Over the past few decades, controlling high blood pressure has been one of the priorities for health care professionals and organizations worldwide. “High blood pressure” is defined as any systolic pressure (the top number) above 140 or diastolic (the bottom number) higher than 90. (See: What do the Numbers on a Blood Pressure Test Mean and What Do They Tell the Doctor)
High blood pressure, while not a disease in and of itself, is a risk factor for several other life threatening conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure. The most beneficial way to control your blood pressure is via natural means. This is because medications that control blood pressure all come with some serious side effects. These side effects can sometimes be more harmful than the high blood pressure itself. Your doctor will weigh the risks vs. benefits before he or she decides how to best control your high blood pressure. All medical professionals know, if it can be done, the best way is naturally. So let’s look at what we are trying to control and the best natural ways to lower blood pressure.
Blood pressure is simply the intrinsic pressure within your arteries and veins. Your body needs this pressure to adequately supply all your tissues and organs with nutrients. Analogous to the plumbing inside your house, adequate pressure is needed, but if that pressure gets too high, problems can arise. High blood pressure is a combination of environmental risk factors and genes. Things like lack of exercise, bad eating habits, and smoking can cause a buildup of plaque inside your arteries.
Excessive plaque on the interior walls of your arteries makes them, in effect, smaller, known as “Atherosclerosis”. When the pipes that transport fluid get smaller, the pressure that same volume of fluid exerts goes up. What happens if your blood pressure gets too high? I’ll answer that question with another one. What happens if the water pressure in your houses pipes gets too high? Your pipes burst. Same thing here. Should your blood pressure get too high, your arteries have a greater chance of bursting.
There’s another reason too much plaque is bad. If there’s too much gunk inside your pipes, that ball of gunk could get too big and clog off your pipes! Seems bad too me! Especially, if those arteries are in your brain or heart.
Your arteries have the ability to get larger or smaller depending on the needs of your body at the time. Excessive plaque makes this increasing more difficult for your body to achieve. If the ability to get larger (dilate) is hindered, this also causes high blood pressure.
The final reason a person’s blood pressure can be too high appears to be genetic. While not completely understood, a landmark study published in Nature in 2011 found 29 genetic variants that affected blood pressure. They found any one variant in a gene did not increase your risk of hypertension. However, people with multiple variants were much more likely to have high blood pressure. This study allowed them to develop a “genetic risk score” based on those 29 variants.
Gene therapy hasn’t yet allowed us to control genetic factors that affect blood pressure. However, it’s the environmental factors we can control which give us the opportunity to naturally control high blood pressure. So let’s look at some.
#1: If you smoke, quit. While smoking itself doesn’t raise blood pressure chronically, you can have a temporary increase after smoking. Smoking tobacco will speed up the processes involved in making your arteries harder, giving them a decreased ability to constrict and dilate appropriately. Cancer is also bad and we know smoking causes that, so stop! Stop now, for your own sake and those who love you!
#2: Eat healthy. The National Institute of Health created an eating plan based on a study that tested the effects of food nutrients on blood pressure called “DASH” (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). The study found that foods low in saturated fat, total fat, and “bad” cholesterol helped lower blood pressure. They recommend eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts. Go figure, mom was right! Reducing intake of red meats, sugared beverages, sweets, and any food high in fats also helped.
Note: when it comes to salt intake, there is a lot of information out there saying excessive salt intake will increase your blood pressure. To date, there are very controversial opinions on the topic. In short, there isn’t really any good study ever done that shows consuming excessive amounts of salt will increase your blood pressure long term.
#3: Exercise. We all know that exercise helps in wide range of medical problems. When it comes to high blood pressure, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2002 showed that exercise alone can not only reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure, but will also help in people with normal blood pressures. They found that in 54 previously randomized, controlled trials, exercise decreased a person’s Systolic blood pressure up to 4.97 millimeters of mercury mm Hg and your diastolic up to 3.35mm Hg. Combined with a healthy eating plan, like DASH, exercise can decrease your overall blood pressure by 15%!
#4: Reduce your stress. When we’re stressed, our bodies secrete more sympathetic neurotransmitters (neurotransmitters involved in our fight or flight response). The result is higher metabolic and heart rate, and higher blood pressures. One of the best ways to reduce stress is with transcendental meditation. I know what your thinking- I don’t want to sit around for 20 min, twice a day, chanting some “hippie” crap! Well, as a means of reducing stress induced high blood pressure, studies have shown it decreases BP twice as much as progressive muscle relaxation.
#5: Weight control. Numerous studies have shown a link between being overweight and having high blood pressure. The relationship seems obvious, as those who are overweight tend to eat higher calorie foods with higher content of fats in them. Depending on which study you read, someone who is overweight has a 2-6 fold increase in the chance of having high blood pressure. One study (the Framingham Heart Study published in the journal “Circulation”) quantified this ratio and found that for every 4.5 kg of body weight over a person’s recommended weight, this increased their blood pressure by 4mm Hg. As of 2011, 66% percent of the US population is either overweight or obese. So unless you like chest pain and losing some muscle control from stroke, about 2/3 of us need to trim down!
In the end, if you want to reduce your blood pressure naturally, put down the cigarette and go for a run. Afterward, sit around, find your happy place in your mind, and eat some fruits and nuts, but not too much. Control your calorie intake! Pretty much all the stuff everyone is telling you to do anyways for numerous other health benefits not related to blood pressure. Unfortunately, if you came up short in evolution’s gene pool, you might still need medication to help control your high blood pressure, but the above will also help and is something you can do for yourself.
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- Nutrient labels on food products in the United States list their percentages based on a 2000 calorie per day diet. This can be somewhat misleading. Energy requirements can vary significantly based on your age, sex, weight, height, physical activity, and base metabolic rate, ranging on average between 1000-4000 calories. The Merck Manual states 1,600 calories per day are needed for young children and sedentary women; 2,000 for active adult women and sedentary men; and 2,400 for active adolescent boys and young men. These values are also somewhat arbitrary because the average person uses different amounts of energy almost daily. One day you might go for a hike and the next sit on the couch watching football. One month you could lose 5 pounds and increase your base metabolic rate in the process. The next month with the same caloric intake gain 10 pounds and decrease your base metabolic rate. The point being, you should make an attempt, at least once or twice a year to figure out your daily caloric needs. This will help you in determining the amount of food you should eat. Or not… You could always just say “Wal-Mart makes that shirt in extra large, so I’m good!” The “see-food” diet as it were- you see food, and then you eat it!
- Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury. For reference, 1 psi (pounds per square inch) is equal to 51.7149326 millimeters of mercury. If you were bleeding and wanted to stop the blood-loss with direct pressure, and you should, you would only need to use about 3 psi to stop it. Unless they have really high blood pressure, then maybe 4 psi. Basic math saves the day again!
- The first known experiment to measure the exact pressure of blood was performed by Stephen Hales on December 1, 1733. He took a live horse. Attached a tube to her left crural artery, then allowed her blood to rush through the tube and it rose to a height of 8’3”. He noted that “when it was at its full height, it would rise and fall at and after each pulse 2, 3,or 4 inches”.
- According to the American Heart Association, about 1 billion people worldwide have clinically significant high blood pressure. 50 million of those live in the United States.
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