Many Canadians have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, for years without symptoms. Unfortunately, people often finally understand that they have the condition once they experience its’ consequences, such as a stroke, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries) or eye and kidney damage.
There are many possible causes of high blood pressure: lack of exercise; smoking; eating a high-sodium diet with low fibre; excessive alcohol intake; poor stress management, and obesity. The good news is that while there are many causes, there are plenty of steps you can take to lower your blood pressure - and naturally, to boot.
Blood pressure medications are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. There are four main classes of drugs used to lower blood pressure, and often combinations of the different classes of drugs are used together. As with any type of drug therapy, side effects are common, and are often negative.
While medication can be necessary in many cases, there are also ways to both prevent and treat the underlying causes of hypertension. This includes first understanding it, making necessary shifts to your diet, upping your intake of natural supplements and creating a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.
Understanding the condition
Blood pressure is determined by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to the blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the more narrow your arteries, the higher your blood pressure. The amount of pressure on the blood vessel walls during a contraction is known as the systolic reading. Between heartbeats, as the heart relaxes, the pressure remaining on the blood vessel walls is known as the diastolic pressure.
The first step to preventing and treating your blood pressure is to get it checked so that you know your baseline. I recommend getting three or more blood pressure readings at separate times with your doctor. This way, you can take the average versus basing a single reading as a diagnosis for hypertension.
Adjust your diet
High blood pressure is mainly found in those who consume a diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Here are a few ways you can use your diet to help both prevent and treat hypertension:
- Eat healthy, lean proteins: Try free-range chicken, turkey, bison, eggs and legumes.
- Include essential fatty acids: Due to its anti-inflammatory effect, I recommend incorporating more nuts, seeds, healthy oils and cold-water fish. Consume fresh fish once or twice weekly.
- Look for naturally-occurring potassium: Foods like leafy greens, avocado, acorn squash, bananas, pomegranate and sweet potatoes all have a high potassium content that help to balance out the negative effects of artificial sodium.
- Reduce artificial sodium intake: Too much sodium reduces your kidneys’ ability to remove water, resulting in high blood pressure due to the extra fluid and strain on the delicate blood vessels leading to the kidneys. Limit the use of table salt and foods that are high in sodium, such as canned foods and frozen dinners.
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine: Since caffeine constricts the blood vessel walls, it may increase blood pressure. Try replacing that extra cup of coffee with an herbal tea
Incorporate natural supplements
While you can get most of your nutrients from your diet, it can be challenging to get enough. Most people with mild to moderate hypertension benefit from the incorporation of natural supplements in their diet. Here are a few I recommend:
- Hawthorn berry: This supplement helps torelax the blood vessel walls and reduce blood pressure. It is commonly used by physicians in Europe for hypertension and as a cardiovascular tonic.
- Potassium, magnesium and calcium: These supplements can be taken separately or as part of mineral formulations. Those on diuretics that do not reduce potassium should not supplement potassium.
- Coenzyme Q10 : This is one of the top supplements for the heart and cardiovascular system due to its antioxidant content, which protects cells from damage and plays an important part in metabolism.
- Omega-3 fish oil: EPA and DHA found in fish oils help support the heart and cardiovascular system. I recommend supplement taking an omega-3 fish oil daily.
Make sustainable lifestyle changes
High blood pressure is generally the result of an imbalanced lifestyle. Choosing a healthier diet, working on stress reduction and using complementary therapies are excellent tools to help reverse this condition. Here are a few ways you can create sustainable lifestyle changes that increase your health:
Up your physical activity: Regular physical activity can help lower your blood pressure and keep your weight under control. Strive for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
Limit alcohol: Even if you're healthy, alcohol can raise your blood pressure. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation — choose to drink as a treat on the weekend or for a special occasion.
Manage stress: Reduce stress as much as possible. Practice healthy coping techniques, such as muscle relaxation and deep breathing through regular massage therapy, yoga and meditation.
Monitor your blood pressure at home. Home blood pressure monitoring can help you keep closer tabs on your blood pressure, show if medication is working, and even alert you and your doctor to potential complications.
Try not to get too overwhelmed and try to make all of these changes at once; even just a few diet and lifestyle adjustments can help you prevent and treat hypertension. Do not take yourself off any medications.Consult with your health care provider before making any changes to your health program.
Happy heart health month!