First, a bit about what hypertension is. Blood pressure is measured with two numbers. Say you have a blood pressure reading of 135/90. The 135 is your systolic blood pressure, and indicates the highest pressure in your blood vessels which occurs when the heart contracts and pushes blood through your circulation. The 90 is your diastolic pressure, which is the lowest pressure in your blood vessels occurring when the heart is relaxed.
Normal blood pressure is considered 120/80, pre-hypertensive is 120/80 to 140/90, and anything above 140/90 is considered a diagnosis of hypertension. While everyone has fluctuations in their blood pressure from time to time and depending on circumstances, a diagnosis of hypertension assumes that your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher most of the time.
Untreated hypertension leaves you more vulnerable to a number of health issues including heart attack or heart failure, stroke, poor circulation, chronic kidney disease, eye problems, and headaches. For this reason, it is ideal to catch the problem when it is still early on, and begin changing your lifestyle and/or taking natural or prescription medications to bring your blood pressure down.
There are a number of medications used for hypertension.
- Diuretics: Used for mild hypertension, helps to get rid of excess fluid and sodium in the body.
- ACE Inhibitors (Angiotension Converting Enzyme Inhibitors): Angiotensin is a hormone that constricts blood vessels. ACE inhibitors decrease the production of angiotensin to lower blood pressure.
- Angiotensin II receptor blockers: These drugs directly block the binding of angiotensin to their receptors, decreasing blood vessel constriction.
- Beta blockers: These block certain nervous system and hormonal transmissions to the heart and blood vessels, relaxing the muscles and lowering blood pressure.
- Calcium channel blockers: Block calcium from entering the heart and blood vessel cells, which causes the muscles to relax.
- Renin inhibitors: Renin is a hormone released by the kidney which causes blood pressure to increase. Renin inhibitors slow down the production of renin.
Side effects are common with hypertension medications. They vary depending on which drug or drugs you are taking but include headaches, indigestion, impotence, constipation, edema, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, or drowsiness.
Because of the side effects of hypertension medications, many people would prefer to deal with their hypertension naturally. There are a number of natural ways to improve your blood pressure reading, however if your hypertension is severe, it is a good idea to start off with prescription medication as these will give the most immediate results. You can then work towards reducing your blood pressure naturally by changing some lifestyle habits, and eventually work your way off of medication. There are also a number of natural remedies that can help with hypertension.
Natural Lifestyle Changes That Can Reduce Hypertension:
- Limit sodium intake to 1500mg per day or less
- Limit your alcohol intake, one or two drinks max per day
- Limit caffeine intake as this can cause stress to the cardiovascular system
- If you use nicotine, do what you can to reduce your usage or better yet, quit entirely
- Maintaining a healthy body weight is beneficial. Losing weight (link to weight loss) if you are overweight, or gaining if you are underweight. In losing or gaining weight it is important to be patient – expecting overnight results tends to lead to discouragement and giving up
- Regular exercise, around 30 minutes at least 5 times per week helps reduce hypertension
- In addition to reducing sodium, a healthy diet for blood pressure avoids eating too many foods with saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, or simple carbohydrates like white flour and sugars. Fresh foods with soluble fiber and lean proteins are helpful, as well as foods containing magnesium, calcium and potassium. The DASH diet is a diet specifically formulated to reduce hypertension and/or cholesterol, and is easy to follow with a number tasty recipes
- Reduce stress and anxiety in your life
- Drink plenty of water
Natural Medicines to Help Reduce Hypertension:
- Garlic: Incorporated into the diet or taken as a supplement, garlic has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, lowering blood pressure as well as cholesterol levels. It has the effect of thinning the blood, so do not take with prescription blood thinners such as Warfarin or Coumadin
- Fish Oil: Fish oil contains EPA, DHA and Omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to have a moderate lowering effect on blood pressure, as well as beneficial effects on cholesterol and the cardiovascular system in general. In addition, fish oil helps reduce inflammation and is beneficial to the immune system and nervous systems.
- CoQ10: Acting as a cofactor in many processes in the body, CoQ10 is involved in energy production. By improving energy production in the heart muscle, CoQ10 can help lower blood pressure with regular usage. It has other benefits as well for the cardiovascular system such as lowering cholesterol.
- Hawthorn: An herbal medicine which helps to improve heart function and lower blood pressure with no side effects
The Mind-Body Connection in Hypertension
The mind-body connection is also important to consider in hypertension. Studies show that increased stress and anxiety are contributing factors in hypertension, so addressing these factors in your life are important in helping to lower blood pressure.
It’s no coincidence that people who feel under a lot of “pressure” in their lives, tend to have high blood pressure. Increased energy production, heart rate, and stress hormones are all a part of feeling chronic pressure and stress, and can cause physiological changes in your body that increase blood pressure. In examining the areas in your life where you are feeling pressure – perhaps in work, relationships, or personal expectations – you can start to determine which pressures are putting you under an unnecessary amount of stress.
It is not always easy to let go of putting pressure on yourself, as the mind tends to think that increased pressure will lead to improved results. This may be true at times, though in reality often we are capable of doing more and performing better when we are relaxed and under less stress. Regardless, excessive pressure in life can take a toll on your health in the long term, and it is up to you to prioritize and sometimes choose your health over living up to those unreasonable pressures.
Hypertension has been dubbed “the silent killer” and in the general public there is a lot of fear surrounding this condition. But if you suffer from high blood pressure, remember that it is a relatively simple condition to treat over time. Medication, changes to your lifestyle, natural medicines, and addressing sources of pressure and stress can all be used to help lower your blood pressure and improve your health.