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Hypertension Explained

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Known as the "silent killer," high blood pressure (hypertension) can cause damage to many systems of the body without any overt symptoms. Millions of Canadians under the age of 65 have this condition and may not even know it until cardiovascular trauma occurs.

Known as the "silent killer," high blood pressure (hypertension) can cause damage to many systems of the body without any overt symptoms. Millions of Canadians under the age of 65 have this condition and may not even know it until cardiovascular trauma occurs. Consequences of elevated blood pressure can include stroke, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) and eye and kidney damage.

Most experts agree that high blood pressure results from a number of factors: lack of exercise leading to obesity; smoking; a high-fat; high-sodium diet with low dietary fibre;excessive alcohol intake; and poor stress reduction techniques. A natural approach works well to prevent and treat the underlying causes of hypertension.

Understanding Blood Pressure

Each time the heart contracts, blood is sent through the arteries. The amount of pressure on the blood vessel walls during this contraction is known as the systolic reading. Between heartbeats, as the heart relaxes, the pressure remaining on the artery walls is known as the diastolic pressure. Most physicians use 120/80 as a reference "normal" blood pressure reading. Borderline hypertension is 141/91 to 159/94. High would be 160/95 or more.

Blood pressure medications are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. There are four main classes of drugs used to lower blood pressure. Often, combinations of the different classes of drugs are used together. As with any type of drug therapy, side effects are common and in some cases life threatening.

Diuretics increase sodium and water loss through increased urination. This results in less blood volume and thus less pressure. Potential side effects are loss of minerals like potassium and magnesium, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, light-headedness, gout and cramps.

Beta blockers block receptors on blood vessel walls, causing relaxation of the arteries and reduced force of heart contraction. Potential side effects include cold hands and feet, impotence, fatigue, depression and increased cholesterol and triglycerides.

Calcium channel blockers block passage of calcium into cell walls, which inhibit constriction of the blood vessels. Potential side effects are constipation, water retention, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and impotence.

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors prevent the formation of angiotensin, a substance that increases blood volume and constricts blood vessels. They can cause dizziness, lightheadedness and headache.

Dietary Recommendations

High blood pressure is mainly found in industrial nations that consume a diet high in sugar, animal protein and fat. Vegetarians have a much lower incidence of hypertension.

A diet high in naturally-occurring potassium and low in artificial sodium is important in lowering blood pressure. Increase fruits and vegetables: apples, bananas, carrots, oranges, potatoes, zucchini and celery are all excellent foods to balance potassium and sodium levels. Limit the use of table salt and foods (usually canned) that are high in sodium.

Cold water fish such as salmon, halibut, mackerel and herring have been shown to reduce blood pressure. Consume fresh fish three times weekly.

Eat less red meat. Instead focus on legumes and vegetable protein foods.

Increase pure water intake–dehydration can lead to a rebound effect in which one’s blood pressure can rise.

Eat more garlic, onions, basil, oregano and ginger root. These foods all have mild blood pressure lowering effects.

Reduce or eliminate caffeine–it constricts the blood vessel walls and may increase blood pressure.

Some people with high blood pressure do well on a high protein-low to medium carbohydrate diet. This is the premise of books such as The Zone by Barry Sears and The Atkins Diet by Dr Robert Atkins. Check with your natural healthcare practitioner before making radical diet changes.

Supplements

Many people with mild to moderate high blood pressure do well with a combination of lifestyle changes along with herbal and nutritional supplements.

Hawthorn berry relaxes blood vessel walls and reduces blood pressure. It is commonly used by physicians in Europe for hypertension and as a cardiovascular tonic.

Ginkgo biloba not only improves memory but relaxes artery walls leading to a reduction in blood pressure.

Dandelion leaf is used by many practitioners as a natural diuretic. One of its benefits is that it does not cause a loss of potassium and magnesium, unlike some pharmaceutical diuretics.

Potassium, magnesium and calcium are important in helping to reduce blood pressure. They can be taken separately or as part of mineral formulations. Those on diuretics that do not reduce potassium should not supplement potassium.

Coenzyme Q10 is one of the top supplements for the heart and cardiovascular system.

Exercise

A regular aerobic exercise program is key to lowering blood pressure. Develop an exercise program with a certified trainer or holistic physician. Make sure to pick exercises you enjoy so that you will be motivated and consistent with your program.

Heavy metals and plaque build up of the arteries (atherosclerosis) indicate that chelation therapy may be needed. Consult a naturopath or medical doctor trained in this valuable therapy.

Stress reduction through exercise, massage or other means is a necessity with this condition. Acupuncture and homeopathy may help reduce the effects of stress and lower blood pressure over time.

High blood pressure is generally the result of an imbalanced lifestyle. Dietary corrections, stress reduction, herbal and nutritional supplements and holistic therapies are excellent to reverse this condition.

Author’s note: Do not take yourself off any medications. Consult with a doctor before making any changes to your health program.

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