was a local bike race, called The Red Zinger. It was the brainchild of Celestial Seasonings Tea founder Mo Siegel, and named for its hallmark red herbal tea. In the early days, the race was held in and around Boulder. That first year, I watched as cyclists rode a tight criterium around North Boulder Park, and the next day we perched above the riders as they snaked their way up through a winding mountain canyon.
All exciting stuff, but what does a bike race have to do with your blood pressure? It turns out that the magic ingredient in Red Zinger tea may also be a magic ingredient that can help lower your blood pressure. This is important to me as a practitioner, because I see many patients who are trying to lower their blood pressure and struggling with the idea of taking medications.
A number of studies have documented that drinking the equivalent of about three cups of hibiscus tea a day works about as well as the ACE inhibitor drugs Captopril and Lisinopril for people with mild to moderate hypertension. While the effect is modest, drinking the red stuff (and other teas containing hibiscus) can take as much as ten points off your systolic blood pressure (the top number).
Researchers have offered a couple of theories as to why hibiscus tea works on blood pressure. One idea is that the red compounds in the tea, called anthocyanins, actually inhibit an enzyme (ACE) in a similar way as some frequently-prescribed blood pressure medications. Another theory is that the compounds in the hibiscus flowers actually relax the lining of your blood vessels (the endothelium), which helps lower blood pressure, an effect also attributed to beets and cocoa.
The little Red Zinger bike race went on to become the popular Coors Classic. It grew to be the fourth largest bike race in the world before ending in 1988. While the Red Zinger bike race is no more, Red and Lemon Zinger teas can still be found on the shelves of your local grocery store. I am a strong believer in many small tweaks to effect large changes. If you are looking for ways to bring down your blood pressure a bit without upping your medications, think about putting some red tea, beets (or beet juice), and a little dark chocolate into your grocery cart.