Your Blood Vessels
Your Stress Level
Although not the most common cause of hypertension, certain heart valve problems or a malfunction of the nerves in the heart muscle can cause increased blood pressure. These problems are difficult to treat naturally and very often require medication.
The kidneys may seem unlikely organs to influence blood pressure until you take a closer look.
Not only do your kidneys constantly clean and filter blood, they also regulate the volume of blood in your circulatory system. As nutrients are broken down in various cells throughout your body, the waste products created are deposited into the bloodstream. Your kidneys must sort through the blood, keeping necessary minerals to flush toxins and waste material into the urine (an important reason to drink lots of water every day).
One of the more important minerals your kidneys must regulate is sodium (salt)—the amount of salt the kidneys excrete or retain determines how much blood you have circulating. When you need blood, your kidneys retain additional salt. Salt acts like a chemical magnet, holding more water in the body, which increases blood volume. This explains how too much salt in your diet can exacerbate (or even cause) high blood pressure. It also explains how diuretics lower blood pressure. Diuretics keep the kidneys from holding onto salt and other minerals. Using diuretics may be the simplest way to lower blood pressure, but they can upset your mineral balance, causing a whole new set of problems.
Your Blood Vessels
If your arteries harden or become clogged (atherosclerosis), your heart has to pump harder to push blood through your system. Also, if the small circular muscles that surround blood vessel walls contract, the size of the artery decreases and it takes more pressure to push blood through. Like all muscles, the ones surrounding your blood vessel walls are controlled by the nerves, which can be triggered by the next cause of high blood pressure—stress.
Your Stress Level
Most people think of jobs, money problems, or family situations when they think of stress. While these things often do contribute to blood pressure problems, there are additional (and overlooked) factors that place stress on the body and can cause blood pressure to increase. Here are three common examples:
Drugs (legal and illegal). Whether prescription or over-the-counter, drugs can raise blood pressure by triggering the nervous system. NSAID pain relievers are particularly well-known for this, although the offending substances can be anything from caffeine to cocaine. Even some nutritional supplements and herbal products can cause high blood pressure.
Pain, muscle tension, and misalignments of the joints or vertebra in the spinal column. This is why chiropractic adjustments to the spine can help lower blood pressure.
Poor breathing technique. Your breathing habits directly influence the health of your heart and blood vessels, and therefore your blood pressure. When you breathe properly your heart rate naturally accelerates as you inhale and decelerate as you exhale. This small change results in a smooth and consistent rise and fall of blood pressure, and the pulsating gently massages and flushes the walls of your blood vessels, helping to keep them elastic and supple.
Many people, however, breathe shallowly. Shallow breathing sets off a cascade of reactions in the body that can be a cause of high blood pressure. Your heart rate increases and the level of oxygen in the blood falls, which alters your blood’s pH level and results in constriction of your blood vessels. Chronic constriction eventually leads to a narrowing of the arteries.
An underactive thyroid gland can cause a long list of health problems, but few people—including doctors—associate hypothyroidism with high blood pressure. Yet one study showed that nearly a third of patients with high blood pressure and an underactive thyroid had their blood pressure return to normal when they were treated for the thyroid condition.
To find out if an underperforming thyroid may be the cause of your high blood pressure, take your basal body temperature. You can also ask your doctor for a blood test, but blood tests aren’t the best way of detecting an underactive thyroid.
If you have high blood pressure, your diet is one of the primary ways by which you can lower your blood pressure numbers without medication. Combined with appropriate lifestyle changes and targeted nutritional support, changing your diet can not only reduce your blood pressure numbers but significantly improve your overall cardiovascular health. Here are some recommendations to help you get started.
Foods that can help lower blood pressure:
Doctors at the University of Chicago studying the Oriental custom of using celery as a food to lower blood pressure discovered that celery contains the chemical 3-n-butyl phthalide. This smoothes the muscles lining blood vessels, which increases vessel diameter and allows for easier blood flow at lower pressures.
Using the recommended Oriental dosages to lower mild cases of high blood pressure, one would eat about four ounces of celery (about a cup of chopped celery) daily. You should begin to see results after only a week or two.
Fish or Fish Oil
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oil lower blood cholesterol, protect arteries, and can even lower blood pressure levels as much as 10 points. It has also been discovered that the protein in fish may help protect against stroke! Fish protein contains high levels of the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and taurine. When these two amino acids were added to the diet of hypertensive test animals, the stroke rate dropped from 90 to 20 percent.
To get the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids, try eating a six-ounce portion of oily fish several days a week.
If you don’t like fish and the cost of fish oil supplements is prohibitive, flaxseed or flax oil can have similar benefits at a nominal cost. Taking a tablespoon of flax oil daily can have a great impact on high blood pressure.
For thousands of years, the pomegranate has been revered as the “fruit of life.” One of its remarkable powers is to improve cardiovascular health.
In one study, pomegranate juice was given to patients with hardening of the carotid arteries. Of the 19 patients (5 women and 14 men, 65–75 years old), 10 received 250 mL of 100 percent pomegranate juice daily, and the other nine were given a placebo. After one year, the participants who were on the placebo had an additional 9 percent increase in the thickness of their carotid arteries. However, the patients drinking pomegranate juice showed a 35 percent decrease in thickness, with a 13 percent reduction in just the first three months.
As you might guess, the blood pressures of the patients on the placebo didn’t change—but the systolic pressures of those drinking pomegranate juice dropped from an average of 174 to an average of 162 mm Hg in just one month. After 12 months, it had fallen even further, to an average of 152 mm Hg.
If you drink pomegranate juice to naturally lower your blood pressure, be sure your juice has no added sugars.
Hibiscus tea has been a traditional remedy for high blood pressure in Iran and other countries around the world. In one study, drinking hibiscus tea for just 12 days reduced systolic pressure by an average 11.7 percent and diastolic pressure by 10.7 percent.
However, this remedy is one that must be used continuously to maintain its positive results. When participants in the same study stopped drinking the tea for just three days, their blood pressure began to creep upward—systolic pressure by 7.9 percent and diastolic pressure by 5.6 percent. I’ve also found this to be true in my own experience.
Look specifically for tea made from Hibiscus sabdariffa. It is generally made from the flowers and fruit of the plant.
Because they are a good source of nitrate, beets and beet juice are excellent foods to lower blood pressure. Nitrate is converted by your body into the gas nitric oxide (NO2), which relaxes the small, smooth muscles in the walls of blood vessels, causing them to dilate. NO2 also has antiplatelet effects, which lessen the clotting tendency of blood. Both of these effects allow for an immediate increase in blood flow.
Beets and beet juice are relatively inexpensive, and you should begin to see benefits immediately. It should be noted that the nitrates in beets are not destroyed during cooking, which makes cooked beets just as beneficial.
Depending on soil conditions (they have a lot to do with nitrate content), other vegetables are also high in nitrates. These include radishes, kale, celery, lettuce, mustard greens, turnip tops, spinach, Chinese cabbage, regular cabbage, eggplant, leeks, scallions, potatoes, string beans, and carrots. Radish and kale, in particular, can be even higher in nitrates than beets.
In a study where patients took a fiber tablet called Fiber Trim Plus, their blood pressure went down. Systolic pressure dropped 10 points, and diastolic pressure dropped 5 points. I doubt there’s anything magic in this particular product, however. By adding more fruit, whole grain, and vegetable roughage, I feel certain the same results can be achieved with diet.
When I was in Cuba, oftentimes my meals would end with the fruit of the guava tree. While the fruit is not that common in this country, it is abundant in Cuba and many other countries nearer to the equator. In those areas, it is often referred to as the “apple of the tropics.” Considering what we know about this fruit, that might be a very appropriate name. It may well be that “a guava a day also keeps the doctor away.”
Researchers in Moradaban, India found that guava fruit has positive effects on high blood pressure. Their controlled study involved 120 patients with high blood pressure. Sixty-one of the patients ate one guava fruit (3½ ounces) each day before a meal. The other 59 made no changes in their diet.
After 12 weeks, the patients eating the guava fruit had an average reduction in their systolic blood pressure of nine points, and their diastolic pressure dropped eight points.
The availability of guava appears to be its only drawback. Ask at your local health food store or supermarket if you can purchase them in your area.
Here are some foods to avoid if you have high blood pressure:
Though often overlooked as a cause of high blood pressure, sugar can be the biggest culprit of all. Studies have shown over and over that sugar increases blood pressure, as well as heart and artery disease. Insulin, which is needed to regulate blood sugar, causes salt retention and is thought to contribute to cholesterol and fats attaching to arterial walls. Also, excess sugar is quickly converted to blood fats, like triglycerides.
Moderate amounts of alcohol (less than three beers, mixed drinks, or glasses of wine a day) can actually lower blood pressure. However, drinking more than that often leads to hypertension. If you have more than three drinks a day, you can naturally lower blood pressure 10 to 15 points by cutting back or eliminating alcohol.
It is estimated that 56 percent of total calories in the “average” American diet come from fat. Lowering your fat intake by 25 percent can naturally lower blood pressure an average of 10 points. This change also reduces risk of heart attack and other cardiovascular diseases.
As with my other recommendations for lowering blood pressure naturally, work with your doctor to monitor your pressure closely if you’re taking a prescription blood pressure medication. As the natural approach takes hold, you may need to adjust (or even eliminate) your dosage.
Eating foods that lower blood pressure and taking targeted nutrients are two effective ways to lower your blood pressure naturally. However, you can further reduce your numbers by making some simple changes to your lifestyle:
Obesity places an extra burden on the heart. For every extra pound of fat you carry, your heart has to pump blood through several additional miles of blood vessels. Returning to a weight that is right for you can naturally lower blood pressure as much as 15 to 25 points.
Smoking depletes practically every known protective vitamin and mineral your body needs, and it wreaks havoc on your cardiovascular system. Nicotine constricts blood vessels, which raises blood pressure. It increases the fats that circulate in your blood (like cholesterol). Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, which decreases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, in turn, forcing the heart to work harder.
Quitting smoking can naturally lower blood pressure levels 5 to 10 points. Niacin (vitamin B3) can help lessen some of the adverse effects of nicotine by opening blood vessels. I recommend 50 mg of niacin daily.
A combination of regular exercise and proper diet will strengthen the heart, open up collateral blood vessels, reduce stress, normalize weight, and help lower blood pressure. Regularity of exercise is the key. In fact, occasional “he-man” strenuous workouts are far less effective than simply walking at least 30 minutes each day.
Learn more about the three exercises everyone should do and how you can incorporate exercise into a busy routine.
It should come as no surprise that reducing stress can play a major role in lowering high blood pressure.
If stress is a problem for you, keep in mind that controlling it is all about how you react to a situation. Vacations, meditation, exercise, and hobbies can help you deal with irritating situations. Also, pets have been shown to help reduce stress and blood pressure. But if none of these helps, you may need to more significantly change your lifestyle.
Relaxation methods using yoga or biofeedback have been shown to lower blood pressure in practically everyone. To be effective over the long run, however, they must be used on a regular basis—at least daily, and more often in stressful situations. Biofeedback is an easy, inexpensive way to relax. Rather than spend a fortune on equipment and training, you can simply purchase a pulse monitor from a sporting goods store. It’s a small device that slips over the tip of the index finger and shows a continuous readout of pulse rate.
By observing exactly what situations raise your pulse rate, you can pinpoint areas of stress in your life. By concentrating on relaxing and lowering your pulse rate, you’ll have a form of biofeedback to help you deal with everyday stress more effectively.
Breathe Deeper and Better
Diaphragmatic breathing exercises can be especially beneficial for lowering blood pressure without medication. Many cases of what is called essential hypertension (where no underlying cause can be found) can be corrected through breathing and relaxation. Practitioners of yoga believe the movement of the diaphragm is instrumental in keeping many of the internal organs healthy. Certain yoga positions are designed so movements of the diaphragm massage and stimulate blood flow to the underlying organs.
Sedentary occupations, prolonged television viewing and the lack of exercise can all contribute to shallow breathing habits.
A simple chiropractic adjustment could reduce your blood pressure. In a trial conducted at the Rush University Hypertension Center in Chicago, a group of 50 patients received either an adjustment to the upper cervical vertebra, known as the atlas, or a sham procedure designed to imitate the real thing but produce no benefit.
Those who received the real adjustment had an average decrease of 17 points in systolic blood pressure and 10 points in diastolic pressure. These results are similar to what can be achieved by typical two-drug combination therapy for hypertension. The decrease in blood pressure lasted for at least the eight weeks of follow up in the study.
The blood pressure–lowering effect likely is due to the fact that so many parts of the nervous system and cardiovascular system are packed together at that point in the neck. The atlas is the uppermost vertebra, and is held in place by soft tissue such as ligaments and muscles—instead of being interlocked with other vertebrae the way all the others are.
You can check yourself to see if a misaligned atlas could be causing your high blood pressure. Simply lie on your back on a hard surface—the kitchen floor will do fine—in bare feet. Ask a companion to compare the position of your heels. If they’re even, then the atlas isn’t out of alignment. If they’re uneven, then your companion should watch what happens to your heels as you turn your head from side to side. If their relative position changes as your head moves, then the atlas is out of alignment and an adjustment could help.
Learn which vitamins and minerals can support a natural blood pressure–lowering program.
A diagnosis of high blood pressure doesn’t have to mean years of prescription medications. Targeted nutrients, along with blood pressure–lowering diet changes and lifestyle modifications, can bring your numbers down to a healthy level.
Nutritional support can be used on its own; however, you’ll get the best results if you also make diet and lifestyle changes. Here are my top nutrients for lowering blood pressure:
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Vitamin E and Iron
I don’t know of a single nutrient that will help everyone lower their blood pressure, but from my clinical experience, garlic probably helps the widest range of people. For overall health, I recommend at least a clove of garlic each day, raw or cooked. If you have heart problems or are recovering from a stroke, you should take garlic in supplement form as well.
Be careful when buying garlic supplements. Many are 99 percent vegetable oil with just a touch of garlic. I have had the best results using SGP odorless, tasteless, powdered garlic capsules. Kyolic is one of the best brands on the market, and it’s available in most health food stores. I recommend one capsule, six times a day (one with each meal, assuming you are eating three nutritious meals per day, plus one capsule mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and in the evening). As your blood pressure starts to normalize, the dosage can be reduced gradually to one to three capsules a day.
This mineral helps balance the amount of salt in the body so the heart and blood pressure remain normal. Conditions that deplete potassium include excessive salt, prolonged diarrhea or vomiting, and the use of diuretics or cortisone-like medications, alcohol, coffee, and sugar. People with digestive diseases may also have low potassium levels. Supplemental potassium is not considered toxic, even in high dosages, except in certain individuals with kidney problems that prevent excretion of the excess.
Excellent results can be obtained using 500 to 1,000 mg of potassium daily for eight weeks. (In one study, blood pressure dropped 10 points in more than 40 percent of the participants.)
For basic health protection, 100 mg as part of a good multivitamin/mineral supplement is sufficient, along with a healthy serving of potassium-rich foods each day. The two best sources of potassium are bananas and citrus fruits. Other good sources of potassium include:
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Deficiencies of CoQ10 have appeared in most patients with high blood pressure. Studies at the University of Texas and in Osaka, Japan, showed that daily doses of 45 to 60 mg of CoQ10 often lowered blood pressure levels as much as 12 to 25 points. Researchers concluded that CoQ10 was often the only thing needed to return blood pressure to normal in patients with mild or even moderate hypertension.
If you take CoQ10, look for the softgel form. The dry form of CoQ10 (or any nutrient, for that matter) can only be absorbed by water-based cells. When the CoQ10 is suspended in oil, it can be absorbed by both water- and fat-based cells. From a dosage standpoint, this increased absorption means that a lower dosage of the softgel form is equivalent to a higher dosage of the dry form. It also means you get more nutrient for your money, which is always a good thing.
This mineral has a strong link to high blood pressure, especially in older men. In fact, out of the 615 men studied in one trial, those consuming more of this mineral in their diet had consistently lower blood pressure.
Researchers now feel that 500 mg a day of magnesium may be needed just to replace what the body loses through perspiration, stress, excess alcohol, diuretics, sugar, and normal body functions. Good natural sources of magnesium include:
Fresh green vegetables
Raw wheat germ
Nuts and seeds rich in oil
Because the “average” diet provides barely enough of this precious mineral, you may need a magnesium supplement, especially if you have high blood pressure. I recommend 500 mg per day.
Vitamin E and Iron
These two nutrients help lower high blood pressure in a roundabout way. Iron helps increase the oxygen-carrying ability of blood, and vitamin E helps the heart muscle use oxygen more efficiently—both of which lower the level of effort required from the heart.
Initially, high dosages of vitamin E may temporarily raise blood pressure. Authorities recommend the d-alpha tocopherol acetate form of vitamin E in dosages ranging from 200 to 1,600 IU a day. People with heart or circulation problems should start with smaller dosages. I recommend 50 to 100 IU daily, gradually working up to the higher dosages over several weeks. Vitamin E should be taken either during or right after meals.
High Blood Pressure Treatment: The Conventional Approach
Benefits of blood pressure medications often don’t outweigh the risks. Conventional physicians are quick to treat high blood pressure with prescription drugs. I would never suggest that you not take medication if alternative treatments have not worked for you. However, I do insist that you make sure you truly need a drug before going ahead with it, because you may be putting yourself at risk unnecessarily.
Drugs No Better Than Lifestyle Changes
Especially in cases of mild hypertension, studies have shown that blood pressure medications perform no better than natural approaches.
One study found that when combined with lifestyle modifications, a placebo worked just as well as medication in lowering mildly elevated blood pressures. In addition to either a placebo or medication, participants took part in an exercise program, lost an average of around 10 pounds, and lowered their salt intake. Of the five classes of hypertensive drugs tested, all performed about the same. Diuretics, however, caused an increase in the LDL cholesterol levels.
A study at the University of Southern California showed that using relaxation techniques could dramatically contribute to lowering high blood pressure. All participants were instructed to decrease salt and foods high in saturated fats, exercise, and lose weight, but only half were taught relaxation techniques to use for 10 to 20 minutes, three times daily. After three months, the relaxation group lowered their blood pressure twice as much as those who didn’t. In fact, most (70 percent) had lowered it more than 7 percent, which is as good as most medications are able to do.
These results provide an incentive to try natural approaches to treat high blood pressure before resorting to medications.
Additional Medication Dangers
In addition to having minimal to no benefit for people with mild hypertension, blood pressure drugs also pose other dangers.
Blood pressure lowered too far raises heart attack risk. A study at the Albert Einstein Medical College of Medicine in New York found that when medication dropped blood pressure too much (more than 18 points in those with mild or moderate hypertension), participants experienced more heart attacks. The general attitude of most doctors—which is, the lower the blood pressure the better—may be a dangerous perception.
Taking blood pressure medication at night may contribute to vision loss. Also, doctors’ recommendations to take blood pressure medications at bedtime may increase risk of blindness. While this suggestion is usually made to minimize side effects this nocturnal drop in blood pressure can be disastrous for patients with glaucoma or “stroke” of the optic nerve. Research in these individuals found that they already experience abnormal drops in blood pressure at night. It is thought that the loss of blood pressure reduces blood flow to the optic nerve, causing damage. Taking blood pressure medication only aggravates the problem and speeds up the degeneration process.
What You Should Do
Everyone must be evaluated on an individual basis when it comes to treatment of hypertension. Your doctor should take into consideration things like your—
Gender (studies seem to indicate that drug therapy for hypertension in women rarely produces much benefit in reducing heart attacks, especially before menopause)
Other factors, such as cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Legal CMA Disclaimer:
Although this article may contain factual information, the information contained in this article has probably not been evaluated by the FDA nor is it in any way intended to be medical advice.
Unfortunately, I must recommend that for any change in medical or health behavior or for any change in the way you use prescribed drugs by your healthcare providers or before acting upon any of the advice given in this or any other article, that you consult with your licensed healthcare provider or physician.
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