Written by Dr. Rich Snyder
High blood pressure (or hypertension) relates to a significant risk factor for a heart attack and heart disease, congestive heart failure (CHF), stroke, and kidney disease.
The holistic treatment of high blood pressure concerns evaluating for factors that can cause high blood pressure and bringing the body back into balance. This includes correcting nutrient deficiencies, promoting meditation-based therapies to reduce stress, and detoxification and supplementation when needed.
Often, there are multiple imbalances occurring simultaneously elevating the blood pressure that need to be managed. Applying a holistic approach and focusing on ways to correct body imbalances, can be successful in getting your blood pressure under control. The information that follows are high blood pressure natural treatments.
High blood pressure (or hypertension) is a significant health concern in many industrialized countries. In the United States, one out of every four people is diagnosed with high blood pressure. While genetics and a family history of high blood pressure do play a role in the development of hypertension, more significant influences include a high sodium, pro-inflammatory Western diet, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and long-term exposure to environmental toxins. Of note, this last risk factor is often overlooked by Western medicine, but elimination of toxins from the body remains an important aspect of treatment.
What exactly is blood pressure?
It is the measurement of the force of the blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. Each time your heart beats, it pumps out blood into the arteries. When your heart beats, your blood pressure is at its highest. This is called the systolic blood pressure, and represents the top number on a blood pressure cuff. When your heart is at rest, in between beats, this is referred to as the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number on a blood pressure cuff). Your blood pressure reading is a measurement of these two values. Usually they are written either one above or before the other.
How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
The numbers on the blood pressure cuff can tell you if your blood pressure is low, normal, or very high. A normal blood pressure is defined as 120/80 or lower.
- Between 120 and 139 for the top number, or between 80 and 89 for the bottom number is called prehypertension. This stage is important because dietary and lifestyle changes can dramatically decrease the risk of developing hypertension.
- A blood pressure measurement of 140/90 or higher is referred to as hypertension. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, adopting a healthy lifestyle is vital to lowering your blood pressure.
Why is having high blood pressure dangerous?
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for a heart attack and heart disease, congestive heart failure (CHF), stroke, and kidney disease. Understand that uncontrolled blood pressure over time causes damage to the arteries and blood vessels over the entire body. They can cause significant damage to the inner lining of the blood vessels called the “endothelium.” This “endothelial damage” causes oxidative stress, the formation of toxic substances called free radicals, and worsening total body inflammation. Over time this can cause “narrowing” and “hardening” of the blood vessels through the formation of atherosclerotic (cholesterol) plaques in the blood vessel wall.
What are risk factors for hypertension?
There are other risk factors, in addition to those mentioned already, that increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. Some of these risk factors, you may not even be aware of. These can include:
Tobacco smoke contains nicotine, which can acutely “constrict” or narrow your blood vessels and raise blood pressure. Cigarettes are also filled with toxins, including the heavy metals mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic. Finally, tobacco is toxic to the blood vessels. It dramatically increases inflammation and exponentially increases the risk of atherosclerosis.
Sleeping less than eight hours a night as well as sleep apnea can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. In fact, sleep apnea is one of the most underdiagnosed causes for high blood pressure.
Untreated pain, in addition to affecting quality of life, can be a significant cause of high blood pressure.
Stress naturally stimulates our body’s natural “fight or flight” instinct which can dramatically raise blood pressure.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, this increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Having diabetes also increases your risk of developing heart disease, vascular disease, and kidney disease.
What are other causes of high blood pressure?
Often, having one or more of the risk factors described above, in addition to your particular genetic susceptibility often can be a cause of hypertension. It is important to be aware of other causes high blood pressure as well. These can include kidney disease, sleep apnea, adrenal gland dysfunction, hyperthyroidism and hormonal imbalances. If you are younger than the age of eighteen or older than sixty-five and suddenly develop very high blood pressure, these may be potential causes of why you developed high blood pressure and should be further investigated.
What are some conventional treatments of high blood pressure?
The traditional treatment of high blood pressure includes the prescription use of medications. Commonly prescribed drug classes of anti-hypertensive medications include Beta-Blockers, Calcium Channel Blockers, Angiotensin Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors, Alpha blockers, and Diuretics.
- Beta Blockers: These medications can slow your heart rate; other potential side effects can include fatigue, dizziness, and depression. If you have a history of a heart attack (myocardial infarction) or congestive heart failure (CHF), you may have been prescribed these medications as studies have shown them to be heart protective.
Caution: Beta-Blockers can deplete the body of ubiquinone (Coenzyme Q10), a potent anti-oxidant that is important not only for maintaining a healthy heart but also for maintaining cellular health as well.
- ACE Inhibitors: These medications are used in the treatment of high blood pressure, CHF, and diabetes-related kidney disease. Studies have demonstrated that ACE Inhibitors have beneficial effects on your heart and kidneys. This class of medications can cause a cough anytime while you are taking this medication (not just when starting it). They can also cause high potassium levels as well. Rarely, this medication has been associated with an allergic-type of reaction called angioedema. Swelling of the tongue and face are signs of this potentially life-threatening condition.
Caution: If you are experiencing nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea for any reason talk with your health care provider about temporarily stopping this medication until the above symptoms resolve. In this type of situation, this medication can adversely affect your kidney function. Blood tests to monitor your potassium and kidney function should be followed if you are taking this class of medications.
- Calcium Channel Blockers: These medications can cause constipation and edema, or swelling especially of the legs, especially at higher doses of this class of medication.
- Alpha Blockers: This medication is not only prescribed for high blood pressure, but it also is prescribed for men with Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy as it relaxes the bladder muscle and makes it easier to empty the bladder. This medication class can cause a condition called postural hypotension, meaning that when you stand up you can experience dizziness due to a drop in your blood pressure.
- Diuretics: In addition to being used in the treatment of high blood pressure, medications such as Lasix (Furosemide) are often prescribed for the treatment of CHF and/or edema.
- Caution: Diuretics, especially as we get older, can cause significant nutrient and mineral depletion, including low sodium, potassium, and magnesium levels. If you are taking this class of medications, your health care provider may ask you to have routine blood work done to monitor your electrolyte levels.
One of the most important changes necessary in the treatment of high blood pressure is changing your diet. A diet higher in fruits and vegetables is recommended. Did you know that the new Food Pyramid actually recommends five to seven fruits and vegetables each and every day?
One of the well-studied diets is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet. The DASH diet not only lowered blood pressure it increased longevity and reduced the risk of developing other complications of high blood pressure, including congestive heart failure (CHF) as well as dramatically reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
This diet advocates the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It emphasizes reducing foods high in polyunsaturated fats as well as significantly reducing the amount of meat-based protein in the diet. Notwithstanding the chemicals, toxins, food additives, and antibiotics that may have been used in the preparation of the meat, high animal protein intake increases total body inflammation, which plays an important role in the development of high blood pressure.
Another diet that has been extensively studied in the treatment of high blood pressure is the Mediterranean diet. Like the DASH diet, this diet stresses the consumption of fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats, particularly promoting the use of olive oil instead of butter. Eating fish, especially salmon twice a week is recommended for its high Omega 3 content. Much research has been done advocating the many benefits of the Mediterranean diet, especially for its heart protective effects.
A plant-based diet can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure as well as lowering high blood pressure once diagnosed. It also has many other significant health benefits.
Treating high blood pressure successfully also means reducing the consumption of the following:
Coffee and other caffeinated beverages should be avoided as they can elevate blood pressure. The first morning cup of coffee can be stressful not only on the heart, but also on your adrenal glands as well.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
Foods high in fructose corn syrup not only have the ability to increase high blood pressure, but can also cause your body to produce more insulin than it needs. Excessive consumption of foods high in HFCS can increase the risk of developing diabetes as well. As a consumer, it is very important to read food labels carefully.
As a society, we consume a lot more sodium than we need. For the general population, it is recommended that you consume no more than 2000 mg of sodium a day in your diet. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, then you should lower the amount of sodium to a maximum amount of 1500 mg a day. Again, be observant of the sodium content of the food you buy. Did you know that some canned soups can have up to 1000 mg of sodium per can? It is also important to limit the salt shaker. One-fourth of a teaspoon of salt contains about 600 mg of sodium.
Key nutrient and mineral imbalances can dramatically increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it is essential that this aspect of treatment be addressed. Be aware that some prescription medications can cause nutrient deficiencies that need to be supplemented, including ubiquinone (see below) and low potassium and magnesium levels.
Coenzyme Q10 (Ubiquinone)
Replacement of this antioxidant is necessary to help improve blood vessel health and lower high blood pressure. Be aware that several classes of medications, including the statins (prescribed for the treatment of high cholesterol), beta- blockers, and a group of medications used in the treatment of diabetes (oral sulfonylureas) can deplete your body of this vital anti-oxidant. If you are on a typical Western based diet, you need to add Coenzyme Q10 to your regimen. Begin at low doses, starting at 50-100 mg daily and increase to twice a day after several weeks. Smaller doses taken during the day maximizes its absorption. Monitor your blood pressure closely. If you have diabetes, this nutrient can also help lower your blood glucose levels and need to be monitored as well.
Many, if not all of us in Western countries are depleted of this vital nutrient. Magnesium helps to dilate the blood vessels and helps keep them pliable and flexible. It again is important for maintaining the health of our blood vessels. By eating vegetables, seeds (sunflower and sesame for example), and nuts (almonds and Brazil nuts for example) you can get a lot of magnesium. If needed, magnesium can also be supplemented either orally or in a gel or oil formulation applied directly to the skin. Chelated magnesium is a form of magnesium taken orally without the heavy metals. This can be started once a day and increased to twice a day for a total dose of 400-600 mg. Note that very high doses of magnesium can cause diarrhea. An alternative is to apply Magnesium gel to your skin once or twice daily. Applied at night, this can help you get a great night’s sleep as well (Low Magnesium levels can also affect your quality of sleep). If you have been told that you have kidney problems, you may need to monitor blood magnesium levels and limit your magnesium intake.
Olive Leaf Extract
In addition to treating high blood pressure, this is a potent anti-oxidant that can reduce total body inflammation and maintain intestinal health (by decreasing Candida overgrowth). In one study, Olive leaf extract was comparable to the ACE Inhibitor Captopril in lowering blood pressure. Start at 500 mg daily and slowly increase to 500 mg twice a day over the course of several weeks. A “usual” dose for the treatment of high blood pressure can be 1000 mg twice a day. Again, be sure to monitor your blood pressure closely.
This is great not only for maintaining and improving the health of your blood vessels, but also for keeping your heart healthy. This supplement comes in many forms. One way to keep track of what you are taking is to purchase this supplement in capsule form starting at 500 mg daily.
While this can be used in the treatment of high blood pressure, significant research has demonstrated its beneficial effects in the treatment of CHF. It does have blood pressure lowering effects. Start at 250 mg twice daily; this dose can be increased slowly.
It is not recommended that calcium be taken as a supplement. Recent studies show that calcium taken in supplement form may increase the risk of developing a heart attack. It is better to increase your dietary intake of calcium. Many of the same foods that are high in magnesium also contain significant amounts of calcium as well. These include the leafy greens, such as broccoli and kale, seeds, and nuts.
Not only is garlic excellent for keeping the blood vessels soft and pliable, it is an-antioxidant. It is also excellent for the treatment of high cholesterol as it decreases the inflammation of “cholesterol plaque.” Aged garlic extract can be taken in capsule form starting at 400-600 mg a day. As garlic is a natural blood thinner, be careful if you are on prescription blood thinning medications such as aspirin, Plavix, or Coumadin.
Grape Seed Extract
This is a great anti-oxidant, and also has blood-pressure lowering properties. In one study, those taking grape seed extract compared to placebo experienced a decrease not only in systolic but also diastolic blood pressure. While there are various preparations in capsule form, start at 200 mg daily and increase slowly.
Reducing Pain & Treating Inflammation
Reducing pain and keeping the body in alignment is so important in the treatment of high blood pressure. While traditional therapy often involves prescribing a medication to “lessen the pain,” the goal should be to get to the route of the problem as to what is causing the pain. Pain is often a result of inflammation and a body that may be structurally out of alignment. Conversely, pain can also be a cause of the body being out of alignment. When your body is not structurally aligned, altered spinal mechanics can increase the activity of the body’s “sympathetic nervous system” which can raise blood pressure. Back pain, which is a common reason that people visit their health care practitioner, can be debilitating.
Choosing the Right Practitioner
There are various practitioners that can help you not only identify body alignment issues, but also help you develop a plan to structurally get your body back into balance, identify the source of your pain, and then work with you to develop a treatment plan. They include practitioners of osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, chiropractic care, and structural integration specialists. Getting your vertebrae in alignment can dramatically help in the treatment of high blood pressure.
Considering Supplements for the Relief of Pain and Inflammation
There are several supplements that you should consider that can help with pain, but as with many natural treatments, provide other health benefits as well, including blood pressure lowering effects. Omega 3 fish oil is tremendous, not only for reducing inflammation and helping with pain, but it can also help with blood pressure and maintain the health of the blood vessels.
Omega 3 fish oil supplementation is especially important if your diet is a typical Western diet which is often low in Omega 3 and high in Omega 6, which can promote inflammation and pain. In one study, omega 3 supplementation was as effective as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (like Motrin) at relieving pain. You can start at 2000 mg a day and increase slowly to a maximum of 4-5 grams a day. Be aware that Omega 3 fish oil can thin the blood, so you may need to decrease your dosage if you are taking any blood thinners.
Turmeric is a great anti-oxidant that can reduce inflammation and pain. It can be taken as a 400 mg capsule daily or simply buy Turmeric powder and sprinkle a little on each meal. In one study, Turmeric was as effective as an analgesic in controlling post-operative pain.
Concerning magnesium, note that low magnesium levels can not only exacerbate high blood pressure but also promote pain and inflammation. For sore muscle and/or joints, the use of Magnesium gel or oil applied directly to the area can promote healing and reduce inflammation and increase joint and muscle mobility and flexibility.
Our bodies were meant to move. Beginning an exercise regimen is crucial in lowering blood pressure. Walking thirty minutes four times a week has benefits of not only improving endurance, but also strengthening the heart as well as helping you lose weight. Other forms of exercise include jogging, biking, swimming and aquatic-based therapy. Exercising in the water is not only rejuvenating, but as it reduces the wear, tear, and constant pounding on the joints, it is an ideal choice, especially if you are suffering from arthritis or have difficulty walking. Depending on your health issues, it is recommended that you see your health care practitioner to develop a personalized exercise regimen that matches your likes and limitations. Don’t forget to include muscle resistance training into your exercise regimen.
Yoga is a great way to increase total body flexibility but also reduce pain (especially back pain) and reduce stress. It is important to start slowly and work with a certified instructor to learn the right way to do each exercise. Yoga and tai chi represent a form of exercise that not only improve muscle strength and flexibility and does not require the use of expensive equipment but are also great stress relievers and can lower blood pressure.
Reducing Stress and Meditating
Meditative deep breathing is a great way to relieve stress and lower blood pressure. It only takes five minutes to do and you should try to incorporate this several times into your day. Meditation on a daily basis reduces stress and brings the body back into balance. Yoga can also be a great way to reduce stress. Don’t forget the role of exercise in stress reduction as well.
Detoxification is the process of eliminating the toxic substances and heavy metals from the body. Chronic exposure to heavy metals and the buildup of these toxins in the body tissues over time is an unrecognized cause of hypertension. Eliminating these toxins through detoxification is an excellent way to bring balance back to the body, as well as restore and rejuvenate. Detoxification should not occur quickly; slower detoxification regimens over several days to a few weeks are recommended as it allows you time to adjust.
Keeping yourself properly hydrated, as well as the use of anti-oxidants and chelation agents such as green tea, Vitamin C, garlic, and alpha lipoic acid are kidney friendly and allow your kidney to slowly eliminate the heavy metals and other toxins slowly. The use of a probiotic to replenish intestinal flora and a greens supplement is recommended to supplement nutrients and anti-oxidants during your detoxification regimen.
Updated: March, 2013
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