High blood pressure or hypertension (HT), often referred to as ‘the silent killer’, is another factor causing millions of deaths worldwide. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention say one in three Americans over the age of 20 have hypertension. And over 40 million people wind up in hospital each year with it. These statistics are similar in all the developed countries and, as poorer countries GDP’s increase, so does the incidence of HT. It’s estimated that HT causes ±7 million deaths worldwide annually..
According to the American Heart Association, it increases the risk for:
- Heart attack
- Kidney failure
- Peripheral artery disease
What is interesting is that the accepted method of treating HT has come under scrutiny in the last few years. A number of studies have shown that taking drugs to lower blood pressure (BP) may not be as effective, or as safe, as natural methods and lifestyle changes. Also, studies have shown that blood pressure varies throughout the day and that a single reading cannot give an accurate indication of blood pressure1.
In order to fully understand HT we need to understand how our BP works. A simple way to do this is to compare our circulatory system with an irrigation system. Your heart is the pump and the arteries and veins are the pipes. The purpose of an irrigation system is to deliver life giving water and nutrients to the crops. Our circulatory system delivers oxygen and nutrients to our cells.
Three things affect an irrigation system’s ability to perform efficiently:
1) the diameter of the pipes. The bigger the diameter, the easier it is to pump water through them.
2) the viscosity of the liquid being pumped. It’s obviously easier to pump water than it will be to pump syrup.
3) the height the pump has to raise the water, because it’s working against gravity.
What happens if you reduce the diameter of the pipes? What happens if you thicken the liquid? What happens if the water table drops? In each case the pump has to work harder. Exactly the same applies to our circulatory system.
If we never exercise, we don’t help the heart overcome the effects of gravity. When we walk or run the muscles in our legs squeeze the blood vessels and help the heart return the blood to the liver and kidneys for purification.
If the arteries are narrowed because of inflammation (as we mentioned in the previous blog on cholesterol), or if the blood gets thicker, the heart has to work harder to make sure enough blood gets to the brain, muscles and organs. This will automatically increase BP. In other words, the increased BP is the body’s way of compensating for a physical problem in the body. It’s a perfectly normal response.
Does it make any sense then to use a drug to slow the heart down? Or to give a person a diuretic, which results in thickening the blood? Surely this is not the answer, treating the symptom and not the cause? To make matters worse, all drugs have side effects. In the case of BP medications these can be severe, including kidney damage, fatigue, nausea, loss of taste, dizziness, decreased sex drive and even increased risk of heart damage.
Surely the sensible thing to do would be to reduce the inflammation in the arteries and thin the blood, using natural means without horrendous side effects? One would think that balancing the omega3/omega 6 ratio in the body and increasing the intake of antioxidants would be the obvious place to start. Or something as simple as increasing the amount of water drunk every day2?
Let’s look at a number of natural ways we can reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
1) Diet. Reduce your intake of omega 6 (inflammation causing) foods and increase consumption of omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) foods. Also decrease intake of sugars and refined carbohydrates. Cut down or eliminate all processed, packaged and baked foods, as well as fast foods fried in vegetable oils. Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables, whole grains and drink more good quality water. Drinking sufficient water thins the blood. Something as simple as eating a serving of yoghurt every 3 days reduced the risk of HT by 31%3. Another study showed that drinking a glass of beetroot juice significantly lowered BP in just 3 hours4. Just increasing the amount of fibre in the diet leads to a significant reduction in the risk of heart disease.
2) Lose weight. Being overweight puts a strain on all the body systems, as well as increasing the overall inflammation index in the body. The Nurses Health Study, the largest, longest ongoing study in the world, showed that every 4.5kg a woman gained increased her risk of HT by 20%.5
3) Exercise more. Exercise helps the heart overcome the force of gravity, increasing circulation and the amount of oxygen in the blood. It also assists detoxification and helps keep the veins and arteries supple and elastic. One major study showed that women who walked just 3 hours per week reduced their risk of heart disease by 30 – 40%!5
4) Supplement with:
Literally hundreds of studies have shown that omega 3 supplementation plays a major role in reducing HT (a google search of ‘omega 3 heart disease’ yielded 13.5 million entries!). Look for a supplement containing all 8 omega 3 factors, as they have been shown to be more effective than supplements containing only DHA and EPA, and that has been health screened for over 200 contaminants.
Vitamin E, in addition to being a powerful anti-oxidant, helps thin the blood and increases its capacity to carry oxygen. A major study showed that women taking vitamin E had a 24% reduction in cardiovascular death rates, and those ≥65 years of age had a 26% decrease in nonfatal heart attack and a 49% decrease in cardiovascular death rates6. Look for a supplement containing all 8 Vitamin E factors, made from organic, whole-food sources for best results.
Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that have proven heart health properties. In addition to helping curb inflammation7, carotenoids have been found to decrease blood lipid peroxidation8, protecting against heart disease. Look for a full spectrum carotenoid supplement containing all the carotenoid factors made from organic, whole-food sources for best results.
Garlic has been used for decades to help control BP and there are a number of studies supporting this. In some European countries, especially Germany, it is often prescribed for controlling BP. Garlic has the remarkable ability to ‘normalize’ BP, lowering high BP and raising low BP. The active ingredient is allicin, it’s also the ingredient that produces the odour. For this reason odourless supplements are not effective. Look for a supplement with a guaranteed allicin content and that has an enteric coating to prevent stomach acid from destroying the allicin.
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1. T.Pickering. “Tension & Hypertension” JAMA vol.370,1993,p.2494.
5. Nurses’ Health Study Newsletter, vol. 7 June 2000
7. Dixon ZR; Shie FS; Warden BA; Burri BJ; Neidlinger TR. The effect of a low carotenoid diet on malondialdehyde-thiobarbituric acid (MDA-TBA) concentrations in women: a placebo-controlled double-blind study. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, Feb 1998, Volume 17(1):54-8.
8. Dixon, ZR, Burri, BJ, Clifford, A, Frankel, EN, Schneeman, BO, Parks, E, Keim, NL, Barbieri, T, Wu, M, Fong, AKH, Kretsch, MJ, Sowell, AL, Erdman JW. Effects of a carotene-deficient diet on measures of oxidative susceptibility and superoxide dismutase activity in adult women. Free Radical Biology and Medicine. Vol. 17 (6): 537-544, 1994.