Job pressure, peer pressure, economic pressure, family pressure, deadline pressure, social pressure: The pressures of modern life often result in the worst pressure of them all – high blood pressure (also known as hypertension). It’s a major health problem for Americans, affecting more than one out of every three U.S. adults – a staggering total of 65 million men and women. More than half of all Americans over age 60 have it, and your lifetime probability of developing it is 90 percent. Worst of all, fully one-third of the people in America with high blood pressure aren’t even aware they have it. [This article, “10 Proven ways to control your blood pressure naturally” was originally published in NewsHealthWatch]
Does it have to be so bad? Doctors say Americans who are living with stress make the problem worse with bad diets, poor sleeping habits, excessive drinking and smoking. Even people who avoid those pitfalls and work to lead a healthy lifestyle can still find themselves battling to keep their blood pressure down to a safe level. Researchers are looking beyond the usual array of medicines and are re-examining ancient remedies that have contributed to overall good health for millennia. They are also looking at basic lifestyle changes that add such unconventional approaches as meditation and yoga to relieve some of the pressures that can lead to high blood pressure.
The high stakes of high blood pressure
High blood pressure is often labeled “the silent killer” because it damages many parts of the body without causing major symptoms at first. Many people suffering from hypertension say they feel normal and thus don’t receive routine medical examinations. Meanwhile, their high blood pressure is damaging various organs and systems while remaining undetected. The American Heart Association links high blood pressure directly to these eight serious conditions:
High blood pressure damages arteries that can become blocked and prevent blood flow to the heart muscle.
High blood pressure can cause blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the brain to become blocked or burst.
The increased workload from high blood pressure can cause the heart to enlarge and fail to supply blood to the body.
Kidney disease or failure
High blood pressure can damage the arteries around the kidneys and interfere with their ability to filter blood effectively.
High blood pressure can strain or damage blood vessels in the eyes.
High blood pressure can lead to erectile dysfunction in men and may contribute to lower libido in women.
Over time, high blood pressure can lead to heart disease including microvascular disease (MVD). Angina, or chest pain, is a common symptom.
Peripheral artery disease (PAD)
Atherosclerosis caused by high blood pressure can lead to narrowed arteries in the legs, arms, stomach and head, causing pain or fatigue.
Critically ill patients who have very high blood pressure may have “malignant hypertension,” a medical emergency that must be treated in the emergency room. Symptoms might include chest pain, shortness of breath, vision changes, headache, and weakness.
How high is too high?
Blood pressure readings result are always given in two numbers – the larger number is the systolic pressure, which measures the maximum pressure during one heartbeat, and the smaller number is the diastolic pressure, which is the minimum pressure between two heartbeats. Both are measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) above the surrounding atmospheric pressure.
Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg are considered within the normal range. If your results fall into this category, stick with heart-healthy habits like following a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
Blood pressure is when readings consistently range from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic. People with elevated blood pressure are likely to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control the condition.
Hypertension Stage 1
Is when blood pressure consistently ranges from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication based on your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), such as heart attack or stroke.
Hypertension Stage 2
Is when blood pressure consistently ranges at 140/90 mm Hg or higher. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications and lifestyle changes.
Is a stage of high blood pressure that requires medical attention. If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and then test your blood pressure again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. You could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.If your blood pressure is higher than 180/120 mm Hg and you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision or difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.
How blood pressure gets so high
Just as high blood pressure can have many effects on the human body, it can also have many causes. The National Institutes of Health list these factors as contributing to hypertension:
Age – Blood pressure tends to increase with age. Our blood vessels naturally thicken and stiffen over time. These changes increase the risk for high blood pressure.
Family history and genetics – Hypertension often runs in families. Much of what we know about high blood pressure has come from genetic studies. Many different genes are linked to a small increase in the risk high blood pressure. Research suggests that some DNA changes as an unborn baby grows in the womb may lead to high blood pressure later in life. Some people have a high sensitivity to salt in their diet, which can play a role in high blood pressure. This can also run in families.
Lifestyle habits – These can increase the risk of high blood pressure. Unhealthy diets, too much sodium, not enough potassium, too much alcohol, not enough physical activity, smoking, the use of illegal drugs such as cocaine, and a lack of enough good quality sleep are often cited.
Medicines – Some prescription and over-the-counter medicines can make it more difficult for your body to control your blood pressure. Antidepressants, decongestants (medicines to relieve a stuffy nose), hormonal birth control pills, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen can all raise your blood pressure.
Other medical conditions – These can change the way your body controls fluids, sodium, and hormones in your blood. Other conditions that can cause high blood pressure include certain tumors, chronic kidney disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, sleep apnea and thyroid problems.
Race or ethnicity – High blood pressure is more common in African American and Hispanic adults than in white or Asian adults. Compared with other racial or ethnic groups, African Americans tend to have higher average blood pressure numbers and get high blood pressure earlier in life. Experiencing discrimination has been tied to high blood pressure. In addition, some high blood pressure medicines may not work as well in African Americans. During pregnancy, African American women are more likely than white women to develop preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a pregnancy disorder that causes sudden high blood pressure and problems with the kidneys and liver.
Sex – Men are more likely than women to develop high blood pressure throughout middle age. But in older adults, women are more likely than men to develop high blood pressure. Women who have high blood pressure during pregnancy are more likely to have high blood pressure later in life.
Social and economic factors – Research now shows that factors such as income, your education, where you live, and the type of job you have may contribute to your risk of high blood pressure. Working early or late shifts is one example of a social factor that can raise your risk. Additionally, some research has shown that experiencing danger, harm, or trauma as a child has links to a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
The usual response – the usual problems
The first response to high blood pressure from most health providers is to recommend the holy trinity of treatment: a better diet, more exercise, and weight loss. Depending on the severity of the hypertension, standard medication may also be recommended. There are 10 basic types of blood pressure medicine, and some are given in combination with others to increase their potency. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the categories are
Calcium Channel Blockers
Peripherally Acting Alpha-Adrenergic Blockers
Centrally-Acting Alpha Adrenergics
Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers
Diuretics (sometimes called “water pills”)
The FDA says many of these medications share common side effects, including cough, dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sleep issues, upset stomach, constipation, diarrhea, vision problems, heartburn, swelling, back pain and sore throat. While most of these effect may be mild, all of the medicines also carry FDA warnings that they could cause more serious conditions requiring medical attention. These complications include:
Problems breathing or swallowing
Signs of infection
Swelling in the face, eyes, lips, tongue, or legs
Slow or irregular heartbeat
Sudden weight gain
Skin tingling or numbness, skin crawling, or itching
Severe, chronic diarrhea with significant weight loss
Taking the pressure off – with seven natural supplements
Folk medicines have been around for centuries helping people keep their hearts healthy. Even before blood pressure was understood, healers had found natural products that kept people going strong. These 10 ingredients have been used for hundreds of years, and are still being recommended today.
Known for over 2,000 years by Europeans, hawthorn has been the great-grandfather of Western support of the heart’s normal functioning. Traditionally, the berries were used to control your blood pressure naturally and other heart problems ranging from irregular heartbeat, chest pain, hardening of the arteries, and heart failure. Among its powers is the natural increase of nitric oxide in the body which relaxes blood vessels making them more flexible and less restricted.
Powerful flavonoid and anthocyanin antioxidants help prevent cholesterol from adhering to blood vessel walls as well as reducing oxidative damage to the heart itself. Open, relaxed, unclogged vessels reduces the pressure needed by the heart needs to pump blood. Both animal and human studies suggest hawthorn increases coronary artery blood flow, improves circulation, and lowers blood pressure.
The West African bush Hibiscus sabdariffa has spread around the globe by people knowledgeable of nature’s power. Anthocyanins of this plant inhibit oxidation of healthy forms of cholesterol, reducing hardening and clogging of arteries. This allows easier blood flow to all parts of the body. The key component of roselle are its deep red calyces, the protective sheaths around the flower buds. This is where the heart-supporting anthocyanin compounds are richest. Like with similar compounds in hawthorn, these help destroy bad lipids that create vessel-clogging plaque. Roselle is a key ingredient to control your blood pressure naturally.
Harnessing the powers of ginger goes back to Asia and India. It brings about vasodilation, widening the blood vessels and so requiring less effort of the heart to pump blood. Science supports ginger’s claims of immuno-modulatory, anti-tumorigenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-apoptotic, anti-hyperglycemic, anti-lipidemic, anti-emetic, and antioxidative properties. Compounds in this root are also capable of relaxing blood vessels by interfering with the voltage-dependent channels triggered by calcium to constrict arteries, veins, and capillaries. Ginger comes in as #3 on our list to control your blood pressure naturally.
This flavorful herb is high in eugenol, a plant-based antioxidant linked to lowered blood pressure and many other health benefits. Studies suggest that eugenol may help reduce blood pressure by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker. Calcium channel blockers prevent the movement of calcium into the heart and arterial cells, allowing the blood vessels to relax. Animal studies have shown that sweet basil extracts helped relax blood vessels and thin the blood, which in turn helped reduce blood pressure. Basil comes in on our list at #4 to control your blood pressure naturally.
This herb is native to the Mediterranean and has become popular in American, European, and Middle Eastern cuisine. It contains a variety of compounds, such as vitamin C and dietary carotenoids, that may reduce blood pressure. Several studies have shown that carotenoid antioxidants reduce blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. Animal studies have shown that parsley reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by acting like a calcium channel blocker — a type of medication that helps relax and dilate blood vessels.
6. CELERY SEEDS:
This versatile spice is packed with various nutrients, such as iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, and fiber. Some research suggests celery seeds may help lower blood pressure by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker. In addition, celery seed is a good source of dietary fiber, which has been linked to lower blood pressure.
This potent and popular herb is Garlic in many compounds that may lower blood pressure and benefit heart health. It contains sulfur compounds such as allicin, which may help increase blood flow and relax the blood vessels. Collectively, these factors may help lower blood pressure. A review of a dozen studies involving more than 550 people with high blood pressure found that taking garlic reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 8.3 mm Hg and 5.5 mm Hg, respectively. An added benefit of using garlic in preparing food is that it may cause you to use less salt for flavoring, and reducing salt intake helps lower blood pressure.
This herb is packed with healthful compounds such as rosmarinic acid, which has been linked to many benefits such as reduced inflammation and blood sugar levels, as well as increased blood flow. It may also help reduce blood pressure. Animal studies have shown that rosmarinic acid helps significantly reduce systolic blood pressure by inhibiting angiotensin-converting enzyme, a molecule that narrows blood vessels and raises blood pressure. So, inhibiting it may lower blood pressure.
This aromatic spice has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat heart conditions, including high blood pressure. An analysis of nine studies involving 641 participants showed that taking cinnamon reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 6.2 mm Hg and 3.9 mm Hg, respectively. A review of three separate studies with a total of 139 participants with type 2 diabetes found that those who took 500–2,400 mg of cinnamon daily over 12 weeks experienced an average reduction of 5.39 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 2.6 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure.
This is another popular spice loaded with various antioxidants that may help lower blood pressure. A 12-week study of 20 adults who were newly diagnosed with high blood pressure found that taking three grams of cardamom powder daily significantly reduced blood pressure, lowering it close to the normal range. Test-tube and animal studies suggest cardamom may help reduce blood pressure by acting as a natural calcium channel blocker and diuretic.
While the best way to get the benefits of these ingredients is by adding them to your diet, it may not be possible to get enough of all of them to achieve the maximum impact. A number of dietary supplements are becoming available to provide adequate amounts of these products to make a real difference in blood pressure. One such company is Texas-based Medicine Man Plant Co., which was started a few years ago by two men who believe that a natural approach to health relying on simple, basic ingredients is the best way for people to maintain healthy blood pressure and promote heart health.
One of the company’s co-founders, Dr. Mark “Merriwether” Vorderbruggen, says various cultures from around the world found ways to improve their health and meet their challenges for thousands of years. During that time, the human body was evolving to make the best use of the available nutrients around them as they faced diseases and other health challenges.
“These sorts of health issues have been with humanity for a long, long time, and we figured out a long, long time ago how to handle them,” Vorderbruggen says. “We’re showing people these ancient plants and mushrooms have power, medicinal benefits. It’s not just voodoo magic. It has actual chemistry.”
Taking a whole-body approach
Replacing Americans’ unhealthy diets with better foods and supplements is a good way to begin to deal with the nation’s hypertension crisis. However, it is only one step in the right direction, and many other natural solutions are being discussed to improve the nation’s overall heath. The Centers for Disease Control has issued these guidelines to help everyone get better control over their blood pressure levels. better exercises and better natural supplements has been shown to help people control their blood pressure levels.
Get regular physical activity. Staying physically active is one of the best things you can do for your health. Physical activity helps keep your heart and blood vessels strong. It also can help you keep a healthy weight.
Do not smoke. Smoking damages your blood vessels and greatly increases your risk of not only high blood pressure but also heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Do not use illegal drugs and limit alcohol consumption. Some drugs, such as cocaine, cause serious damage to the heart and circulatory system. Moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to have some health benefits, but excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure and other issues.
Keep a healthy weight. Having overweight or obesity means your heart must work harder to pump blood and oxygen around the body. Staying at a healthy weight reduces the stress on your heart and reduces your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Steve Skiff, who bills himself as “head honcho” of Medicine Man Plant Co., says the best way to maintain good health is to remember that our bodies are part of a natural system. Working within that system instead of looking for unnatural solutions just makes sense.
“It’s not just that there’s nutrients in what we put in our pills, but there’s medicine in our interactions with nature. We’re not some isolated component of this world that was just plopped here and not supposed to interact with it.”
More information – much more information – about high blood pressure is available from many reputable sources on the Internet. A large number of these sites focus on natural remedies and lifestyle changes that have been shown to be effective. Among those sites:
National Institutes of Health
American Heart Association
Food and Drug Administration
The Mayo Clinic
Important Note: The information contained in this article is for general informational purposes only, and should not be construed as health or medical advice, nor is it intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease or health condition. Before embarking on any diet or program of nutritional supplementation, it is advisable to consult your healthcare professional in order to determine its safety and probable efficacy in terms of your individual state of health.