High Blood Pressure

Hypertension, also called High Blood Pressure, refers to the force of blood against the walls of the arteries, veins and the chambers of the heart as it is pumped through the body. More than normal force exerted by the blood against the arteries (when high blood pressure is present) begins to damage the cellular walls and makes it easier for harmful substances such as toxins and oxidised cholesterol, to form dangerous deposits on the arterial walls. The heart beats at a rate of 60 to 70 times a minute when at rest. Each time the heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries.

The symptoms of hypertension appear throughout the body and may include dizziness, fatigue, restlessness, nervousness, sweating, difficulty breathing, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, chest pain, intestinal complaints and emotional instability. However, you may never experience any symptoms so it is important for everyone to know their blood pressure numbers.  Blood pressure is expressed with two numbers that represent systolic and diastolic pressures.

This reads as “117 over 76 millimetres of mercury”

Systolic: This is the top number which is the higher of the two numbers. It measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contracts).

Diastolic: This is the bottom number which is the lower of the two numbers. It measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood).

(The chart below reflects categories defined by the American Heart Association)

Blood Pressure Systolic number Diastolic number
Normal less than 120 less than 80
Prehypertension 120-139 80-89
Hypertension Stage 1 140-159 90-99
Hypertension Stage 2 160 or higher 100 or higher
Hypertensive Crisis Higher than 180 Higher than 110

If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to serious medical problems, including arteriosclerosis, myocardial infarction (heart attack), enlarged heart, kidney damage and stroke.

Factors contributing towards hypertension are physical inactivity, incorrect diet, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high cholesterol, diabetes, environmental factors, lifestyle choices and genetic predisposition.

Hypertension is closely associated with the Western diet and lifestyle. Obesity, regardless of the presence of other factors, increases the risk of hypertension. Although a combination of genetic and environmental factors such as behaviour patterns and stress contribute to hypertension, the main cause appears to be a diet high in animal fat and salt, especially if there is a deficiency in potassium and magnesium. Lifestyle choices including smoking, excessive consumption of coffee, sugar and alcohol have been shown to contribute to hypertension. Chronic levels of stress added to bad lifestyle choices, raises the risk if developing hypertension.

A careful evaluation of the factors contributing to hypertension may reveal a need for dietary changes, nutritional supplementation and lifestyle changes such as increased exercise, weight loss and stress management. Alternative therapies may include various forms of mind/body medicine, herbal medicine, detoxification therapies, Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Dietary changes may include reducing the intake of fats from red meats and rather increase fats from fish such as salmon, mackerel and cod. Increased intake of fresh fruit, salads and vegetables is important. The Mediterranean diet which is rich in monounsaturated fat (olive oil) and antioxidants (Vitamin C, betacarotene and Vitamin E) from fresh fruit and vegetables, and high in essential fatty acids found in fish, flaxseed oil. Avocados and asparagus, commonly eaten in this diet, are rich in L-glutathione, an amino acid that destroys harmful free radicals. Also, garlic and onions, also prominent in this diet, help because they reduce blood pressure. Simple sugars, alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and refined carbohydrates need to be dramatically reduced or eliminated altogether.

Nutritional supplementation may include fish oil, garlic, evening primrose oil, magnesium, calcium, potassium, selenium, zinc, Vitamin B6, niacin, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, tryptophan, taurine, cysteine and co-enzyme Q10. In order to reduce blood pressure, sodium (salt) intake needs to be restricted and potassium intake increased. Potassium rich foods include avocados, bananas, melon, grapefruit, nectarines, oranges, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, peas, potatoes, and squash. Steaming rather than boiling vegetables helps prevent the loss of vital nutrients.

Weight loss reduced blood pressure in those with and without hypertension. Regular exercise reduces stress and blood pressure. Swimming is an excellent non-impact exercise. Stress-reduction techniques such as biofeedback, yoga, meditation, Qigong, relaxation exercises and hypnotherapy have all been successful in lowering blood pressure.

There are many herbs which help reduce blood pressure, including garlic, olive leaf, hawthorn berries and periwinkle. According to David Hoffmann, B.Sc. M.N.I.M.H., of Sebastopol, California, eating a clove of raw garlic daily will help prevent or even reverse the effects of high blood pressure. Besides being helpful in reducing high blood pressure, garlic has been used to inhibit cholesterol production and reduce triglyceride levels, promote blood circulation and discourage clot formation.

Oleuropein, the active part of Olive Leaf extract, has been shown to increase blood flow to the heart and lower blood pressure.

Hawthorn is one of the primary heart tonics in traditional herbal medicine. It is known to decrease blood pressure and increase blood flow to the heart muscle. “An infusion of Hawthorn berries taken twice daily is a gentle and effective way of helping the body to normalise blood pressure”, says Hoffmann. “The infusion can be strengthened by combining linden flowers or by adding chamomile or valerian, if tension or headaches are present.”

According to Dr W. Lee Cowden, a cardiologist from Fort Worth, Texas, people with hypertension often suffer from liver insufficiency, where the liver does not properly clear steroid hormones (sex hormones and hormones of the adrenal glands), as well as toxic substances from the blood. Detoxification, saunas and a vegetarian diet can help restore the liver function and lower blood pressure. A toxic lymphatic system can also contribute to hypertension and Dr Cowden suggests deep breathing exercises and ten minutes daily of dry brushing of the skin in the direction of lymph flow, for three weeks.

Ayurvedic medicine treats hypertension according to each person’s metabolic type. Dr Virender Sodhi (Ayurveda), N.D., Director of the Ayurvedic & Naturopathic Medical Clinic in Bellevue, Washington, says that hypertension is found most often in pitta and kappa types and is usually due to a combination of genetics and lifestyle. His patients are put on a diet low in sodium, cholesterol and triglycerides. Yoga breathing exercises help to relax the body and stimulate the cardiovascular system, effectively reducing hypertension, says Dr Sodhi. Depending on the patient’s individual needs, they are usually treated with herbal remedies and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, silicon and zinc. The herbs recommended are Sankhapuspi (Convolvulus pluricaulis), Ashwaghanda, Coral in Rose water, and Rauwolfia.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, hypertension is usually due to a problem in the circulation of energy (qi) in the body. Poor diet and long-term emotional distress such as chronic nervousness, anger and depression can lead to this condition. Treatment is aimed at bringing the energy flow of the body back into balance, through a combination of acupuncture and herbs.

Aromatherapy can help to lower blood pressure, although it is important to make sure that changes in diet and lifestyle are made. Massage with essential oils that help decrease blood pressure is important. These oils are calming, soothing and deeply relaxing. The most effective oils are Lavender, Marjoram and Ylang Ylang. Ylang Ylang is valuable if there is shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat. Marjoram dilates the arteries, reducing strain on the heart.

Alternative Medicine – The Definitive Guide – Trivieri & Anderson

Medical Herbalism – David Hoffmann, FNIMH, AHG

Aromatherapy An A-Z – Patricia Davis

The Directory of Essential Oils – Wanda Sellar