High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one symptom that indicates the presence of cardiovascular disease. ‘Blood pressure’ means the pressure of blood flow against the wall of the major arteries (blood vessels).
High blood pressure or hypertension is a symptom rather than a disease, but it is a symptom that must be treated as having high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease by fourfold. High blood pressure increases your chance of dying from a stroke, heart attack, kidney disease or heart failure, which is enough reason to think about and actively pursue treatment. Blood pressure is the measurement of force of the blood against the artery walls as the heart pumps the blood around the body. It is gauged by 2 numbers, systolic and diastolic, measured in millimetres of mercury, mmHg (eg 120/80). The systolic (Siss-toll-ic) or the ‘top’ reading measures the force of blood on arteries when the heart beats, while the diastolic (Dye-as-toll-ic) or ‘bottom’ reading records force of blood on arteries between beats, the resting pressure. Both top and bottom readings are important, but when the diastolic reading is very high, it is particularly worrisome as it shows the pressure of blood in the arteries is high even when the heart is at rest.
Blood pressure varies from moment to moment. In general it is higher during the day than at night, winter than summer and as you get older.
- Normal blood pressure is <120 systolic and <80 diastolic.
- Pre-hypertension is 120-129 systolic and 80-89 diastolic (time to start looking at lifestyle and diet).
- Hypertension is >130 systolic and >90 diastolic (treatment is necessary).
The opposite to high blood pressure is low blood pressure (hypotension). Symptoms can include fainting, light-headedness and confusion Hypotension may be caused by dehydration, certain medication or a symptom of severe allergy. If there are no symptoms, hypotension is often not treated, and seen as much preferable to having hypertension, which poses a greater risk to your health.
High blood pressure is often asymptomatic in other words has no obvious symptoms you are aware of, and as high blood pressure has such serious potential repercussions, that is, dying, it is best to at least know you have it. Have it checked when you are visiting your health professional or buy a relatively inexpensive digital sphygmometer (blood pressure machine) for home use. This is a good investment if you already know you have high blood pressure, so you can keep a close eye on your treatment progress. Some symptoms of high blood pressure include:
- Feeling of fullness in the head.
- Face going red.
- Buzzing or noise in the ears.
- Nose bleeds.
What causes it?
- Atherosclerosis increases blood pressure. As the artery wall thickens and hardens, this has a mechanical effect on increasing the pressure of blood flowing through.
- Kidney disease.
- Thyroid disease, particularly high thyroid.
- Certain medications have high blood pressure as a side-effect.
- Most often there is no obvious cause for blood pressure to be high, this is called Essential Hypertension.
Although not causative, the following factors increase your risk of having high blood pressure:
- Being overweight or obese.
- A family history of hypertension.
- Smoking tobacco.
- Having diabetes.
- Stress or anxiety. Adrenaline, the stress hormone increases blood pressure.
- Getting older, men over 55 years of age, and women over 65years of age have a higher risk.
- Being physically inactive.
- High blood fats (cholesterol, triglycerides) which will show up on blood tests.
- High salt diet. Some people are salt sensitive, meaning it can increase their blood pressure.
- Dehydration. The heart will work harder if there is not enough blood in the body.
What to do
- Salt. Compared to the hunter-gatherer diet, on which our physiology evolved, the modern diet has ten times the amount of sodium. Sodium is part of the molecule sodium choride, better known as salt. Salt is added to food to processed and packaged food to enhance taste and as a preservative. Deli meats, packaged soups, pre-made sauces, takeaways, snacks and breakfast cereal. Once in the body, sodium has an osmotic effect, drawing water into the body, increasing blood pressure. Many studies have shown that decreasing salt in the diet decreases blood pressure, in particular, the well-known DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) research of the late 1990s. The older you get, the more salt sensitive you become. The best way to lower salt in your diet is not by choosing ‘low salt’ processed foods, but by ditching processed foods altogether. If you make your own food (and it’s not as time consuming as you think, a salad or stir-fry takes minutes to prepare) you are in charge of exactly how much salt is added or not. If you have high blood pressure, your goal is to consume less than 6 g of salt daily (the average is 9.5g). Food labels declare sodium levels rather than total salt. Read as mg of sodium per 100 g of food. A low salt food is one that has less than 120 mg sodium per 100 g food, 5 g of salt contains 2000 mg of sodium. Your daily sodium levels should be less than 2400 mg.
- Potassium. A lot of attention has been on decreasing sodium levels. But increasing potassium in your diet will also likely decrease your blood pressure. It’s a ratio thing. Ideally we should be eating twice the amount of potassium as we do sodium. We eat 4 times less potassium than our hunter-gatherer forebears. Potassium-rich foods include all fruits and vegetables, but in particular bananas, citrus fruit, apricots, avocado, parsley, potatoes, as well as almonds, cashews, pecans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, sardines, parsley, kelp, kidney beans.
- Garlic helps to lower blood pressure. Eat it raw or cooked.
- Calcium also has a blood pressure lowering effect. Calcium-rich foods. (see Appendix XX on Food Sources.)
- Caffeine. If you don’t usually drink caffeinated beverages a double-shot macchiato is likely to shoot your blood pressure through the roof. However, if you regularly enjoy coffee, your body generally will have developed a tolerance for caffeine. This tolerance reaches its limit at around 5 cups of coffee per day. Also, some people can be very sensitive to caffeine, if you have high blood pressure, stay away from caffeine and see if this makes a difference to your blood pressure.
- The omega-3 fatty acid, EPA, found in fish has shown, in a small way, to decrease blood pressure. Eat 3 serves of fish weekly, particularly the oilier fish including mackerel, salmon, sardines.
- The DASH research mentioned previously found that people who increased their wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and fish intake while decreasing sugar, red meat and fatty foods had a decrease in blood pressure. Then again these dietary recommendations will go a long way to helping most health problems.
- Drink at least 2 litres of fluid daily to avoid dehydration.
- Magnesium, potassium and calcium will all do their part to help decrease blood pressure. It might serve you well to take an extra supplement of magnesium as it is helps to relax muscle and is a stress reliever. Artery walls are made of muscle, and the magnesium will help to widen the diameter of the blood vessel, thereby reducing blood pressure. If you find your blood pressure is not better after 2 to 3 months, then don’t continue and try something else.
- Garlic is so good for all cardiovascular problems including high cholesterol, atherosclerosis. It also helps to reduce blood pressure. Eat as much as you can, as well as taking it in supplement form. Make sure it has high allicin levels, as this is the effective constituent. Enteric-coated garlic tablets are available if you don’t want to have garlic breath.
- Herbs can be very useful in lowering blood pressure. These include the Coleus forskolii, valerian (as it helps to reduce stress hormones and relaxes muscle), olive leaf (long before olive leaf became popular for coughs and colds, olive leaf was used for hypertension) and hawthorn. Hawthorn is a traditional heart tonic as well. Dandelion leaves are useful as a diuretic, which has a blood pressure lowering effect.
- If stress is part of your high blood pressure. Then herbs to help stress and anxiety will help enormously. These include valerian, St John’s wort, kava, valerian, oats, passionflower, vervain, kava, lemon balm, zizyphus, magnolia and chamomile.
- Fish oil of between 3 to 6 g daily has some effect on lowering blood pressure. Absolutely recommended if you also have high cholesterol levels. And make that a trifecta if you suffer from arthritis too.
- Buteyko breathing slightly increases carbon dioxide levels in the body. This, in turn, helps to dampen the sympathetic nervous response (the one fuelled by adrenaline), which will in turn, relax the muscle surrounding blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. Professor Buteyko was actually studying blood pressure when he developed his breathing technique.
- Manage your stress.
- Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise such as jogging, cycling, has been shown to lower blood pressure. Between 20 to 60 minutes 3 times a week.
- Meditation. Lots of studies have shown that meditation decreases blood pressure. Find a class or an app and practise.
- Lose weight. Losing 4 kilograms can decrease systolic measurement by 4.5mmHG and diastolic by 3.2mmHG.
For high blood pressure combine:
- 4 drops of bergamot is excellent for stress related conditions.
- 4 drops of neroli – calming and tonifying.
- 2 drops of ylang ylang – hypotensive, and palpitations.
This will be soothing and calming on both the nervous Low blood pressure: Ginger, Rosemary, Pine and circulatory systems
For low blood pressure combine:
- 4 drops of pine – hypertensive, circulatory stimulant.
- 4 drops of rosemary – palpitations, poor circulation, hypertensive.
- 2 drops of ginger – poor circulation. This is a blend that will be both warming and stimulating to the circulatory system.
Either of these blends can be used in a full body massage if added to 20ml sweet almond oil, in bathing if added to epsom salts, if using in a vapouriser you will need to halve the number of drops used or a personal perfume mix into 20ml Jojoba oil
At a glance
- Lose the salt. Don’t shake it on your meals, and reduce consumption of processed and packaged foods that often contain obscene amounts of salt. Aim to eat less than 6 g salt a day or 2400mg of sodium.
- Increase potassium-rich foods. Increasing the ratio of potassium to sodium in the body will help lower blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods include all fruits and vegetables, especially, bananas, citrus fruit, apricots, avocado, parsley, potatoes, as well as almonds, cashews, pecans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, sardines, parsley, kelp, kidney beans.
- Caffeine may increase blood pressure in those people sensitive to it. Avoid caffeine for a couple of weeks and see if you feel better or your blood pressure decreases. If so, on either count, desist. De-caffeinated is fine.
- General recommendations that help to decrease blood pressure include reducing sugar, red meat and increasing wholegrains, fresh fruit and vegetables and fish in your diet.
- Avoid dehydration. Drink at least 2 litres of fluid daily.
- Take a magnesium supplement morning and night. Magnesium, the great muscle relaxer, will help to relax the muscle that lines blood vessels. Magnesium also helps with stress. - Potassium and calcium supplementation may also be helpful.
- If you have other risk factors for heart disease including high cholesterol and or atherosclerosis, then taking fish oil and garlic supplements make good sense, as these work on these as well as helping to lower blood pressure.
- Herbal remedies can be taken to help reduce blood pressure, including coleus, hawthorn, olive leaf and valerian.
- Adrenaline increases blood pressure. If you are stressed, very likely this has a negative impact on your blood pressure. Choose from one or more of the following anti stress herbs St John’s wort, kava, valerian, oats, passionflower, vervain, kava, lemon balm, zizyphus, magnolia and chamomile.
- Buteyko breathing reduces the stress response, thereby helping to reduce blood pressure. Practice some of the techniques or take a course.
- Take up yoga, tai chi or macramé. Whatever does it for you to reduce your stress levels.
- Every kilogram you lose will help reduce your blood pressure. Why not start or increase your aerobic exercise?
- It doesn’t matter what style of meditation you prefer. It helps to lower blood pressure. Dust off that meditation cushion and find a class in the real world or online.