Alternative Treatments for High Blood Pressure

If you knew there was a silent killer lurking, just waiting to strike its next victim, and that there was a one in four chance that victim might be you, would you be worried? Would you do everything you could to protect yourself? Of course you would. Well, it's a reality, and the silent killer is high blood pressure.

Why is high blood pressure, also called hypertension, so dangerous? Each time your heart beats, it pumps about two to three ounces of blood. When you're at rest, it does this 60 to 80 times per minute -- or more than 100,000 times a day. All told, your heart pumps roughly 2,000 gallons of blood through the nearly 60,000 miles of blood vessels in your body every day! If the blood encounters any resistance as it flows through your blood vessels, it places more force against your artery walls -- it increases your blood pressure -- making your heart work even harder. That's why high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It also increases the risk for developing kidney, eye, and nerve problems.

In this article, we will explore high blood pressure and the dietary changes you can make as part of an alternative treatment to control it.

By the Numbers

The statistics are sobering: High blood pressure affects approximately 50 million people in the United States and more than one billion people worldwide. The higher your blood pressure, the greater your risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease.

At younger ages, more men suffer high blood pressure, but after age 65, more women are afflicted.

And women account for more deaths from the disease. In fact, more than a quarter of adult American women have high blood pressure; after age 60, more than half of them do, with the percentages rising every year after that.

Scarier still are the statistics for minorities. African Americans are twice as likely to have high blood pressure and four times as likely to die from it. Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, and Mexican Americans are at greater risk, as well.

Check-Ins Required

If you have high blood pressure, odds are you have essential hypertension. That simply means doctors have no idea what caused it, although heredity and age likely played large roles. A small minority of people have secondary hypertension, meaning high blood pressure is a symptom of an underlying problem, which if corrected may remedy the high blood pressure. Essential hypertension, however, has no cure. You must treat it for life -- with lifestyle changes and possibly drugs as well.

If hypertension has no symptoms, how do you know you have it? You must have your blood pressure checked regularly. Be sure to ask what your reading is every time, so you know if you're straying from your norm.

It's normal for blood pressure to vary throughout the day and to be affected by emotions, activity, and even eating. Often, just being in a doctor's office can raise blood pressure slightly. That's why it's so important to check it regularly. But one abnormal reading is nothing to worry about; high blood pressure is never diagnosed from a single reading.

In the next section, we will learn what the numbers on a high blood pressure reading actually mean. Knowing those numbers will help you determine when you need to follow the alternative treatments to help bring down your blood pressure.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Translating Blood Pressure Numbers

Most of us are familiar enough with blood pressure readings to know that there are two numbers; the higher one is given first, "over" the lower number, like a fraction. But do you know what the numbers refer to?

Briefly, blood pressure is a measure of the force that your blood exerts against your blood-vessel walls. The higher number in the reading is called the systolic pressure -- the pressure of the blood against the walls when the heart pumps. The lower number is the diastolic pressure -- the pressure of the blood between the heart's beats.

The more resistance there is to smooth blood flow, the higher the numbers (and the higher the blood pressure) will be. If your arteries are clogged with plaque, your heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body; there will be more resistance to the blood flow, hence a higher blood pressure. And that's not good. It can lead to a dangerously enlarged heart.

The extra pressure on the blood-vessel walls can weaken them, too, making them susceptible to further injury. Blood flow to the body's organs may be slowed, as well, possibly leading to kidney disease, stroke, heart attack, or other life-threatening damage.

So what should your blood-pressure numbers be to avoid all that? In general, it's best if your systolic (upper) number is below 120 and your diastolic (lower) is below 80. There's a gray area of uncertain risk, sometimes referred to as "prehypertension," but scientists have agreed on certain cutoff points above which definite danger lurks.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) classifies blood pressure by systolic and diastolic levels to help doctors determine the best course of treatment (see How to Read Your Blood Pressure sidebar).

Previously, doctors paid more attention to diastolic pressure, believing it to be a better indicator of potential trouble. Now, however, the recommendation is to give equal concern to both numbers (and ironically now the systolic number is actually thought to better predict the complications that arise from hypertension). For people who are diagnosed with hypertension, the aim is to reduce blood pressure below 140 over 90 and to less than 130 over 80 for people who also have diabetes or chronic kidney disease.

Dietary changes can help prevent or lower your blood pressure. We will explore those changes in the next section, including how to incorporate the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension plan into your daily routine.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Dietary Changes to Lower Blood Pressure

Once you know how to read your blood pressure and find out it's too high, the next step is to take action to bring it down. If you can prevent or lower high blood pressure, then you immediately and dramatically improve your chances for living free of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. It's that simple and that important.

Quitting smoking and losing weight are the two best and surest ways to reduce blood pressure, even if your blood pressure's not particularly high to begin with. Beyond those steps, experts recommend the following dietary changes to help prevent high blood pressure or keep it under control. (Be sure to consult your doctor, however, before making any significant dietary changes, especially if you are already taking medication to treat high blood pressure.) 

Eat right: Research supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute led to the development of an eating plan that can prevent and help treat high blood pressure.

The eating plan, known as the DASH -- named after a key study called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension -- is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat and emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy foods. It also includes whole-grain products, fish, poultry, and nuts, and it limits meat, sweets, and sugary beverages. This makes for a diet rich in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, as well as protein and fiber -- a winning combination for lowering blood pressure.

Cut back on salt: Research using the DASH diet and different levels of dietary sodium confirmed what has been advised for many years -- reducing dietary sodium and salt can help lower blood pressure. Some people, such as African Americans and the elderly, are especially sensitive to salt and sodium and should be particularly careful about how much they consume.

Being sensitive to salt (or sodium) means you have a tendency to retain fluid when you take in too much salt, probably because of a defect in your kidneys' ability to get rid of sodium. Your body tries to dilute the sodium in the blood by conserving fluids. This forces your blood vessels to work extra hard to circulate the additional blood volume.

The nerves on the blood vessels become overstimulated and start signaling the vessels to constrict (get smaller). This only makes it harder for the heart to pump, eventually causing blood pressure to rise. Some people are less sensitive to the effects of excess salt. But because Americans use much more salt and sodium than they need -- we consume anywhere from 6 to 20 grams of sodium a day -- it's wise for most people to cut back. Your goal is to consume no more than 2.4 grams (2,300 milligrams) of sodium a day. That equals six grams (about a teaspoon) of table salt a day. Depending on how high your blood pressure is, your doctor may advise less.

Remember, the six grams includes all salt and sodium consumed, including that used in cooking, at the table, and in processed and commercially prepared foods.

As much as 75 percent of the salt in our diets comes from processed foods. Only 10 percent of the salt we eat is there naturally, and about 15 percent is added during cooking and at the table. But since the taste for salt is learned -- unlike our inborn taste for sugar -- you can also learn to enjoy food with less salt. Retrain your taste buds and learn to enjoy food with less salt.

Before trying a salt substitute, check with your doctor. Many of them contain potassium chloride, and you may end up taking in too much potassium, which can be harmful, especially in combination with certain medications.

In the next section we will review other foods that may help in lowering or preventing high blood pressure. 

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

Other Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

To help lower your blood pressure, you can do more things than just follow the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension guidelines and cut salt from your diet. Here are a few more tips when it comes to shooting for a low blood pressure number.

Rack up potassium: Some people who have hypertension take thiazide diuretics that cause a loss of potassium, so they are told to eat a banana each day to replace it. But researchers now think extra potassium may be a good idea for everyone. Not only do we eat too much sodium, we take in too little potassium. It's the balance between sodium and potassium that is thought to be important to blood pressure.

Don't run out to buy potassium supplements, however. That could be dangerous. Both too much and too little potassium can trigger a heart attack. Stick to foods high in potassium to be safe; foods rich in potassium include bananas, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, and milk.

A caveat: If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and are taking a potassium-sparing diuretic (ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure) or if you have kidney disease, first ask your doctor whether you need extra potassium.

Collect calcium: Your heart needs calcium to maintain its proper rhythm, and your kidneys need calcium to regulate your body's sodium/water balance. Research has shown, however, that people who have high blood pressure generally don't get enough dietary calcium. Other studies confirm that getting extra calcium can actually lower blood pressure. But that effect is not necessarily seen with calcium supplements. Rely, instead, on foods that are rich in calcium.

Go for garlic: Numerous researchers have pointed to garlic's ability to lower blood pressure. It also makes a fabulous flavor replacement when you're cutting back on salt.

Let fruits and vegetables reign: Vegetarians have a much lower incidence of high blood pressure.

You, too, can benefit from this approach without becoming a vegetarian. Gradually increase your daily servings by sneaking in an extra serving or two at each meal. You will likely be eating less fat, more fiber, less salt, and more potassium -- and you'll probably lose weight. Those benefits will help lower your blood pressure.

Curb the bad habits: Drinking, like smoking, is strongly associated with high blood pressure. Heavy drinkers probably double their risk of high blood pressure. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for men and no more than one per day for women. (One drink equals 1/2 ounce alcohol, the amount found in 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 11/2 ounces of 80-proof whiskey.)

Caffeine, however, doesn't appear to be associated with hypertension. While it can raise your blood pressure temporarily, your body adapts to the caffeine level if you routinely drink a certain amount of coffee, tea, or cola every day, and your blood pressure is no longer affected by that amount.

Though many Americans deal with high blood pressure, it is a treatable condition. With the right diet and exercise as part of an alternative treatment, your high blood pressure most likely can be controlled.   

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.