Do You Have High Blood Pressure?
We all know somebody with high blood pressure (BP)- Or do we really? According to American statistics, only 68 % are aware of their high blood pressure, thousands of Australians and New Zealanders may not even know they potentially have it, and only 27 % actually have it under control. Scary statistics indeed.
High blood pressure is one of the most serious of health problems; frequent symptoms such as mild headaches, dizziness, a sensation of dullness and difficulty thinking often go ignored. Some sufferers never even experience warning symptoms. And as a result, the disease slowly destroys multiple organs and tissues until a health crisis inevitably becomes apparent. At a medical seminar I attended a few years ago, a hypertension expert doctor openly admitted that improved diet was the best way to correct BP. But amazingly, in the next breath he dismissed the nutritional treatment of blood pressure, saying it was “unrealistic”, and that uncontrolled high BP was dangerous! Instead, he focused his attention purely on drug combinations, reiterating to the practitioner audience that 60% of patients require numerous drugs often three or more to “control” blood pressure. Not true.
Lack of discipline and sloppy lifestyles often lead to hypertension
As a naturopathic physician, I am absolutely opposed to this way of thinking. I have always contended that one of the biggest problems with society is a lack of self-discipline when it comes to preventative health: little or no exercise and sloppy lifestyles which often lead to high BP problems. Excess refined salt, refined sugar and fat in the form of potato chips, pies, cakes, fizzy drinks, lollies (candy), ice cream, junk foods generally are not essential to our way of living. In fact, they rob us of life. We can no longer view poor food choices as a form of reward or entertainment. You are reading this thinking: “But Eric, that’s just not me, I eat healthy, I exercise, etc”. For every one of you, there are far too many that simply don’t, and if these people cared for their business they way they care for their health, they would be bankrupt within a two years.
Emotional stress often leads to hypertension
It is not that unusual to have a patient in my room who will completely dismiss or ignore the stress link to high blood pressure. This is particularly so for guys: “I’ll be alright mate” is the attitude for some men. My stepfather died of a massive stroke when he was 62, and like some men I have seen over the years as patients, John was completely in denial. “The doctor said that my health is perfect” John mentioned as he puffed on yet another cigarette. In fact, John’s health was far from being perfect. How could anybody who drinks alcohol heavily, and smokes 20 – 25 unfiltered cigarettes per day, every day for over 30 years and get a “perfect bill of health”? I have a saying in my clinic for guys like John the the worst form of delusion is self-delusion. John’s blood pressure was far from normal, but was controlled by three drugs. After a relationship break-up, he went into a state of depression and bad anxiety, he then stopped taking his drugs but kept smoking, drinking and having anxiety and was deceased within the month. Stress took it’s toll eventually and got the better of him, a heart can only take some much stress and strain.
Drug-based high blood pressure treatments mask the causes
Although many dollars are spent annually in New Zealand for the treatment and detection of cardiovascular disease, current conventional treatments have done little to reduce the number of those with hypertension. Natural medicine offers a most effective way to decrease the rising number of people with high BP. Research has found a variety of a natural therapies to be successful in reducing high blood pressure including diet, exercise, stress management, nutritional supplements, and herbal medicines.
Do you have high blood pressure? And more importantly …Is your BP under or out of control and what are you going to do about lowering it? Part 2 will cover treatments I have found most suitable for high blood pressure.
Blood Pressure Statistics For New Zealand
(And I’m sure they will be similar in your country)
- According to the NZ Ministry of Health, high blood pressure is responsible for 43% of all deaths in the NZ population aged 65 and over in 1999. Incredible – that is almost half of all deaths.
- 10% of the (whole) NZ population take some form of prescribed BP pharmaceutical drugs.
- Among those 65 years and over, 36 percent said they were currently taking BP pills.
- 66 percent of men aged 75 and over had high blood pressure, but only 36 percent were on medication for it. There was also evidence that taking medication was not always effective in alleviating the problem.
- There is a high level of unrecognised high blood pressure among older people.
- BP is most evident among women aged 75 and over, where 72 percent had high blood pressure but 28 percent were not on medication for it.
- Among the 44 percent of the elderly who were on medication, half still had high blood pressure.
What is High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is defined as the force the blood exerts on arteries and veins as it circulates through your body. Blood pressure is controlled by a complex regulatory system involving your heart, blood vessels, brain, kidneys, and adrenal glands. It is quite normal for your blood pressure to fluctuate often, even minute to minute. There is even a condition known as “white coat hypertension”, where a patient’s blood pressure is high in the doctor’s office. I have found this particularly so with anxious or quite nervous people.Blood pressure is always recorded as two numbers. Systolic pressure (the top number in a reading) is recorded when the heart contracts and forces blood through the arteries; diastolic pressure (the bottom number) reflects when the heart relaxes. Normal blood pressure is 120 (systolic) over 75 -80 (diastolic) or lower. Hypertension is defined as blood pressure averaging 140/90 or higher in at least two preferably three separate measurements.
Systolic blood pressure (top number) does not concern doctors unless it gets really high (over 160) because it measures the pressure created against the arterial walls when the heart is pumping. A systolic change from 135 to 145 is usually insignificant, but check with your doc. It is the diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) that causes concern when it goes over 90 because it measures the pressure created against the arterial walls when the heart is resting. And, you don’t want a lot of pressure against your arteries (pipes) constantly as that can cause them to balloon out (aneurysm) or a stroke. When your pipes get older, they may get clogged up inside (atherosclerosis – plaque build up in the arteries) or maybe even hard or brittle with calcium deposits, etc (arteriosclerosis – hardening of the arteries). Clean water (blood) will mean clean pipes, so keep your kidneys and liver in good shape (regular detox), and your pipes (and circulation) will look after themselves a lot better.
Maori (New Zealand’s indigenous population) suffer more with high cholesterol, BP and diabetes
Ripeka – A typical case we see
Essential hypertension is the term used to describe the no know cause in over 90% of people with hypertension. However, risk factors include smoking, obesity, gender (men are twice as likely to suffer hypertension as women), a high-salt diet, and a family history. In addition, indigenous populations like Maori and Pacific Islanders are more prone to hypertension-and suffer greater consequences from it than those from European descent. This is particularly so with Maori, who suffer disproportionately in NZ with BP and diabetes. Just today I had a Maori female aged 38 (Let’s call her Ripeka), present with a BP of 210/100. In fact I had to check her BP three times, I thought my equipment was faulty. Ripeka had a script for a BP lowering drug called Inhibace® as well as a script for a diuretic called Bendroflurazide®. Her body weight was 95kgs, and she is five foot and five inches tall. Her GP told her: “You need to take these drugs, you will probably be on them for the rest of your life”. There was little mention of weight loss. This is a typical case of Syndrome X, or otherwise known as “Metabolic Syndrome”
. Once a person like Ripeka becomes significantly overweight, she will lose the ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar, her BP will rise due to her weight (from too much fat & an increasing peripheral resistance of the blood vessels throughout her body). She will become tired, and probably dopey in the afternoon and may even need a “Nanna nap” at 3.00 or 4.00pm. She will suffer from high cholesterol, and may even develop thyroid or adrenal dysfunction over time, leading to further weight gain, tiredness, depression and an inability to lose weight. A vicious circle. Many women like Ripeka give up, they stay on medications and resign themselves to the fact that things will never change…..after all, they tell their friends: “ The Dr. said that I need to stay on these pills for the rest of my life”. It amazes me just how many people in their 50’s through to 70’s take high blood pressure drugs when in just about all cases a change in diet and lifestyle is generally all that is required! I have seen countless ladies like Ripeka over the years. In fact I saw Ngaire yesterday, a 64 yr old version. This lady dropped from 92 kgs (January 2007) to a mere 71 kgs today. Needless to mention, Ngaire’s BP has become normalised (130/75) when in January it was consistently recorded at 170/90. Her under-active thyroid has vanished, her moods have vastly improved, constipation gone and health overall is excellent compared with 6 months ago. And guess what? No more anti hypertension drug, diuretic, thyroid pill, sleeping pill nor anti-inflammatory. (She had a pain in her back – which turned out to be kidney pain, all OK now after detox). A new happy drug-free person with a new life ahead.
Am I against BP lowering drugs? It is important to note that lowering blood pressure with powerful medications helps and is necessary in certain cases, but this does not reverse the condition that caused the high blood pressure (most often) in the first place: being overweight, the metabolic syndrome and the high insulin levels associated with it. And it goes without saying, you NEVER stop (or change dosages) of your BP medications without consulting your health care professional.
An unusual cause of high blood pressure
As previously mentioned, In the majority of people, the cause isn’t really known. I can remember a case which is worth mentioning to illustrate this point. A male came to see me earlier this year aged 46, presenting with very high blood pressure; it was high at 200/105. His body weight appeared normal with no sign of obesity. This person was taking several powerful drugs aimed at lowering his BP, all to little avail. The verdict? A thorough investigation was undertaken by his doctor, as well as a visit to the cardiologist. All investigations yielded no positive cause for this man’s elevated BP. I asked him how long he had high BP for, and he replied: “Oh, only for about the past 5- 6 weeks”. I asked what happened, and he couldn’t remember much, but could recall several days before his BP became elevated that he was working in his front garden raking up leaves and “doing some digging”. It turned out that whilst he was digging with a spade, he injured his back rather severely in the garden that day, and he had to take the whole next week off work due to pain in the back. Shortly after the incident, his blood pressure sky-rocketed. Interestingly, his back was sore in the kidney region on both sides. Sending this patient off to a friend who is a chiropractor was the best thing – his blood pressure normalised within weeks after a series of adjustments to his thoracic spine. What happened? The acute spinal injury affected his nerve supply to the adrenal glands. For some reason, he lost the ability to control his BP naturally by way of the (rather complicated) feedback loop between the kidney, adrenal gland and his heart. As you can see, although rare, there can be strange and unusual causes underpinning hypertension. This gentleman was also told he would have to remain on drugs for life.
Common causes of hypertension:
- Ageing process: the risk of BP increases with the progression of the ageing process.
- Type A behaviour tend to be impatient, domineering, irritable, temper, angry. People who suppress emotions may have an increased risk of hypertension.
- Nutritional: High salt intake, caffeine consumption, high carbohydrate intake, food sensitivities, stress, low fibre intake.
- Smoking: nicotine may increase BP and may cause hypertension by causing blood vessels to constrict.
- Toxicity cadmium and lead toxicity especially (get a Hair Analysis to determine this), toxic chemical exposure.
- Chronic dehydration may cause hypertension. This is common, particularly in warmer weather, and older people are more prone to dehydration with consequent hypertension.
- Cardiovascular system: the reduction in the resilience of arteries that occurs as a result of atherosclerosis (build up of plaque in the arteries) may cause hypertension.
- Male pattern baldness (MPB) are more likely to also be afflicted with hypertension than those persons who are not afflicted with MPB.
- Diabetes Mellitus: approximately 75% of DM Type 2 patients have hypertension.
- Thyroid patients may be at greater risk of hypertension (or hypotension – low blood pressure).
- Insulin resistance & obesity (often with overweight or obesity) increase the risk for hypertension. Upper body obesity may increase the risk for hypertension. There are various reasons by which obesity is associated with BP. Arteries become stiffened and hardened, excess glucose (from sugars, breads, carbs, etc) forms compounds with molecules like proteins forming “glycoproteins”. As arteries stiffen, resistance increases and BP rises normally as a consequence. With this elevation, and along with weakened arteries comes an increased risk of a ‘blow-out’ lesion, one of the main causes of stroke, aneurysm and blindness.
- Nervous system: anxiety may increase the risk of hypertension. Excessive stress or ongoing chronic low-grade stress may cause or exacerbate hypertension. Chronic depression may also increase the risk of hypertension.
- Chronic insomnia or sleeping disorders may increase the risk of hypertension.
Coffee increases blood pressure more in younger drinkers
I have noticed an increase of coffee shops in our area the past 5 years or so, and I’m sure many of you can relate to this increase in coffee being consumed in your area as well. As we have become more stressed as a society, it seems that more of us like to cope by increasing amounts of caffeine in our lives. And caffeine means more stress and more high blood pressure. An American journal called Hypertension, published a study in 1999 in which the effects of coffee consumption were studied on blood pressure. Interestingly, the effect of coffee drinking on blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic) was greater in trials with younger participants, than older participants. Caffeine also increased by 32% the levels of the powerful hormone adrenalin excreted during the day and the evening. Caffeine also amplified the increases in blood pressure and heart rate associated with stress during the activities of the day. Effects were undiminished through the evening until bedtime. Caffeine has significant effects in habitual coffee drinkers that persist for many hours during the activities of life. Some experts agree that repeated daily blood pressure elevations and increases in stress reactivity caused by caffeine consumption could contribute to an increased risk of coronary heart disease in the adult population. The findings support a strong relationship between coffee consumption and high blood pressure, particularly in younger people. Do you like coffee and have BP? Try to moderate, one cup daily is fine for most.
Common conventional drug treatment
The conventional treatment of high blood pressure is medication. Here’s a basic rundown on the 3 main types of BP drugs and how they work. Often, two or more drugs work better than one, and your GP may have you on one, two or even three. There are three main classes of BP drugs – ACE Inhibitors, Beta Blockers and Calcium Channel Blockers. Diuretics are added sometimes.
- ACE Inhibitors – Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors prevent the formation of a hormone called angiotensin II, made by the kidney, which normally causes blood vessels to narrow. Are you taking an ACE Inhibitor and have a persistent cough? My mother-in-law started coughing not long after taking Inhibace ®. I alerted her, and her doctor moved her into a Beta Blocker instead. Your GP may not be aware if you take this class of drug and cough, let him or her know – get it checked out. This class of anti-hypertensive may cause coughs in up to 7% to 15% of persons using them!
- Beta blockers – blocks the effect of adrenalin. Beta-blockers reduce nerve impulses to the heart and blood vessels. This makes the heart beat slower and with less force. Blood pressure drops and the heart works less hard.
- Calcium channel blockers – keep calcium from entering the muscle cells of the heart and blood vessels. This causes the blood vessels to relax and pressure goes down.
- Diuretics – decrease your body’s blood volume, by reducing the water content. Diuretics are sometimes called “water pills” because they work in the kidney and flush excess water and sodium from the body. This in turn drops the peripheral resistance and reduces your elevated BP. You will make frequent trips to the toilet though! My concern here is that you can become very depleted in many different minerals – with consequent poor health down the track.