Take control of your high blood pressure

Close up on high blood pressure headlines with medical instruments

Checked your blood pressure lately? You might be unpleasantly surprised. Public health reports say that the incidence of hypertension is steadily increasing. This accompanies unhealthy increases in metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, dementia and other serious conditions related in part to the circulatory systems.

Is there a common underlying factor looming in all of these conditions? Some lay the blame on chronic Inflammation.

Certain lifestyle factors can cause your blood pressure to increase, heightening your risk of heart attacks, strokes and other serious conditions. High stress combined with poor diet, lack of exercise and harmful lifestyle factors like smoking can wreak havoc on your cardiovascular system and other parts of the body.

While many doctors are quick to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs designed to lower cholesterol and increase blood flow, changing your diet and lifestyle can keep your blood pressure down and reduce your risk of associated health problems. Research shows that targeted herbs and nutrients can also help. And again, one of the main strategies for supporting health and longevity — but particularly for cardiovascular health — is to address chronic inflammation with the right foods, stress relief, healthy sleep patterns, exercise and specific supplements.

Hold The Salt!

One of the major contributors to high blood pressure is excess salt intake from foods such as cured meats, canned foods, salted snack foods and prepackaged meals. While the body needs a certain amount of sodium to function optimally, the average American consumes approximately 10 times more salt than is needed. That expands blood volume and makes the heart and kidneys work harder. A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that people who reduce their salt intake by 25 percent to 30 percent have a significant reduction in their risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition to salty snacks, foods high in certain types of saturated fats, especially trans fats, may contribute to increased blood pressure. The consumption of fats and oils are necessary for energy reserves and provide a natural supply of vitamins A, D and E. But it is important to choose healthy monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats and the omega-3s found in olive oil, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, salmon, sardines, coconut products and other foods containing healthful fats.

Reduce Stress

In addition to diet, chronic stress is one of the major contributing factors to hypertension. When you are under stress, your body naturally produces more of the stress-related hormones and neurotransmitters. These are powerful chemicals that regulate physical and emotional processes like mental performance, emotional well-being and pain response. These signaling compounds then bind to receptor sites in the blood vessels and heart. Once they are stimulated, heart rate and blood pressure climb.

Regular yoga and meditation practice can significantly reduce stress levels if practiced even for just 10 minutes a day. Meditation is a viable method of improving emotional well-being, and it is shown to offer significant benefits in relieving pain, anxiety, depression and other mental imbalances that can lead to increased blood pressure — and ultimately, cardiovascular disease. In fact, studies have shown that regular meditation practice can help reduce elevated blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and reduce inflammation.

Exercise is also critical for reducing both stress and high blood pressure. Easy-to-do tips include short daily walks, jogs, bike rides, parking farther from the store when shopping, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and meeting friends for walks. Those activities allow you to meet your basic physical fitness requirements, maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your heart and support healthy blood pressure. If you already have heart disease or high blood pressure, it is always recommended to consult your health care practitioner before undertaking any exercise routine.

Herbal Formulas

Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP) is an important plant-based nutraceutical ingredient that’s been shown in studies to block the inflammatory protein galectin-3 and, as a result, support normal blood pressure and cardiovascular health. Research has shown that MCP reduces the process of hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), a condition that can lead to high blood pressure when your blood vessels lose their flexibility and become scarred. The study demonstrates that MCP achieved these effects through its ability to block excess galectin-3.

Other herbs and nutrients shown to benefit blood pressure include garlic, magnesium, omega-3 supplements and coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). Chinese hawthorn berry (Crataegus pinnatifida) helps maintain healthy plasma lipid levels, cholesterol and triglycerides. Chinese salvia (Salvia miltiorrhiza), also known as Dan Shen, has been widely used in Asia to promote blood flow and overcome blood stasis. Medicinal mushrooms are increasingly recognized throughout the world for their proven health-giving properties, including cardiovascular support. A Tibetan herbal formula with neem, costus root and other unique ingredients has been used in Europe for more than 30 years for its anti-inflammatory and circulatory health benefits.

The truth is we have many options available that are derived from natural ingredients that have been used for hundreds, if not thousands, of years to promote cardiovascular health. We also have more modern botanical discoveries, such as MCP, that continue to be researched for serious health conditions. If you already have cardiovascular disease or hypertension, it is important to discuss any supplements with your healthcare provider to make sure they don’t interfere with your current therapies.

Normal Numbers

Since high blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it has no overt symptoms, it is vital to regularly check your blood pressure to make sure you are staying within normal ranges.

The American Heart Association has the following guidelines for assessment of your blood pressure status:

Normal: less than 120/less than 80

Pre-hypertension: 120-139/80-89

Stage 1 High blood pressure: 140-159/90-99

Stage 2 High Blood pressure: 160 or higher/100 or higher

Crisis level where emergency medical attention is needed: Higher than 180/100.

Remember, it is absolutely critical to stop smoking, while moderating or eliminating your use of alcohol, and caffeinated foods and beverages. Regular smokers are at increased risk of hypertension because the nicotine in cigarettes binds to adrenergic receptors, contributing to higher blood pressure and faster heart rate. Caffeinated beverages and alcohol also increase blood pressure by augmenting sympathetic nervous system activity and making blood vessels contract.

If you have a family history of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, extra emphasis is needed in maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly and practicing stress-relieving activities. These provide benefits not just for healthy blood pressure, but overall energy and vitality in the long run.