Preventing High Blood Pressure
Do you know that, today, about 31% of adults have high blood pressure? What can be called an epidemic now, was actually quite rare prior to the 20th century. People’s blood pressure has risen steadily over the years. But why? And what can we do to correct it?
What is “high blood pressure”?
Probably the best place to begin to answer these questions is with an explanation of what, exactly, blood pressure is. A good analogy is one that I read in “The New Optimum Nutrition Bible” by Patrick Holford. Mr. Holford likens our blood pressure to a garden hose. When the tap is turned on, the water pressure in the hose goes up. This is similar to our “systolic” pressure – the pressure in our arteries when the heart beats (the first number in the blood pressure reading.) Then, when the tap is turned off, the water pressure in the hose decreases, similar to our “diastolic” pressure – the pressure of the arteries during the lull before the next heartbeat (the second number in the blood pressure reading.) A normal reading is 120/80 regardless of your age.
High blood pressure, otherwise referred to as “hypertension” is a result of atherosclerosis (narrowing and thickening of the arteries), arterial tension (higher than normal pressure on the walls of the arteries when blood moves away from the heart), or thick blood. Not only that, but it turns out that insulin resistance – poorly controlled blood sugar levels – and blood pressure go hand in hand, according to research published in the journal Diabetes in 1998. As your insulin level increases, so does your blood pressure.
Why do these things happen that cause blood pressure to skyrocket?
Well, to start with, there are a few nutrients that play a key role in the blood pressure equation. An excess of sodium (salt), often hidden in processed foods or in the form of refined table salt, or or a lack of calcium, magnesium or potassium and will cause an increase in blood pressure by “tightening” the muscles that surround the arteries. This increased tension, or muscle pressure, will cause a rise in blood pressure. Increasing your intake of these minerals, while avoiding processed foods and refined table salt, can result in lower blood pressure in as little as a month!
The magic of nutrients to lower blood pressure.
In fact, adequate levels of magnesium, specifically, are essential for the heart muscle as well as to dilate the arteries and to lower both cholesterol and fat levels. Simply put, if your magnesium level is too low, your blood vessels will constrict rather than relax, raising your blood pressure and decreasing your overall energy. Our modern diet often doesn’t include foods, such as kelp, tofu, figs, and pumpkin seeds, that are high in this mineral. So, in addition to adding these foods to your diet, taking a supplement of 400-800 mg of magnesium in its malate, citrate, glycinate, or glucorate form or a broad-spectrum product that contains a variety of these forms, will contribute to overall cardiovascular health and help lower blood pressure.
Vitamin E is another nutrient that plays an important role in lowering blood pressure by thinning the blood. You’ve probably heard that a baby aspirin each day will do just that. Surprisingly though, Vitamin E is supposedly four times as effective as aspirin at thinning blood! Keep in mind, however, that this is best added to your nutrient regimen prior to the development of a problem. Also opt for natural, rather than synthetic, forms of Vitamin E. Natural vitamin E is always listed as the ‘d-‘ form (d-alpha-tocopherol, d-beta-tocopherol, etc.) whereas synthetic vitamin E is listed as ‘dl-‘ forms.
Last but definitely not least, two critical nutrients that continue to impress researchers with their ability to improve such a wide variety of conditions: Vitamin C and Vitamin D. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that aids in neutralizing cell-damaging free radicals, protects your body’s supply of nitric oxide, a molecule that relaxes blood vessels, and makes collagen, the substance that gives your skin and arteries their elasticity. A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, along with a high quality supplement, will play an extremely positive role in normalizing blood pressure. Juicing is an easy way to add more nutrients into your daily regimen. Check out Health Ambition’s article “The 3 Best Juicing Recipes for Blood Pressure” .
And we can’t forget about the sun and the incredible contributions that it is making to overall health. A healthy dose of sunshine has been found to decrease the production of parathyroid hormone, which similarly decreases blood pressure through the production of Vitamin D. Believe it or not, a person’s blood pressure typically rises during the winter as compared to the summer months! In fact, the farther you live from the equator, the higher your risk of developing high blood pressure. Pretty amazing!
Insulin resistance plays a role in blood pressure normalization.
Insulin Resistance plays a key role and is possibly one of the most substantial factors responsible for the skyrocketing incidence of hypertension over the past century. You see, insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas in an effort to keep blood sugar (blood glucose level) in check. Our body needs sugar for energy, but too much sugar wreaks havoc on our systems, which is evidenced by what happens as a result of overconsumption: your insulin receptors ultimately wear down and cause your cells to grow resistant to insulin. When this happens, many things begin to go awry. For one, because insulin stores magnesium, insulin resistance results in your body’s lack of ability to store magnesium, which means it is excreted through urination. Since we already know that an important function of magnesium is to relax muscles and blood vessels, loss of this mineral will raise blood pressure. Secondly, insulin causes your body to retain sodium, which then causes fluid retention and, you guessed it, high blood pressure!
So, you can cut much of the sugar out of your diet to control your blood pressure. That should be easy to do, right? Well, not necessarily. There is no doubt that, as a society, our sugar intake has increased over the past century, however much of that sugar has been hidden in processed foods and soft drinks in the form of fructose. Keep in mind that our body’s primary source of energy takes the form of glucose, which comes from the digestion of carbohydrates. It is used by every cell in your body and your body was actually designed to use it for energy. Fructose is entirely different from glucose, however, in that it breaks down into waste products, including uric acid, that negatively affect you by inhibiting the nitric oxide in your blood vessels. As you may recall from earlier in this post, nitric oxide helps your blood vessels remain elastic, so if you don’t have enough of it, your vessels tense up and your blood pressure rises.
So, for MANY reasons, normalizing your blood sugar levels will also serve to normalize blood pressure. So limit your consumption of processed foods and soft drinks. They aren’t doing your body any good!
Essential fatty acids will support healthy blood pressure.
Get fat! I mean, increase your intake of Essential Fatty Acids! These fats include Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Omega-6 Fatty Acids, both of which are necessary to promote health. Omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory, which means they will help prevent artery damage caused by inflammation, and they thin the blood. Actually, consuming Omega-3 fats is also one of the best ways to re-sensitize your insulin receptors if you suffer from insulin resistance, so that’s a double bonus for heart health and blood pressure! Keep in mind that the Omega-6 fats can be found in Evening Primrose Oil and borage oil, as well as in corn, sesame, canola, safflower and sunflower oil. Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, are abundant in fatty fish such as salmon, nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flax and are readily available in supplement form as fish oil, krill oil or flaxseed oil.
Stress will send blood pressure soaring!
Try to chill out! Unfortunately, stress plays a MAJOR role in sending blood pressure through the roof. It causes activity in the sympathetic nervous system to kick into high gear – your body reacts as though it is being threatened (fight or flight response), even though this threat may merely be an impending deadline at work or a traffic jam during rush hour. When this happens, your arteries become more rigid and that is one reason that blood pressure elevates. Unfortunately, in our world today, it’s not possible to eliminate all stress, although that certainly would be the ideal. So, our best bet is to learn how to manage the stress we do have. The good news is that there are plenty of techniques that you can use to get your body to slow down and relax during times of stress, essentially almost eliminating your body’s internal stress reaction. A few of these stress management techniques include meditation, breathing exercises, guided imagery, yoga and T’ai Chi as well as spending time outside in nature.
Here are a few other things to keep in mind if you’re concerned about your blood pressure … or if you just want to boost your general health:
- Limit alcohol intake – the metabolism of alcohol causes a rise in blood pressure.
- Avoid processed foods – for all of the reasons discussed above!
- Don’t smoke!
- Exercise – as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily is an incredibly effective way to lower blood pressure.
- Easy on the refined table salt! (Sea salt and pink Himalayan salt are fine – these provide a balanced profile of trace minerals, many of which help to lower blood pressure).
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Spice up your life with some garlic! Garlic helps relax blood vessels.
- Eliminate caffeine … gradually. Caffeine is a drug (albeit legal and very widely consumed) that has a powerful affect on your individual physiology. Experts aren’t certain why this is, but there has been a lot of data indicating that caffeine worsens hypertension.
- Check your meds! There are both over-the-counter and prescription medications that can raise blood pressure. Steroids, birth control pills, decongestants, NSAIDS and diet pills are some of the culprits, as are some herbal remedies such as ginseng and licorice root.
IF you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email. If you are interested in supplementing with some of the blood-pressure-supportive nutrients listed above, click HERE to access my online dispensary. Here you can find the specific brands that I recommend and you can receive my client discount on the highest quality supplements. Just click on the category “Blood Pressure Management” once you’re in.
Trivieri Jr., Larry. Alternative Medicine, the Definitive Guide. Berkeley: John W. Celestial Arts, 2002
Holford, Patrick. The New Optimum Nutrition Bible. Berkeley: Crossing Press, 2004
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