Christopher M. Valley, N.D.
Some of this information was adopted from the NHLBI (National Heart and Lung Blood Institute) and from the NIH (National Institute of Health) research.
Hypertension – defined as a systolic pressure above 120, and a diastolic above 80 – is a serious but very modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and death. It’s known as ?The Silent Killer,? because it usually doesn?t show signs or symptoms; or when it does, it’s often serious and has been there for some time. Symptoms are usually headache, fatigue and dizziness and can progress to much more serious neurological and/or cardiovascular signs/symptoms including numbness/tingling, changes in vision or speech, weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath and others.
Recent research has shown that 120/80 may not be the ideal blood pressure we once thought, and is likely pre-hypertension. Lowering blood pressure by just 5 points can greatly reduce risk of cardiac/neurological morbidity and mortality. The good news is that hypertension is a very treatable condition, and often without medication. Mild to moderate hypertension can often be treated by the following:
1. Weight loss. There is a direct correlation between increased weight, specifically BMI (body mass index) and blood pressure. The body is a low pressure system, and the more weight we carry, the harder the heart has to work. Hence, the higher blood pressure. Weight loss towards a healthy BMI will usually result in better blood pressure control. This is accomplished through therapeutic nutrition, exercise, and sometimes supplements/medications when needed. Talk to your physician/practitioner about specific plans as no one plan is right for everyone.
2. Exercise. This is a crucial intervention, often overlooked in the treatment of many conditions including high blood pressure. Regular daily exercise (both cardiovascular and resistance training) 20-30 minutes daily almost always reduces blood pressure, not to mention improving virtually every other facet of health. The greatest thing about exercise is that it?s free, widely accessible, and without side effects (except for a little soreness initially). Please discuss exercise programs with your physician/practitioner so that a proper physical evaluation can determine your specific needs and make sure the regimen you?re considering is safe for you.
3. Nutrition. No dietary plan is right for every individual. Nutrition needs to be tailored to each specific person based on age, gender, metabolic type, ethnic background, socio-economics, and many other factors. There are, however, several common denominators in the treatment of hypertension. Reducing sodium in your diet is crucial when you have high blood pressure. Many processed and packaged foods (anything in a box or can) are very high in sodium. Salting your food if you have high blood pressure is also not recommended. Avoiding drinks with high salt (Gatorade, Powerade, V-8 etc), is also recommended. If you?re looking for a way to replace electrolytes during or after exercise, drink regular water, and add a liquid electrolyte supplement (we carry a product call Green Label Electrolytes). Reducing/eliminating saturated and trans fats is also very important. Any fried foods, processed oils, margarine and fast foods should be avoided. Excess red meat and high-fat dairy foods should be avoided as well. A good rule of thumb is to shop at the outside of the store. Eat lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish, game), nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, sunflower, safflower seeds etc.), lean cheeses, fruits and vegetables, legumes, eggs, and some select whole grains as the dominant source of foods in the diet. Avoid the middle aisles as much as possible. Usually a diet higher in protein and lower in grain-based carbohydrate is recommended for the majority of people (with the exception of the mixed metabolic types that need more grain). See below for an example of the DASH diet plan ?Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension?.
4. Minimize alcohol. An occasional glass of wine, beer, or spirit is usually not a problem, and may actually confer some heart benefits. However, alcohol in excess can be inflammatory and could worsen blood pressure, not to mention the extra caloric intake associated with excessive alcohol use.
5. Quit smoking. This is an absolutely imperative part of blood pressure treatment. We know that smoking is directly linked to increased risk of stroke, cardiovascular disease, many cancers, and a myriad of other diseases. This can be addressed through lifestyle changes, medication, acupuncture, and other modalities. Make sure to talk with your health care provider about strategies for quitting.
6. Stress management. Stress increases hormones and neurochemicals in the body (cortisol, epinephrine/norepinephrine) that directly elevate blood pressure. We usually cannot avoid stress, but how we process that stress is modifiable. There is no right technique (meditation, prayer, exercise, deep breathing, Tai Chi etc.), but the key is that you practice something every day.
The DASH Diet:
Research has shown that following a healthy eating plan can both reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower an already elevated blood pressure.
For an overall eating plan, consider the DASH eating plan. “DASH” stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension,” a clinical study that tested the effects of nutrients in food on blood pressure. Study results indicated that elevated blood pressures were reduced by an eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and lowfat dairy foods and is low in saturated fat, total fat and cholesterol. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts and has reduced amounts of fats, red meats, sweets, and sugared beverages.
A second clinical study, called “DASH-Sodium,” looked at the effect of a reduced dietary sodium intake on blood pressure as people followed either the DASH eating plan or a typical American diet. Results showed that reducing dietary sodium lowered blood pressure for both the DASH eating plan and the typical American diet. The biggest blood pressure-lowering benefits were for those eating the DASH eating plan at the lowest sodium level (1,500 milligrams per day).
The DASH-Sodium study shows the importance of lowering sodium intake whatever your diet. But for a true winning combination, follow the DASH eating plan and lower your intake of salt and sodium.
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