Any visit to the doctor can be stressful--even raising your blood pressure temporarily--but the blood pressure test during your annual physical can be critical to your long-range health.
If your blood pressure is elevated mildly, your doctor may send you home and tell you to relax, lose weight, exercise and drink less alcohol. If you smoke, he will ask you to give up the habit. These lifestyle changes have been found to aid in restoring normal blood pressure. If your blood pressure is elevated consistently for the next few visits, you will be told you have hypertension and it's time to start treatment.
The typical therapy follows a three-step process: First, you are prescribed a Step 1 medication--a diuretic, such as Lasix, Lozol, Chlorthalidone or Bumex. Eventually, the diuretic becomes less effective and a Step 2 medication called a beta-blocker is usually added. Examples of beta-blockers are Lopressor, Levatol, Inderal, Cartrol and Atenolol. This drug also loses its effectiveness in time. In Step 3, an ACE-inhibitor, such as Captopril, Lysinopril, Benazopril Hydrochloride, Quinopril Hydrochloride, or a calcium channel blocker, such as Norvasc, Verapimil or Cardizem, is prescribed.
Looking back on the results of this three-step process, what happened? You took three steps toward curing your hypertension, but with each step you regressed faster towards worsening health. By adding extra medications, your quality of life rapidly declined. You may have gone from taking no medications to taking three or four. You are now tied down to a schedule of prescription drugs, scared into believing that if you stop any of them you will suffer a stroke.
Not to mention the side effects! Diuretics cause potassium loss; it is no coincidence that the sodium/potassium ratio is off balance in those with hypertension. Many people report personality changes from beta-blockers, ACE-inhibitors and calcium channel blockers. Beta-blockers also block the beta cells of the pancreas. Over time, this increases the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The situation could be stressful enough to lead you to the refrigerator to console yourself with food, resulting in weight gain and further increase in blood pressure!
According to the American Heart Association, 75 million Americans age 20 and older have high blood pressure. That is roughly one in three adults. The three-step medication protocol is given to about 50.6 million patients each year. But the death rate from high blood pressure increased 19.5% from 1996 to 2006, and the actual number of deaths rose 48.1%. If the death rate has increased that much, one can conclude that the conventional treatment methodology is ineffective. So, why is this popular three-step protocol still being used?
Treating Hypertension Naturally
Before you look for other ways to lower your blood pressure, it's important to check your knowledge on the topic. Did you know the following?
Every part of your body can regenerate itself when it is given the right substances. Drugs are not on your body's wish list! Most block the body's natural healing processes.
Complementary health practitioners have been helping their patients lower their blood pressure for decades. That isn't anything new, and it isn't a fad.
Once someone begins a complementary health treatment program for high blood pressure, they start feeling better in the first few weeks. By the end of the program, they may not need blood pressure medication at all.
To determine how to treat high blood pressure naturally, first you have to understand what causes the condition. Medical doctors still don't know the true cause of 90% of hypertension cases, but they do know that it's related to atherosclerosis, kidney disease, chronic stress leading to adrenal disease, as well as diet and lifestyle factors that contribute to these conditions. As with many diseases, there is also an emotional component, contributed by excess worry, irritability, anger, greed and ego.
Many patients with high blood pressure report a frequent feeling of tension in their body, as if they are on the verge of a fit of anger. They aren't angry at anyone in particular when this happens. The tension they feel is real. Scientists have confirmed that this excessive neural tone may be associated with high levels of noradrenaline. A study published by the Journal of Human Hypertension in 2002 showed a high correlation between elevated levels of noradrenaline and hypertension. Therapies as simple as relaxation were found effective in this study.
Breathing exercises are simple, and we can benefit from as little as ten minutes of daily practice. In a 2009 Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers reported that various breathing exercises benefited those with hypertension, and that slow breathing had the most value.
Yoga is easy to incorporate into one's lifestyle. In a University of Pennsylvania study, researchers found that twelve weeks of regular yoga practice produced clinically meaningful improvements for patients with prehypertension and Stage 1 hypertension.
Meditation can also be beneficial. Recently a randomized controlled trial concluded that Transcendental Meditation decreased blood pressure associated with psychological distress and increased coping in young people at risk for hypertension.
One of the easiest factors related to blood pressure that you can control on your own is your diet. Reducing sodium intake can have a dramatic impact on blood pressure. Cut back on processed, packaged foods and read labels for sodium content. Any packaged or canned food should have less than 140 mg sodium per serving. Refrain from adding salt to your food, and incorporate more vegetables and fruits in your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and improved blood pressure. Vegetarian sources of this essential nutrient include olive oil, leafy green vegetables and the seeds and oils of walnut, flax, hemp, pumpkin and soy.
Reduce your alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that if you have cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, a reasonable alcohol limit is 30 ml or 1 oz per day. For men, this equates to two 4-oz glasses of wine (at 12-13%) or two 12-oz glasses of beer (~4%). For women, those limits are cut in half.
Avoid sugars. Foods that are high in sugar, including most processed foods, contribute not only to high blood sugar levels but high blood pressure as well. A rise in blood sugar leads to a rise in insulin and eventual insulin resistance, weight gain and diabetes. In 1997, the Journal of the American Medical Association published studies showing that diabetes can be predicted by a diet containing foods with a high glycemic index (and thus a high glycemic load). Glycemic index is a scale that indicates how fast and how high a particular food raises your blood sugar level. Google "glycemic index" and check the glycemic index of the foods you eat. My advice is to find ways to have a sweet life without sugar!
A complete dietary supplement list should be determined by your nutritionist or health practitioner based on lab tests. However, these are the most commonly used supplements for those with hypertension, besides a standard multiple vitamin/mineral:
|Potassium ||2400-4400 mg daily
|Magnesium ||2300-4300 mg daily
|Vitamin C ||2500-4500 mg daily
|Calcium ||800-1400 mg daily
|Arginine ||500 mg per 22 pounds of body weight
|CoQ10 ||100 mg daily
Moderate blood pressure decreases have been seen just from supplementing CoQ10, a vitamin-like substance present in most cells. Various studies have linked magnesium deficiency and insufficient calcium intake with hypertension. Vitamin C helps the body get rid of heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium and mercury, that can be linked to high blood pressure. Arginine is an amino acid connected with the nitric oxide system, directly affecting blood vessels' ability to dilate and constrict--a key factor in high blood pressure.
Many herbs can be used successfully to provide therapeutic benefits to the cardiovascular system and reduce blood pressure. Herbs can often fill in biochemical gaps, missing links in health, providing medicinal constituents that act powerfully in the body.
Many medical doctors will tell you a particular herb is dangerous because it contains one specific constituent, but the constituent does not act alone once it is in your body. It acts in concert with other constituents of the herb, which oppose or neutralize it. Because of this, herbs often do not have negative side effects. However, not all herbs are medicinal, and all medicinal herbs have contraindications known to herbalists and health practitioners trained in their usage.
Terminalia arjuna is an herb found in abundance in the Himalayan forests, Bengal, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. The saponin glycosides found in this herb are responsible for an inotropic effect, meaning that the force with which the heart and other muscles contract is affected. The arteries are strengthened by its flavonoids and proanthocyanidins. This important herb also interacts with LDL cholesterol, accelerating its turnover in the liver and inhibiting its oxidation, thus contributing to cholesterol reduction in the body. Terminalia has the potential to correct abnormalities in endothelial cells, those that line the interior of blood vessels. A study in 2003 indicates that it has beta-blocking activity. Terminalia has no toxicity, does not interact with drugs and has no contraindications.
Studies on this herb are very promising. In a 2002 double blind crossover study published in the Indian Heart Journal, 58 males diagnosed with ischemic heart disease were given either the standard medical treatment (isosorbide mononitrate, a blood vessel dilator), Terminalia, or a placebo for one week. They were monitored for symptoms of angina (severe chest pain) during exercise. Terminalia reduced symptoms better than the placebo and was equal to the standard medical treatment.
The root of the Rauwolfia serpentina tree has been used for thousands of years to lower blood pressure. It contains more than 50 active alkaloids that work synergistically. Withania somnifera, called Ashwagandha in Sanskrit, reduces stress and blood pressure simultaneously. Convulvulus pluricalis lowers blood pressure indirectly by lowering LDL cholesterol and reducing anxiety.
Protecting Against Other Degenerative Diseases
The same bad habits that cause hypertension are linked to other degenerative diseases: smoking, inactivity, obesity/overweightness, not relaxing enough, not eating enough green vegetables, not eating enough fiber, insufficient vitamin and mineral intake and a diet devoid of herbs and spices such as ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, garlic, licorice and fenugreek. Why not eliminate these factors now and reduce your risk for hypertension and various degenerative diseases?
The Meaning of It All
What does all this mean to you? It means that if you have hypertension now, you don't have to have it forever. You could take the road that many people travel when they have high blood pressure, ending up on the three-step medication protocol that leads to greater illness and declining quality of life, or you can make your next three steps an investment in your life and health by encompassing: 1)relaxation, 2) diet and supplement changes and 3) exercise.
The choice is yours, but know that you will have people cheering you on and opposing you no matter which path you choose. By investing in yourself, you can discover that your own three-step program far exceeds the expectations of most people, including your own medical doctors. What a great day it will be when you can say, "I'm healed of high blood pressure!" Schedule that day on your calendar six months from now, and begin taking the actions that will make it a reality.
Dr. Virender Sodhi holds an M.D. (Ayurveda) from India and a N.D. from Bastyr College of Naturopathic Medicine, USA.
E-mail: drsodhi _@_ ayurvedicscience.com.