What Is Hypertension?High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition in which the pressure exerted on the body's blood vessels is higher than normal. Normal blood pressure is usually accepted to be a systolic pressure below 140 mm Hg and a diastolic pressure below 90 mm Hg, depending on age (blood pressure is stated with systolic first and diastolic second, such as '120/80' is a systolic of 120 and a diastolic of 80). The systolic pressure is the force applied when the heart beats, while the diastolic pressure is the resting pressure maintained in the blood vessels between contractions of the heart.
Why Is Management Important?High blood pressure causes exessive force to be exerted against the walls of the blood vessels. Over time, this can permanently reduce the elasticity of the vessels and make them more susceptible to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Even over a short duration, high blood pressure increases the risk of rupturing one or more vessels, which can cause a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure.
Causes of High Blood PressureIn 85-90% of cases, a physician will be unable to determine an underlying cause for high blood pressure. This type of high blood pressure is termed essential hypertension or primary hypertension. In secondary hypertension, high blood pressure results from a known condition, such as kidney disease, hormonal imbalance, thyroid disease, excessive alcohol intake, or use of certain drugs including oral contraceptives, licorice, and corticosteroids. Essential hypertension probably results from a combination of factors more than from any one cause. Heredity is known to have an effect, as do diet, high cholesterol levels, stress, atherosclerosis, obesity, and diabetes. There is also some evidence that exposure to heavy metals (e.g., lead, mercury, cadmium) can promote high blood pressure.
Symptoms of High Blood PressureHigh blood pressure tends to be asymptomatic until it reaches severe levels. Some of the warning signs of excessive or prolonged hypertension are:
- nervousness headache
- flushed face
- difficulty breathing
- nose bleed
- emotional instability
- intestinal discomfort
- kidney failure
- heart attack
Diagnosing HypertensionHypertension isn't diagnosed based on a single high blood pressure measurement. Instead, higher than normal blood pressure needs to be demonstrated over multiple measurements. Causes for the high measurement need to be ruled out. Urine tests, blood tests, and eye exams may be used to help identify the cause of the high blood pressure and to assess tissue damage that may have already occurred.
Natural Hypertension Treatments
The body requires sufficient calcium, magnesium, and potassium for blood pressure control. Also important is a balance of electrolytes, so the intake of sodium chloride in relationship to calcium, magnesium, and potassium is also important. This is why some physicians recommend limiting salt for persons with hypertension. Calcium-rich foods include milk, cheese, yogurt, fish with bones, greens (e.g., collards, kale), oysters, and molasses. Foods containing magnesium include nuts, rice, bananas, soy, potatoes, wheat germ, kidney beans, lima beans, and molasses.Potassium is found in bananas, broccoli, cantaloupe, asparagus, avocados, honeydew melon, grapefruit, nectarines, oranges, cabbage, cauliflower, squash, green peas, and potatoes. As you can see, some foods contain more than one of these essential nutrients (e.g., molasses, bananas, potatoes). Supplementation with minerals may be helpful if these elements are not obtained through the diet or if medications are used or other conditions exist which interfere with absorption of the elements.
If you haven't started exercising, consult with your physician first. Exercise confers many health benefits that can aid in the management and reduction of high blood pressure. Exercise improves circulation, reduces stress, decreases the resting heart rate (a sign of good cardiac health), helps maintain elasticity of blood vessels, and lowers blood pressure.
- Watch Your Weight
While being underweight or overweight has an association with cardiac health, the relationship between weight and blood pressure is less clear. Obesity may contribute to high blood pressure, especially in people with a genetic predisposition to hypertension.
- Don't Smoke
If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. Smoking can elevate blood pressure, in addition to reducing the effectiveness of the pulmonary and circulatory systems in other ways.
- Don't Overindulge with Alcohol
If you drink, try to limit your alcohol intake to no more than 2 beers, 2 glasses of wine, or 2 ounces of liquor daily. Moderate alcohol use has been linked in some studies to a decrease in heart disease, yet chronic moderate alcohol use is also strongly associated with an increase in blood pressure.
- Stress Management
Numerous studies have shown that stress management helps manage blood pressure. Techniques to help manage stress include biofeedback, tai chi, yoga, meditation, qigong, relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, aromatherapy, and hypnotherapy.
- Supplemental Garlic
Use of supplemental garlic tends to lower blood pressure ~5 to 10%. In addition, garlic can also lower cholesterol, reduce triglyceride levels, increase circulation, and inhibit clot formation. A typical dose of garlic is 900 mg of garlic powder per day, standardized to contain 1.3% alliin (12,000 mcg of alliin per day). Garlic thins the blood, so it should not be combined with prescription (e.g., warfarin, pentoxifylline) or natural (e.g., gingko, vitamin E) blood-thinners. It is usually recommended to stop taking garlic weeks prior to and following surgery.
- Supplemental Hawthorn
The flowers and berries of the hawthorn plant (Crataegus oxycantha) are used to reduce blood pressure, increase the strength of heart contractions, increase circulation to the heart muscle, and slow the heart rate. The herb generally supports the heart, increases intracellular vitamin C levels, and acts as a mild sedative. Therefore, hawthorn tends to be used for mild cases of hypertension. It is more commonly used to treat coronary artery disease, as it dilates the coronary vessels (those serving the heart). A typical dose of hawthorn is 100 to 300 mg three times a day of a dose standardized to contain about 2 to 3% flavonoids or 18 to 20% procyanidins. Alternatively, a tea may be made using one teaspoon of dried hawthorn herb to one cup of boiling water, administered at the rate of up to two cups per day.Several weeks or months are required for the full effects of hawthorn supplementation to become manifest.
- Supplemental Vitamin E
Supplements of vitamin E appear to be effective in helping to manage some cases of mild hypertension. Vitamin E is an antioxidant which may reduce blood pressure by binding to nitric acid in the blood, which has the effect of dilating the blood vessels and decreasing pressure. Other antioxidants may offer similar protection, such as vitamin C. Vitamin E also protects blood vessels from oxidation and damage, so it may deter some of the negative effects of hypertension as well as help alleviate the condition.
- Supplemental Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10, also called ubiquinone or simply Co Q10, is an antioxidant that is synthesized by the body and is obtained in the diet from fish and meat. Deficiency is believed to be associated with a problem in enzyme synthesis and not with diet. Adult levels of supplementation are often 30–90 mg per day, although most of the research on heart conditions involved 90–150 mg of CoQ10 per day. One double blind, placebo-controlled study of 59 men who were taking blood pressure medication found that 120 mg of Co Q10 taken daily for eight weeks reduced blood pressure by ~9%, as compared to placebo. A typical dose of Co Q10 is 30 to 100 mg three times a day. Coenzyme Q regularizes heart rhythm in addition to lowering blood pressure, in part by reducing blood viscosity. Co Q10 may react with or dimish the effectiveness of certain prescription medications.
- Ayurvedic Medicine
Avurveda treats hypertension according to a person’s dosha, or constitutional type. High blood pressure is associated more with pitta and kapha types than with vata types. Ayurvedic treatments for hypertension may include use of the herbs sankhapuspi (Convolvulus pluricaulis) and ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), a diet low in salt and fat, and yoga focusing on breathing.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine associates high blood pressure with problems in circulating the body's qi or energy. For essential hypertension, a combination of acupuncture and herbs may be recommended to balance energy flow, improve diet, and restore emotional balance. Secondary high blood pressure is believed to be due to exhaustion of energy reserves called kidney yin deficiency. The treatment regimen involves rebuilding and maintaining the body's energy. Seek the care of a physician trained in traditional Chinese medicine to explore these treatment options. Here are the ingredients for two common herbal formulas used to treat hypertension:
Siler and Platycodon Formula (Sang-Feng-Tung-Shen-San):
Indicated for hypertension accompanied by constipation and obesity.
- Siler root 3.0 g
- Talc 3.0 g
- Skullcap root 2.0 g
- Licorice root 2.0 g
- Gypsum 2.0 g
- Platycodon root (balloon flower) 2.0 g
- Paichu (White atractylodes rhizome) 2.0 g
- Rhubarb rhizome 1.5 g
- Nitrous sulfate 1.5 g
- Chinese angelica root 1.2 g
- Ma-Huang (Ephedra) 1.2 g
- Cnidium 1.2 g
- Peony root 1.2 g
- Gardenia fruit 1.2 g
- Ginger 1.2 g
- Field mint 1.2 g
- Forsythia fruit 1.2 g
- Chinchieh herb (Schizonepeta) 1.2 g
Most commonly used for older people with hypertension, fatigue, and nephritis or kidney atrophy or nephritis.
- Chinese foxglove (rehmmania) 8.0 g
- Yam (dioscorea) 4.0 g
- Cornus 4.0 g
- Hoelen 3.0 g
- Tree peony bark 3.0 g
- Aconite root 1.0 g
- Cinnamon bark 1.0 g