alive logo

Holistic Help for High Blood Pressure


Maybe it's because of the way we're brought up, but men try to ignore a lot of the signals our bodies send u.

Maybe it's because of the way we're brought up, but men try to ignore a lot of the signals our bodies send us. We're taught to ignore pain (including hypertension headaches), to appear strong and in control at all times and to take life's rough-and-tumble punishments with a stiff upper lip. Unfortunately, we ourselves often inflict the punishment.

High blood pressure can happen when you're under stress for a long time. Because you're uptight inside, your whole cardiovascular system absorbs that tension. Arteries and arterioles become narrower because the sheaths of smooth muscle that surround them contract and diminish circulation. The longer the stress goes on, the more permanent a condition this becomes, eventually affecting the whole blood-delivery and waste-extraction systems. In terms of simple hydraulics, the heart (the pump) has to exert increased tension (pump harder) to get the same amount of fluid through the narrower openings. This state, called "hypertension," is easy to ignore until it's too late and an aneurysm, stroke or infarction occurs.

Blood Pressure Detection

High blood pressure is considered a stealthy killer because there may be no detectable signs for a long time. It's usually unnoticed unless your systolic and diastolic readings are taken regularly using a sphygmomanometer the cuff and mercury "barometer" the doctor puts around your biceps. The first reading is the pressure of your heart when it's pumping. The second is the strength of the after-wave of blood flowing through the system when the heart is at rest. The ratio between the two readings tells a lot about how your heart is functioning.

So what is "normal" blood pressure? If you're a peak performance athlete about 18 years of age, normal may be 115/75. But as we get older, a higher reading such as 140/90 is acceptable. However, once it rises above that, you're probably registering too much pressure on the system.

The cause of high blood pressure varies with different individuals. The orthodox medical profession usually blames "essential" hypertension on stress from work, relationships, children, debts and parents you name it. However, these states of stress can be prevented.

A Preventive Lifestyle

One of the best antidotes to stress is exercise. Practitioners of tai chi claim that the regular practice of their art definitely lowers blood pressure. Cycling, swimming and walking are other fitness suggestions. It is ideal to get 20 minutes of "out-of-breath" exercise each day.

Cigarette smoking is not a good idea. Most medical research associates smoking with damage to the cardiovascular system. Of course there are stories about guys who smoked until they were climbing into the coffin at 98 years of age! But there are a lot more stories about smokers who had massive cardiovascular problems at young ages and who are no longer able to lead productive lives.

Find out what really relaxes you and make it a daily routine. Even watching an old movie, getting away to the country or taking up drawing or painting might be helpful. Also consider taking other positive steps to eliminate stress, such as simplifying your life.

Herbal Interventions

Once diagnosed with high blood pressure, the first thing you have to do is slow yourself down. Faithfully take a day off every week. Switch from coffee to herbal teas such as camomile and peppermint. If you have a big caffeine dependency, try weaning yourself with green tea.

There are other appropriate herbal teas. One of the finest and best tasting is linden blossom (lime flower or Tilia americana et spp.). It can be used regularly to maintain the smooth inner lining of the blood vessels. The French have found the flowers and keel of this plant help prevent the aggregation of platelets. Linden blossom is often combined with hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in treating hypertension. The gentle, calming effect of both these herbs teaches the body how to relax.

Herbal relaxants are also appropriate in cases of essential hypertension. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is widely used by professional herbalists, usually as a tincture (one teaspoon or five ml three times daily). Herbalists often combine this plant with cramp bark (Viburnum opulus). This remedy is active in relaxing smooth muscle (the tense muscles around the arteries are unconsciously clenched). Use one teaspoon (five ml) of the tincture three times daily.

It would be wrong to think that any herb alone might lower blood pressure. Some plants will even raise it. If you have high blood pressure, you should avoid broom (Carothamnus scoparius) and licorice (Glycirrhiza glabra). The latter can pop up in a number of herbal teas being marketed as beverages. Check the ingredients.

While herbs can help treat high blood pressure, it makes sense to prevent high blood pressure in the first place. Exercise, eat healthy foods, take time out-and enjoy it. Make peace with yourself. Now sit back, have a cup of linden tea and listen to your arteries purr.

Heart-Healthy Food Choices

The foods you eat play an important role in how your body deals with both high blood pressure and stress. One of the main reasons for high blood pressure is the consumption of too much saturated fat from animal sources and trans-fatty acids from artificially hardened vegetable fats such as shortening and margarine, as well as refined vegetable oils. Sweet foods, overly salted foods and insufficient fibre also contribute to high blood pressure.

Fresh, raw vegetables and fruits should prevail in a diet to control high blood pressure. Soy beans, potatoes and nuts are highly superior to animal meat as a protein source. Potassium lowers blood pressure by reducing blood-vessel constriction and helps alleviate stress by supporting the adrenal glands. Potassium-rich foods include apples, asparagus, avocados, cabbage, corn, tomatoes, bananas, oranges, grapefruit, prunes and raisins. High blood pressure has been linked to calcium and magnesium deficiency. Green, leafy vegetables are rich in calcium; almonds and cashews are excellent sources of magnesium. Nuts and seeds should also be eaten daily as a source of essential fatty acids, which produce hormone-like substances called prostaglandins that expand the veins and arteries. Foods rich in B vitamins, such as whole grains, green vegetables and eggs, help build resistance to stress.

There have been several reputable studies lately that indicate that a little wine or beer is good for the cardiovascular system. The Mediterranean diet is very healthy for the heart. Mediterranean cuisine embraces wine, olives and garlic, avoids fatty meats and is endlessly inventive with fresh green salads interspersed with bitter leaves of chicory and endive, along with sweet fruits such as oranges. Garlic is hypotensive, or lowers blood pressure. If you value your social life, you might want to take odourless garlic supplements available from health food stores. On the other hand, if you start feeding your friends pesto, they won't even notice!



Hollywood Balancing Act

Hollywood Balancing Act

Drawing on martial arts philosophy, Peter Jang finds mind-body balance in a decade-plus career

Shawn RadcliffeShawn Radcliffe