Do you have high blood pressure?

If so, don’t worry (too much)!

While blood pressure, or hypertension, has recently been found to be the most important risk factor for premature death [1], there is good news.

We now know that a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle is the primary cause of hypertension. And given the fact that many of us are afflicted with this unhealthy condition, it’s good to know that we can actually do something about it!

It’s estimated that the majority of Americans over the age of 60 have clinical hypertension. What’s interesting is that if you were to compare that to modern hunter gatherers of the same age, this number is drastically lower [2].

What’s the difference?  Modern hunter gatherers still incorporate the types of food into their diets that our bodies were evolved to process in a healthy manner AND they live an active lifestyle – full of exercise.

In this article, we’re going to discuss how to tackle high blood pressure naturally.  It’s certainly worth trying at least; before you pump your body full of prescription drugs that only treat the symptom of hypertension, and not the underlying cause.  As we’ll discuss later, these drugs also come with their own, oftentimes dangerous, set of symptoms.

What Is High Blood Pressure and How Is It Measured?

High blood pressure is an unfortunately common condition where the force of your blood against your artery walls is high enough that it can eventually cause health problems like heart disease.

Blood pressure is physically caused by two factors:

  • The amount of blood your heart pumps and
  • The amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries.

So, the more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.

Luckily, blood pressure is easy to measure.  When you read your blood pressure, it’s expressed as a measurement with two numbers, in units of millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), expressed as a fraction.  120/80 or “120 over 80”, for example.

The top number is your “systolic pressure” and is a measurement of the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart is contracting.

The bottom number is your “diastolic pressure” and is a measurement of your blood pressure between heart beats.

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is diagnosed when your systolic pressure is above 120 mm Hg or your diastolic pressure is above 80 mm Hg [3].

Why Do We Care?

Symptoms of high blood pressure can include nosebleeds, headaches and shortness of breath.   The majority of people are asymptomatic and, unfortunately, you can live with high blood pressure for years and not have any symptoms – until you actually get your blood pressure measured by a clinician.  Even if you don’t have symptoms, damage to your blood vessels and your heart continues.  If you don’t control your blood pressure, your risk of serious and deadly health problems including heart attack and stroke [4, 5].

Conventional Treatments

Rather than address the underlying causes of high blood pressure, conventional physicians prescribe a number of various drugs to treat hypertension.  These include:

Diuretics

Diuretics – also called water pills – trigger your kidneys to remove sodium and water from your body by increasing your rate of urination.  This eases the pressure on your arteries by lowering your blood pressure.  Diuretics can include:

  • Diuretics are the first and most commonly prescribed medication to treat high blood pressure.  Not only do they decrease fluids, but they also cause your arteries to relax.  Thiazides are often prescribed with other drugs to lower blood pressure.
  • Loop diuretics. Loop diuretics work by interfering with the movement of salt and water across certain cells in your kidneys – forcing them to pass more fluid.  As your kidneys pass more fluid, less remains in your blood stream thereby reducing your blood pressure.
  • Potassium sparing diuretics. Potassium sparing diuretics are commonly used in combination with other types of diuretics to ensure that your potassium levels remain at a safe level.

While diuretics are generally safe, they do have some side effects, including [6]:

  • Hyperkalemia and hypokalemia (too much or too little potassium).
  • Hyponatremia (low sodium).
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Muscle cramps
  • Gout
  • Impotence

Beta Blockers

Beta blockers are used widely for high blood pressure, either alone or in combination with other medicines.  Beta blockers act by lowering your heart rate and are typically prescribed to people who also have angina, heart failure or who’ve already had a heart attack.  There are several side effects associated with beta blockers, including [7]:

  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling of the face, lips, tongue and throat.
  • Very slow heart rate.
  • Swelling in the legs or feet.
  • Trouble sleeping.

ACE Inhibitors

Angiotensin-converting-enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are pharmaceutical drugs used primarily for the treatment of hypertension.  ACE inhibitors work by preventing your body from creating a hormone known as angiotensin II.  Angiotensin II has three main effects, including:

  • Constriction of blood vessels.
  • Re-absorption of water by your kidneys.
  • Release of aldosterone, another hormone that causes water re-absorption by the kidneys.

To summarize, ACE inhibitors essentially relax blood vessels and helps to reduce the amount of water re-absorbed by the kidneys [7].  Both of these mechanisms work to lower your blood pressure.  Side effects of ACE inhibitors include:

  • Hypotension (low blood pressure)
  • Dizziness
  • Dry cough
  • Swelling of the lips, eyes and tongue.
  • A decline in kidney function.

Calcium Channel Blockers

Calcium channel blockers (also called calcium antagonists) are another commonly prescribed medicine to reduce blood pressure.  They work by relaxing and widening the blood vessels by affecting muscle cells in the arterial walls. There are both short-acting – which work quickly but only last a few hours – and long-acting – which are released slowly but provide a longer effect [8].   Side effects of calcium channel blockers include:

  • Rash
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Foot and lower leg swelling
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations

Lifestyle Factors

So now that we know a little more about the drugs that conventional practitioners prescribe to treat the symptom of high blood pressure, let’s discuss the lifestyle factors that actually contribute to the underlying cause.  As I mentioned before, high blood pressure is virtually nonexistent in modern hunter gatherers.  While diet, sleep, stress and whether you smoke all contribute to cause high blood pressure, let’s focus in on diet because that packs the biggest bang for the buck (smoking arguably rivals diet when it comes to high blood pressure, but let’s assume, for this discussion, that you’re a non-smoker).

So, what is it in our diet that causes high blood pressure?

Let’s dig a little deeper into the diet-blood pressure connection and focus on sugar and mineral and nutrient imbalances.

Sugar

Our modern diet is full of sugar – from fructose in fruit juices to high fructose corn syrup in soda and sweetened cereal to sucrose in candy – it’s everywhere in our modern, processed foods.  In fact, a lot of this sugar is “hidden” in some foods we don’t even realize or think about – baked goods made from white, “enriched” flour, alcoholic beverages like beer and wine, and in condiments and even crackers.  The list goes on and on.  A recent study by Louisiana State University looked at over 800 people with some form of hypertension in an effort to find out how sugary drinks affected blood pressure.  The study found that people who drank one less serving of a sugary drink per day had a measurable decline in blood pressure after a year and a half [9].

Mineral and Nutrient Imbalances

A healthy diet plays a major role in blood pressure control.  Specifically, obtaining the right amounts of sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium in our diets are crucial to maintaining low blood pressure.  Too often, however, our modern diets lack in in some minerals – especially potassium, magnesium and calcium – and too high in others – namely sodium.  Throwing these mineral balances out of whack with a poor diet full of processed foods will do a number on your blood pressure.

The Natural Fix For High Blood Pressure

So, how do we attempt to fix high blood pressure without resorting to prescription drugs?

I would maintain it’s quite simple, really.  Maybe as easy as 1-2-3.

  • If you smoke, quit. This is really a no brainer as smoking and the use of tobacco products are extremely poor for your long-term health.  You all should know this so I won’t waste too much time extolling the virtues of a smoke-free lifestyle.
  • Clean up your diet. How do we avoid the sugar and mineral and nutrient imbalances that play a huge role in high pressure?  I would recommend adopting a paleo, or ketogenic or other ancestral diet.  Eat meat and vegetables.  Limit your dairy to start and avoid all processed foods, alcohol and sugar of any kind.  There are a ton of great resources online on how to get started but the main advice is: stick to the outside of the grocery store.  Give it a shot for 30 days.  Not only will your blood pressure go down, you’ll lose weight and, if you make it through the first week, you’ll feel so good you’ll wonder why you haven’t been eating this way your entire life.
  • Work on your sleep and exercise. Finally, if you’ve made it through steps one and two, take a look at your sleep habits and start to adopt some easy to stick to exercise routine.  Try starting with a 30 minute walk each morning and going to bed at the same time every night (even on the weekends).    

Drastic lifestyle changes can be tough to implement, but I would maintain that they are entirely worth it.  Especially compared to the high blood pressure “band-aids” that are prescription drugs.   The potential side effects from these blood pressure medications we talked about before are just no fun.  I challenge you to give yourself a couple months to try making it through the steps I outlined above.  If you can, I can almost promise you’ll not only feel great, but you’re blood pressure will drop measurably.

If you have any questions on any of the information I presented in this article, or to talk to me about a consultation to try to implement some of the natural high blood pressure fixes I talked about, contact me today.

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