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High Blood Pressure-A Silent Epidemic

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Blood pressure is simply the pressure of blood against the walls of the main arteries.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is often characterized as the silent killer and for good reason. Although it affects an estimated one in five North Americans, many people don't experience any symptoms. As a result, less than one-quarter of sufferers actually receive treatment. Left untreated, however, it can severely damage the cardiovascular system, leading to death from stroke, heart attack or kidney failure.

Most high blood pressure patients are candidates for medications, including ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers and diuretics. However, statistics show that of the 20 to 30 million individuals diagnosed with high blood pressure, less than half stay on their medication for more than one year. Moreover, 60 per cent of those who lower their medication do so because of side-effects. Given this information, the use of nutritional and botanical supplements, along with the adoption of a healthier lifestyle, can be of immense benefit in fighting this hidden killer.

Lifestyle and Dietary Approaches

If you wish to either prevent or treat high blood pressure, changing how you eat, sleep, and respond to stress are very important considerations. In the eight-week DASH trial conducted by the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in 1997, 70 percent of volunteers who eliminated meat and sugar, decreased unhealthy fat intake, and increased fruit and vegetable consumption decreased blood pressure to below 140/90 mm/Hg compared to just 45 percent of those who only ate more fruits and vegetables.

Individuals with high blood pressure should decrease sodium intake to approximately three grams per day and add at least four daily servings of foods rich in potassium (beans, spinach, melon, potatoes, tomatoes, bananas, avocados). Decreasing sodium intake alone has reduced blood pressure by 8.4 mm/Hg systolic and 4.4 mm/Hg diastolic. Moreover, alcohol intake should be reduced to less than two drinks per day. Research has shown that a shift from five to two drinks daily can decrease blood pressure by 8 mm/Hg systolic and 4.4 mm/Hg diastolic.

A structured exercise program is another important factor. In one study, an average weight reduction of 4.5 kg by individuals who were 10 to 65 per cent overweight led to a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure after just six months. In addition, stopping smoking is a must for anyone diagnosed with hypertension.

Stress Management and Sleep

Those with high blood pressure need to employ stress management and relaxation techniques. This concept was investigated by Dr. D. Shapiro and associates from the department of psychiatry and biobehavioural sciences at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine. Individuals with a mild to moderate increase in blood pressure were given blood pressure-lowering medications and then divided at random into two groups. One group performed simple stress management techniques, while the other did not. Remarkably, 55 percent of those who employed stress-reducing strategies were able to remain medication free, compared to only 30 percent in the control group, as found after a one-year follow-up examination.

A good night's sleep is also important. Researchers from the University of Pavia in Italy found that high blood pressure patients deprived of sleep had significant increases in blood pressures and heart rates, especially during the evening.

CoQ10, Magnesium and Fish Oil

Several supplements have proven to be of great value in the fight against hypertension. One is coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), or ubiquinone. One study of 18 patients with high blood pressure concluded that 100 milligrams of CoQ10 daily for 10 weeks lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 10.6 and 7.7 mm/Hg respectively.

In addition to CoQ10, 480 mg of magnesium oxide daily for two months decreased blood pressure on average by 2.5 mm/Hg systolic and 1.4 mm/Hg diastolic over 24 hours in individuals with mild to moderate hypertension. (Those employing magnesium therapy are cautioned that this may lead to episodes of diarrhea.)

Fish oils rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are also helpful adjuncts in the control of blood pressure. Individuals with mild increases in blood pressure were given either two grams of EPA and 1.4 g of DHA from fish oil (approximately 12 1,000-mg capsules of an 18 percent EPA/12 percent DHA mixture) or a placebo every day for four months. After only eight weeks, blood pressure was reduced by 6 mm/Hg systolic and 5 mm/Hg diastolic. Individuals wishing to try this high-dose fish oil approach should also increase vitamin E intake to 800 IU per day.

Garlic and Reishi Mushroom

For those with mild to moderate elevations in blood pressure, garlic and reishi mushroom may be of value. The use of standardized garlic (Allium sativum) supplements at a dose of up to 900 mg per day for 12 to 16 weeks decreases both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in individuals with moderate elevations in blood pressure. In fact, one study concluded that garlic supplements decreased standing diastolic pressure from 101 to 90 mm/Hg and systolic pressure from 171 to 150 mm/Hg after 12 weeks.

Unlike garlic, the use of reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum or Ling zhi in Chinese) in the treatment of hypertension is not well recognized. However, the conclusions of a recent trial suggest that it may be another helpful, natural, blood pressure-lowering agent. Fifty-five individuals on anti-hypertensive medications with moderate increases in blood pressure were given either 55 mg of concentrated reishi mushroom extract or a placebo, three times a day for one month. Unlike the 14 individuals in the placebo group, those taking the concentrated mushroom extract had a significant reduction in blood pressure.

In conclusion, high blood pressure is a serious problem that affects one in four adults. It is important that individuals afflicted with this problem adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes quitting smoking, reducing stress, eating better, losing weight and increasing exercise. These changes, along with the judicious use of supplements and herbal therapies, can help combat this silent killer.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is simply the pressure of blood against the walls of the main arteries. Two readings, systolic (when the heart is contracting) and diastolic (when the heart is relaxing), are measured by a device that records pressure changes in millimetres of mercury (mm/Hg). Various factors age, stress, diet, exercise will affect the readings. The following chart shows a continuum of blood pressure values including both healthy and unhealthy states.

Blood pressureSystolicDiastolic
IdealLess than 120 mm/Hg            Less than 80 mm/Hg
Mild hypertension140 to 159 mm/Hg90 to 99 mm/Hg
Moderate hypertension          160 to 179 mm/Hg100 to 109 mm/Hg
Severe hypertensionMore than 180 mm/HgMore than 110 mm/Hg

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