One out of every three patients of mine has high blood pressure. That’s also the national statistics for this condition. Shocking, isn’t it? Although high blood pressure, or hypertension as its referred to medically, can occur quickly as a result from medications, injury/pain or illness, it’s usually a chronic condition that may have several contributing factors, the most common obesity and diet. However, the true cause of high blood pressure is largely unknown.
High blood pressure can have far-reaching, damaging health effects such as stroke, Parkinson disease, and vision damage and kidney disease. As I tell my patients, high blood pressure is a condition that can be treated and controlled using natural methods rather than prescription drugs, which can have many side effects. First, let me tell you a little about your risk factors for high blood pressure.
Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is what’s called a silent condition. This means that people who have it are unaware that they do as it may have little or no symptoms. Although dizziness and blurry vision can be associated with very high blood pressure, there frequently are no symptoms and is only found during a physical exam when blood pressure is taken. Because of this silent quality, it’s difficult for people to understand that they still need to control a condition which has little, or no, annoying symptoms but will lead to far-reaching damage.
Constant high pressure causes your heart to work harder to pump blood through your body and can lead to damaged arteries that in turn can lead to heart attack, stroke, and kidney damage. The following are some risk factors for having high blood pressure. The good news is, they can all be reduced and/or eliminated with lifestyle changes that help to normalize blood pressure:
- Obesity: The #1 risk factor for high blood pressure. Weight loss can lead to a significant drop in blood pressure numbers. One of the best ways to lose weight is a low glycemic index diet that limits carbohydrates and focuses more on protein and vegetable intake. Calorie restriction to about 1200-1400 calories a day is important as well.
- Diet: Perhaps the second most important risk factor is salt and fat intake. Excess salt causes you to withhold too much water in your body making it harder for your heart to pump blood. It also decreases your potassium levels which helps normalizes blood pressure. Add potassium rich foods like bananas, potatoes, orange juice, and legumes. Read food labels to determine sodium levels and limit to 1500 mg a day. Also, too many saturated and trans fats can lead to arterial plaque build up in arteries, which can narrow them causing pressure to build. Aim for 0 trans fat, and about 10% saturated fats.
- Lack of exercise: Your heart is a muscle like all of your other body muscles. It needs strengthening to keep it working efficiently. Inactivity weakens your heart and blood vessels making it harder to pump blood and oxygen throughout your body and brain. Regular exercise helps reduce blood pressure by strengthening the heart and blood vessels and making it easier to pump blood. Aim for aerobic exercise at least 5 times a week doing walking, bicycling, swimming, stair stepper, elliptical, treadmill, aerobic dance like Zumba or Z-box, anything that will keep you moving for at least 40 minutes.
- Stress. Do you have a high stress lifestyle? You need to take time in your life to de-compress from things that can be contributing to your high blood pressure.
Managing High Blood Pressure Naturally
Although high blood pressure medications are often prescribed to treat the condition, in many cases prescription drugs are not necessary. The following natural methods can work together to lower blood pressure. These include:
- Lifestyle modification: As noted above, losing weight, changing your diet, and adding exercise to strengthen your heart and blood vessels.
- Power breathing/meditation: Doing deep breathing exercises daily, 5 minutes in the morning and 5 at night, can help lower your stress levels and bring down blood pressure. In addition, meditation and exercise like yoga, tai chi or qigong can also help.
- Magnesium: Many over 40 people are magnesium deficient, which can contribute to higher blood pressure. Be sure you get about 500 mg a day, taking into account what your multivitamin has as well as foods you eat. Supplement if needed.
- Dark Chocolate: Contains flavonols that help arteries relax and lower pressure. Recipe I share with my patients: A cup of cocoa daily with 2-3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa used for baking in hot water. This is about 90% pure cocoa and contains the most flavonols. Add a little coffee cream (powdered creams contain trans fats!), a little Stevia to sweeten, a little fat-free whipped cream with cinnamon on top.
- CoQ10: Studies show that 60 to 100 mg up to 3 times a day can help reduce pressure.
- A drink a day: Studies also show that 1 glass of wine a day for women, 2 for men, can help lower blood pressure. But more is never better where alcohol is concerned.
- Decaffeinate: Studies also show that drinking regular coffee raises blood pressure for several hours. Regular coffee throughout the day can keep blood pressure elevated.
- Quit smoking. Smoking damages blood vessels causing pressures to rise.
High blood pressure statistics amongst Americans are at unprecedented levels perhaps because obesity and inactivity levels are at all time highs as well. The best way to control high blood pressure is to first determine if you have it. Get a regular medical check up to determine your levels. If you do have high blood pressure, tell your doctor you’d like to try the above lifestyle methods first to lower your pressure rather than start on prescription drugs. I feel confident that they can help get your blood pressure to lower, healthier levels.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News