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Integrative Medicine

High Blood Pressure: Beyond Medication

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is known as the “silent killer” because it typically goes unnoticed but is connected to an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other health issues. High blood pressure can also harm cognitive function, harm the kidneys, and cause erectile dysfunction, eyesight loss, heart failure, and aneurysm rupture.

Most people’s blood pressure rises with age in industrialized societies like ours. Age-related hypertension is linked to artery hardening and is so widespread that it’s considered a natural part of becoming older. However, it is not found in the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies implying that it is linked to lifestyle rather than the aging process. 

Diet, physical exercise, and stress are all important lifestyle factors. Our excessive consumption of sodium-laden processed and manufactured foods, as well as quick-digesting carbohydrates, is a long cry from the natural whole-foods diet of hunter-gatherers, and it is likely to worsen blood pressure. Regular physical exercise helps and according to research, people keep arteries supple and maintain a healthy weight both linked to blood pressure. And, while hunter-gatherers aren’t immune to stress and worry we appear to have more of it. 

Although lifestyle plays a role in hypertension, anti-hypertensive medicines remain the most common treatment option. Perhaps this is since taking a tablet is easier than changing behaviors and partially because the most widely prescribed blood pressure medications are relatively inexpensive when compared to other types of medications. Most of them have been on the market for a while and are also available in less-priced generic versions.

“Hypertension may be a silent killer, but it is also usually a very slow one. There is almost always a window of opportunity to experiment with lifestyle changes and other measures before starting on antihypertensive medication.”

A Look At Anti-Hypertensive Drugs

Because blood flow is essential for nearly all tasks, the body carefully regulates it through sophisticated neurological and hormonal mechanisms. Antihypertensive medicines have a variety of effects on these pathways. Beta-blockers for example, affect the neurological system whereas angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors affect hormonal pathways. Diuretics reduce blood volume by increasing urine excretion of water while calcium channel blockers relax the smooth muscle that lines blood vessels. To give a more efficient treatment it is common today to combine numerous drugs with diverse mechanisms of action to treat hypertension. Antihypertensive medications can cause headaches, weakness, tiredness, gastrointestinal issues, itching, visual changes, muscular cramps, dizziness, erectile dysfunction, low blood sugar, dry mouth, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Many patients who use these medications are looking for alternatives, which is understandable.

An Integrative Approach

Although hypertension is a silent killer, it usually kills slowly. There is nearly always a window of opportunity to try lifestyle changes and other measures before commencing anti-hypertensive medication. If these techniques fail to lower your blood pressure to a safe level and medication is required, ask your doctor to begin with the lowest dose of the powerful drug. When you combine medication with lifestyle changes and other therapy you can frequently stay on lower doses of fewer drugs. There are a variety of non-drug methods for preventing and treating hypertension including the ones listed below.

Diet

Both the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and the Mediterranean diet have been shown to help control high blood pressure. Weight loss can make a major difference as well. Fiber intake of roughly 3o grams per day (at least 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed) can also be beneficial. (Note that fiber takes up to eight weeks of consistent ingestion to fully activate.) Hypertension is less likely in people who eat more fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, some recent studies have found that eating unsalted nuts, particularly pistachios but also other nuts helps lower blood pressure; the effective dose is a handful per day. Polyphenols, organic chemicals present in many plants can also aid notable sources to include cocoa and dark chocolate, and grapes. Omega-3 fats which can be found in grass-fed animal foods, fatty cold-water fish, and dietary supplements, are also beneficial. For a long time, salt has been linked to high blood pressure. According to a 2013 study, cutting daily intake from nine to twelve grams to five to six grams has a considerable favorable effect reducing it to three grams, maybe even better. Reduced consumption of processed and manufactured foods is the simplest way to achieve this. However, a lot of studies suggest and several experts agree that salt may not have as much of an impact on blood pressure as previously thought.

Healthy Habits 

Blood pressure is influenced positively by several lifestyle factors. Physical activity, when done correctly can help with virtually any health problem including hypertension. Yoga like tai chi has shown promise in the limited study that has been done so far. A good night’s sleep is also important. We know that insomnia and fewer hours of general sleep at night are linked to a higher risk of hypertension. Finally stopping smoking is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure (and overall health). Every cigarette counts; even cutting back by one a day can help.

“Stopping smoking is one of the most effective ways to lower blood pressure (and overall health). Every cigarette counts; even cutting back by one a day can help.”

Mind-Body Measures

Relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises and meditation and biofeedback appear to lower blood pressure by increasing activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. These approaches can drop the blood pressure number by 10 and the bottom number by seven if practiced regularly. According to research, people who are less isolated and more engaged with others are less likely to be hypertensive. 

Other Approaches

Hibiscus, coenzyme Q10, garlic magnesium, and the amino acid L-arginine are among the supplements that have shown potential in decreasing blood pressure. Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners successfully manage hypertension in their patients.

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