By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

High blood pressure is at epidemic levels in this country mostly because of our unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices. The drug companies would have us believe that the answer is to pop the right combination of pills, and apparently a lot of Americans believe them. Sales and profits from blood pressure medications are enormous. Is there a way we can regulate blood pressure that makes us healthier instead of hiding from the problem by masking the symptoms with dangerous drugs?

I believe there is.

What is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is also known as hypertension. Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of blood pushing against artery walls as they carry blood away from the heart. The greater the force, the higher the blood pressure. For better understanding, it can also be stated that blood pressure is the measurement of the amount of resistance the blood encounters as it is pumped through the arteries to the organs of the body. The size of the arteries is one of the major factors in determining blood pressure. If they are narrow or constricted, hypertension occurs more easily.

Blood pressure is measured with an instrument called a sphygmomanometer, commonly known as a blood pressure cup. Blood pressure is highest when the heart is pumping blood out. This is called systolic pressure. When the heart relaxes to fill with blood, blood pressure is at its lowest. This is called diastolic pressure. When the blood pressure is measured, it is expressed in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The readings are expressed as systolic over diastolic. For example, normal blood pressure for an adult is considered a systolic reading of 120 mm Hg, and a diastolic reading of 80 mm Hg. This is written as 120/80 mm Hg.

Hypertension is a serious condition that can be dangerous in its own right, but it also can lead to other critical health problems. One of the problems with hypertension is that except for severe cases of very high blood pressure, there are no symptoms and many people are unaware that they have it. Estimates place the number of Americans with hypertension at about 50 million. When hypertension is diagnosed that is not in conjunction with another disease, it is called “primary” or “essential” hypertension. When it is the result of another condition, it is referred to as “secondary” hypertension.

Here are the parameters that are used to determine if a person has hypertension, and if so, to what degree:

  • Normal:  less than 130 / 85 mm Hg.
  • High Normal: 130-139 / 85-89 mm Hg.
  • Mild hypertension:  140-159 / 90-99 mm Hg.
  • Moderate hypertension:  160-179 / 100-109 mm Hg.
  • Severe hypertension: 180-209 / 110-119 mm Hg.
  • Very severe hypertension:  210 / 120  mm Hg. or higher

Persons with severe or very severe readings are in great danger of complications such as a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure. These patients may experience symptoms of confusion, increased sleepiness, headache, nausea, and vomiting.

What Causes Hypertension?

The typical response in most medical text books is that the cause for hypertension is unknown in 95% of cases. This is mind boggling to me. If these academic types would simply look up from their desks and think about the real world for a moment, they would clearly see that in reality, the opposite is probably true. The vast majority of hypertension cases are the result of poor diet and lifestyle choices. Even a look at their own list of risk factors would confirm that!

Risk factors for hypertension include some that can be modified, and some that cannot. The ones that cannot be changed are:

  • Age: Folks over 60 are more likely to develop hypertension than younger folks.
  • Gender: Men have a higher rate of incidence than women.
  • Race: Certain races have a higher risk than others. For example, more African-Americans develop hypertension than do Caucasian Americans.
  • Heredity: If you have close relatives that have high blood pressure, you are more likely to have it yourself.

The following risk factors can be significantly lessened by our own choices:

  • Smoking: Cigarette smoking is a major factor. Rates of hypertension are unusually high in some Third World countries where the diet is better than ours, but the percentage of smokers is very high, in some cases approaching 70%.
  • Diet: Stay away from the typical American high-fat, high-sodium, high-sugar, low-fiber fare.  We’ll address this in more detail below
  • Obesity: Simply maintaining or restoring proper weight will dramatically reduce many health risks, including hypertension.
  • Stress:  Stress management is a must. The “Rat Race” will increase our risk for hypertension and a myriad of other illnesses.
  • Inactivity: A consistent program of cardiovascular exercise is also a major factor in reducing risk of hypertension.
  • Alcohol: Drinking is very hard on the body, and one of the unhealthy results is an increased risk of high blood pressure.
  • Oral Contraceptives:  These drugs are to be avoided for many reasons, but one of their litany of side-effects is hypertension

What Kind of Health Problems Can Hypertension Cause?

The greatest risks hypertension poses are related to the cardiovascular system and the kidneys. If no intervention is taken, hypertension may lead to:

  • Arteriosclerosis:  Also known as atherosclerosis, this is often called “hardening of the arteries.” This is a condition whereby the arteries become dysfunctional due to narrowing and blockages that impede the flow of blood. This can create hypertension, as the blood encounters greater resistance as it seeks to flow. Hypertension can also cause arteriosclerosis or make it worse, so it works both ways. Arteriosclerosis is a serious condition that puts patients at risk for many cardiovascular diseases.
  • Heart Attack: This can occur when a blood vessel to the heart becomes blocked and the heart is no longer able to function properly, or it may stop all together. Heart attacks are always serious, and frequently fatal. Males have more heart attacks than females, but women should be aware that they are statistically more likely to die from a first heart attack than men.
  • Enlarged Heart: Hypertension makes the heart work harder, and this can cause the heart muscle to stretch and grow thicker. If it becomes too enlarged, it cannot work properly, and will not deliver enough blood to the body. This condition can lead to heart failure and death.
  • Kidney Disease:  Hypertension can be a factor in thickening the arteries to any part of the body. When this happens to the arteries of the kidney (renal arteries), the body is not able to efficiently filter waste out of the blood. This can lead to kidney failure and the need for kidney dialysis. Dialysis is a procedure whereby patients need to use a machine to filter the blood, the normal function of the kidneys. 25% of all dialysis patients have had kidney failure due to hypertension.

What About Medications for Hypertension?

There are many to choose from. All of them have potentially serious side-effects, and they do nothing to deal with the core causes behind the hypertension. Therefore, they simply control the symptoms and thus must be taken for life. The natural route is greatly preferred, as this seeks to change the factors that cause the hypertension in the first place. Would I recommend that nobody should ever use the medications under any circumstances? No, I wouldn’t go that far. In cases of severe hypertension, the condition can be life-threatening. If medication is needed, there are many natural alternatives and diet/lifestyle changes that can be used in a supportive role until the medication is no longer necessary. The ultimate goal is to right the ship so that the body enters into a state of health and not disease. Medications do nothing to accomplish this goal.

What Natural Health Guidelines are Specifically Recommended for Hypertensive People?

  • Low Sodium / High Potassium: Studies have long shown that too much table salt elevates blood pressure. Recently it has been discovered that diets higher potassium can lower blood pressure. The best course seems to be a combination of the two. Potassium and magnesium seem to work as agents to lower sodium levels in the blood. A good potassium or magnesium supplement can be helpful, but there are also many foods that are high in these substances. Using a quality salt such as Himalayan salt will actually help the body to heal and repair. Potassium is found in most fruits and vegetables, as well as in beans and raw milk. Magnesium is found in nuts and beans, dark green veggies, grains, avocados, meat, and fish. Magnesium is great for people who are already on blood pressure medication, as it seems to help it work more efficiently.  Many find that using magnesium oil transdermally helps with blood pressure, stress, pain and insomnia. Most Americans ingest more sodium than potassium, but the best ratio is thought to be more potassium than sodium, at a ratio of 5:1.
  • The incidence of hypertension is much lower in vegetarians than in meat eaters. This is due to higher amounts of potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, complex carbohydrates, fiber, and essential fatty acids found in vegetables.
  • Caffeine, especially in the form of coffee and sodas, should be avoided. Studies have demonstrated that caffeine consistently elevates blood pressure in most subjects. There are some very good organic coffee’s that are caffeine-free and actually taste good.
  • Celery or celery juice has received a lot of attention lately. Celery contains a substance that is uniquely its own called 3nB. This compound has medicinal effects that, among other things, lower blood pressure. It was reported in one study that a subject who consumed a quarter-pound of celery every day for a week, lowered his blood pressure from 158/96 to 118/82. If you choose a celery supplement, be sure it contains at least 85% 3nB.
  • Garlic contains a substance called allicin that lowers blood pressure.

Another remedy that is helpful for many people is massage therapy. This helps the body to relax, and lowers the heart rate, which in turn lowers the blood pressure. Massage is excellent therapy for the circulatory system as well, and anything that makes it easier for the blood to flow will also reduce blood pressure.

Learning to reduce stress and negative emotions also helps to lower blood pressure. Listening to relaxing music through headphones, reading a good book, EFT, sunshine and a daily walk will all help to reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Some people find that combining aromatherapy with massage is particularly useful. Two of the favorite essential oils used in massage are blue chamomile and lavender. Both are known to act as relaxants and to reduce stress.

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