What is high blood pressure?
What is normal blood pressure?
Problems with medications.
The Truth Is…
Food and Nutrition
Water and Juice Fasting
What is High Blood Pressure?
With every beat of your heart, blood is being pushed through your arteries. After feeding all of your bodily tissues this blood travels to the lungs, where it is revitalized with oxygen. The oxygen-rich blood then returns to your heart where the whole process begins again. Your heart beats more than 100,000 times per day, moving about 70ml of blood per beat. If you do the math that works out to more than 7000 liters per day. A little more math and we find that about 2000 gallons of blood moves through your heart and blood vessels daily. To beat a dead horse, that’s over 8 tons of blood per day!
As your heart pumps blood out of itself and into your arteries, the pressure in your blood vessels rises just a bit. As your heart relaxes and fills with blood from the lungs the pressure in your blood vessels falls a bit. Thus, when you get your blood pressure taken you get two numbers, like 120/80. The first number is the pressure in your vessel walls while your heart is contracting. The second number is the pressure while your heart is relaxing.
Having high blood pressure means that literally tons of blood is passing through your blood vessels at an increased pressure every day. This takes its toll on the hardest working muscle in the body—the heart. This increased load can cause the heart muscle to thicken and function abnormally, or to dilate and contract less forcefully. Either of these scenarios can lead to heart failure.
The heart is not the only one to suffer the effects of high blood pressure. The delicate vessels in the kidneys and eyes are often damaged by high blood pressure resulting in damage to these organs. The blood vessels themselves are also damaged by high blood pressure, making the linings of the vessels more prone to the build up of plaque. These plaques can than rupture and travel to a point where they lodge in a small vessel and prevent blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or a stroke. Two-thirds of individuals who suffer a stroke have high blood pressure. Half of the individuals who suffer a first heart attack have high blood pressure, and high blood pressure precedes somewhere between 75% and 90% of heart failure cases.
Women with high blood pressure lose bone density at about twice the rate of women with normal blood pressure. High blood pressure causes one-third of all cases of end-stage kidney disease.
Ideal blood pressure is at or below 120/80mmHg—this is supposed to be taken after you’ve been resting in a chair that supports your back for five minutes. Also, before you get too excited you should have your blood pressure checked several times over a period of a few days (blood pressure is very dynamic, and it is not unusual to have an occasional high reading. While official guidelines change at the whim of drug companies, many experts agree that blood pressure over 140/90mm/Hg requires attention. At this point many doctors will prescribe drugs to make you pee more (diuretics) and/or to dilate your blood vessels (beta-blockers). While this type of treatment does lower blood pressure, drug therapy is fraught with side effects and does not successfully control blood pressure to sought after levels in 50% of cases!
Problems with Medications
Generally, the first pharmaceuticals prescribed for high blood pressure are diuretics, which make you pee more, and beta-blockers, which dilate blood vessels. Both of these types of medications have many side effects.
I will quote the “common side effects” from a report edited by physicians from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital—the underlining is mine: “Common side effects of diuretics are fatigue, depression, irritability, urinary incontinence, loss of sexual drive, breast swelling in men, and allergic reactions. Diuretics can trigger attacks of gout. They may also increase the risk of gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding. Diuretics may raise cholesterol levels and, used alone, they have no effect on enlarged heart size (hypertrophy). Arrhythmias can also occur as an interaction between diuretics and certain drugs, including some antidepressants, anti-arrhythmic drugs themselves, and digitalis.”
And as for beta-blockers: “studies are reporting that, when used alone, they may reduce blood pressure, but they do not reduce mortality rates. And, of concern are studies reporting an increase of type 2 diabetes in people who take beta-blockers. Because they can narrow bronchial airways and constrict blood vessels, patients with asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis should avoid them whenever possible. Some beta-blockers tend to lower HDL cholesterol (the beneficial cholesterol) by about 10%; the effect is most marked in smokers…. Fatigue and lethargy are the most common psychologic side effects. Some people experience vivid dreams and nightmares, depression, and memory loss. Dizziness and lightheadedness may occur upon standing. Exercise capacity may be reduced. Other side effects may include coldness in the extremities (that is, legs and toes; arms and hands), asthma, decreased heart function, gastrointestinal problems, and sexual dysfunction. If side effects occur, the patient should call a physician, but it is extremely important not to stop the drug abruptly. Angina, heart attack, and even sudden death have occurred in patients who discontinued treatment without gradual withdrawal.”
The Truth Is…
The truth is that most people can lower their blood pressure without the use of drugs. Proper nutrition, regular exercise, and stress reduction will do the trick in most cases. To jump-start your blood pressure lowering efforts there are several foods and supplements that produce more immediate effects.
Of all the studies ever done on treating high blood pressure by any means, pharmaceutical or natural, the greatest success has been with a live-in program of lifestyle modification. The reductions in blood pressure happened faster, were greater, and lasted longer than with any other intervention! This means that if you are willing to educate yourself and do the work, it is likely that you can lower your blood pressure significantly.
By using natural means to lower your blood pressure you are much more likely to be successful and you avoid the detrimental side effects of drug therapy. Rather than changing one aspect of your physiology with concentrated amounts of substances that your body would never encounter in nature, natural strategies allow you to heal your metabolism as a whole. Your cholesterol levels, inflammation levels, ability to digest and process food, diabetes risk, cancer risk, and overall mood and energy levels will all benefit from choosing a lifestyle to treat high blood pressure rather than a drug. This being said, there is a minority of people with high blood pressure for whom lifestyle modification and supplements are not enough. While these people may require drug treatment, the changes outlined below will still be of benefit. In fact, people requiring drug therapy need to make the changes outlined below all the more to counter the side effects of drug therapy.
This section outlines several treatment strategies for high blood pressure. This list is not exhaustive. I recommend beginning with the following:
· Commitment to at least 30 minutes of exercise 4 times per week.
· Practice Breathing exercises 10 minutes a day (instructions below).
· Supplement with fish oil concentrate (see below).
· Supplement with the herbal blend discussed below
· Supplement with CoQ10: This enzyme is the “spark-plug” for energy production in your heart. It is made within your body, but individuals with high blood pressure are often deficient due to the extra burden that the heart is under. Supplementing with CoQ10 alone leads to an average blood pressure reduction of 15/10mmHg!
Also implement the nutritional changes in the general nutrition section. Look in the mirror. If there are veins bulging out of your forehead and you hear cuss words coming out of your mouth you will benefit greatly from practicing some form of stress reduction. Regular use of a vegetable juicer will supply you with plenty of vitamins and minerals to promote healthy blood pressure—be sure to use celery and parsley daily. One of the easiest ways to bring blood pressure down is to simply cut out table salt. Use potassium substitutes or Celtic sea salts instead—these are safe to use in small to moderate amounts. Don’t worry, your palate will quickly become accustomed to less salt.
Lowers systolic blood pressure by approximately 10mmHg
Research has shown that meditation, biofeedback, yoga, and Tai Chi can lower blood pressure.
Weight Loss if Overweight
Losing as little as 10 pounds has a significant effect on blood pressure
See Instructions below. This may be the most powerful behavioral change you can make to lower blood pressure.
4 stalks per day whole or as juice
Use liberally-works especially well in juicer
Use fresh garlic liberally
Organic, Raw Cocao
Dark chocolate has been shown is many studies to lower blood pressure significantly—I recommend buying it raw and unchanged—the only ingredient should be raw cocao—you can then add it to smoothies and sweeten it with a banana and maple syrup. A therapeutic dose is about 3 tablespoons per day.
Fermented Milk Products
Daily consumption of 1-2 cups of organic yogurt or kefir
Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
Liberal daily use of Olive Oil
Avoid table salt (NaCl)—The more you restrict salt intake the greater the reduction in blood pressure
Use potassium substitutes or Celtic Sea Salts (NOTE: if you are using potassium sparing diuretic, check with your doctor before using potassium salts.)
- Cut out refined grains: white flours (white bread, semolina pasta, baked goods, sourdough bread, refined cereals, etc). Substitute whole grains (whole wheat flour, oat flour, rye, brown rice, quinoa, spelt, etc.).
- Limit simple sugars: table sugar, other forms of cane sugar, honey, etc. Substitute whole fruits. Applesauce makes an excellent sweetener. Never use high fructose corn syrup—by cutting this out of your diet you’ll avoid a host of junk foods!
- Limit commercial animal products: Limit commercial red meat and poultry, limit commercial dairy products—eat raw, un-homogenized milk and whole yogurt. Substitute grass-fed dairy and meats, free-range eggs, fermented soy products, nuts, and legumes. See article on grass-fed dairy and free-range eggs—they’re good for you!.
- Lots of fruits and veggies: only about 25% of Americans consume the recommended 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day! These foods are high in vitamins and minerals that are essential to good health and contain plenty of fiber, which has a beneficial effect on blood sugar levels, bowel health, and cholesterol levels.
- Cut hydrogenated oils (i.e. margarine and many prepackages cookies, crackers, and baked goods—hydrogenated oils are the worst fat you can put into your body). Substitute monounsaturated fats, medium chain fatty acids, and omega-3 fats: olive oil, avocado, nuts, flax, fatty fish, coconut oil.
Note that the 2 “nevers” on the list above are hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and high fructose corn syrup—never eat them!
To put it simply, eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and good fats. My “antioxidant article” includes more information on antioxidant-rich foods. Antioxidants play an important role in the health of blood vessels. Healthy blood vessels are better able to stay relaxed—and that translates to lower blood pressure.
Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ10)
Average Blood Pressure reduction of 15/10 mm Hg
Take 100-225 mg per day
Also improves insulin sensitivity, endothelial (blood vessel wall) function, and nitric oxide levels (nitric oxide is a chemical that tells your blood vessels to relax).
No adverse effects with chronic use at this dose
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
3-10 grams of EPA+DHA from fish oil/day. This should be an extract, not just fish oil. To get 3-10 grams of omega-3’s from fish oil would take about 10 tablespoons! With a concentrate it requires 1 teaspoon-1 tablespoon. In addition, a quality extract will have all mercury and PCB’s removed.
Read my omega-3 article. Order Omega-3's here.
Ashwagandha (Withania Somnifera)
This herb has many healing properties: it is protective against stroke and heart disease, it improves outcomes after stroke and heart attack, it stimulates the immune system, fights cancer, improves calm energy levels, and of course, it lowers blood pressure! Take 1-3 grams (about ½ tsp) per day.
Punarnava (Boerreha Diffusa)
This herb acts as a natural diuretic—it has been studied in combination with Ashwagandha and Arjuna and was found to be very effective for lowering blood pressure. Exercise caution if taking this herb with a diuretic and talk to your doctor if you experience dizziness.
Arjuna (Arjuna Terminalia)
This herb lowers blood pressure and heart rate, improves heart muscle function, and is a potent antioxidant. In addition to treating high blood pressure, the herb is an effective treatment for stable angina (stable angina should be diagnosed by your doctor before treating with this herb—unstable angina can be dangerous). Use 1-3 grams of the dry bark powder per day (about ½ tsp).
NOTE: These three products, Ashwagandha, Punarnava, and Arjuna are available in a product called “Heart Health”, available in my store. This product also contains Guduchi stem and Jatamansi. The combination of these 5 herbs has been reported in 2 excellent studies in the Japanese Heart Journal to lower blood pressure more effectively than a commonly used pharmaceutical, and to improve heart function and decrease angina. Here are the study references: Jpn Heart J. 1990 Mar;31(2):193-9. Jpn Heart J. 1990 Nov;31(6):829-35.
This amino acid boosts nitric oxide levels (nitric oxide acts as a messenger in blood vessels causing them to relax), and improves blood vessel function. Research levels vary considerably—I recommend taking 1-2 grams per day.
Counters the effects of sodium.
Reduces cardiovascular disease independent of Blood Pressure. Should not be used if you are on a potassium-sparing diuretic.
600-900mg of extract per day. Be sure to get a brand with a standardized Allicin content—Allicin is one of the main blood-pressure lowering chemicals in garlic, and some garlic samples contain none of it! Look for a brand that says “standardized to ___% Allicin.”
Take 500-1000mg/day for one month. If you up your vegetable intake and use your juicer regularly, you can then stop taking magnesium.
Breathing exercises are very effective at lowering blood pressure. Learning to breath deeply helps your blood vessels to relax, causing a drop in pressure. Often after the first session of breathing exercises your blood pressure will drop! While temporary at first, the effects will be more long lasting over time.
Make a habit of practicing this daily for 10 minutes:
- Sit comfortably with your spine erect, you may sit on a chair or the floor.
- Tense the muscles in your body as you inhale, then exhale and relax.
- Inhale slowly for 8 seconds—count mentally.
- Hold the inhalation 2 seconds.
- Exhale for 10 seconds.
- Begin with the next 8 second inhalation and continue the cycle.
*Note: If this duration of breath is a strain, begin by inhaling 6 seconds, holding 2, then exhaling 8 seconds. If you get out of breath or dizzy, breath normally for several breaths, then try again.
Link to more on breathing exercises and stress reduction techniques
Water and Juice Fasting
The greatest reductions in blood pressure ever observed during scientific study were due to water fasting. Subjects in this study were placed on a high complex-carbohydrate, low protein, low fat diet after the initial water fast and benefits were maintained. It is generally safe for individuals in decent health to do a one-day water fast. A one-day water fast is an excellent way to mark the beginning of a new program of nutrition. Beware, the first time you try this it will likely make you grumpy! For diabetics, water fasting should only be done under the supervision of a doctor.
An alternative to water only fasting is juice fasting. Juices should be organic, fresh, and low on the glycemic index (most vegetables and some fruits-i.e. the apple). Parsley and celery both lower blood pressure and should be used in juices to treat high blood pressure. Try to use 4 stalks of celery per day and a good handful of parsley. Both of these are excellent with carrot-apple juice. Throw in a little ginger for some spice and a pick-me-up. Try to get in the habit of juicing daily, not just when you fast. Vegetable juice contains vitamins and minerals that support healthy blood pressure as well as fiber to promote digestive health and healthy cholesterol values. Vegetable juice also contains vitality!
Elevated blood pressure can have many origins. Chronic stress, poor heart function, altered metabolism, and chronic poor diet can all contribute. The strategies outlined above will allow most people to lower their blood pressure to healthy levels. Take the time and make the commitment to creating these changes. Using holistic treatments you will bring yourself into balance, and the health benefits will affect you in many ways—creating a healthier, happier, more vital you!