Blood Pressure Basics
Blood Pressure Explained
Blood pressure varies constantly throughout the day and ideally, should be about 120/80.
Readings over 138/89 are considered high.
When the heart is squeezing blood into the arteries, the pressure is high and when the heart is relaxed, the pressure is lower.
Testing blood pressure gives your health practitioner information about the health of your arteries and cardiovascular system.
As you age, consistently high blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and can lead to a heart attack, stroke or kidney dysfunction.
Conversely, some people suffer from hypotension, which is low blood pressure.
Your blood pressure is taken by your doctor using a sphygmomanometer.
There are generally two types – automatic and manual.
Most doctors prefer to use automatic as it self inflates and will also record your pulse and can detect irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias).
Regardless of which type of sphygmomanometer your health professional uses, you will still have a material cuff placed around your upper arm that is inflated to temporarily suspend blood flow to your arm.
If your doctor is testing your blood pressure manually, he will also have a stethoscope under the sphygmomanometer cuff.
This allows him to hear the first rush of blood back into your arm (systolic) and when the pressure is normalised (diastolic).
Measuring blood pressure is a useful, non-invasive way to check on cardiovascular function.
Make sure you try to relax before you have your blood pressure taken.
You can do this by taking 3 slow, deep breaths and if you still feel nervous, please mention this to your health care practitioner.
White Coat Syndrome (feeling nervous around doctors) is real and it can raise your blood pressure resulting in a false reading.
Causes of Hypertension and Hypotension
Hypertension is greatly influenced by:
- Alcohol intake
- Physical activity
- Family history
- Weight gain
Hypotension is generally a reading under 90/60 and thought to be the result of:
- Disorder of the endocrine system
- Chronic pain
- Cardiac abnormality such as a heart murmur
Not everyone who has high blood pressure will have symptoms.
Other people may present with:
- Headaches / migraines
- Inability to concentrate
- Pressure in the neck and head
- Constant irritability
Symptoms of hypotension include:
- Blurry vision
- Pale and clammy skin
Most doctors will counsel you to take a healthier approach to life and make dietary suggestions.
They may also suggest that you take medication.
Blood pressure medications don’t cure high blood pressure –they only help to control it and quite often you are recommended to stay on them for life.
From a naturopathic perspective, this is masking a symptom and not addressing the true cause of hypertension.
What we aim to do is identify areas of weakness in your diet and lifestyle and work on changing them so you can achieve better health
Unfortunately, for those suffering hypotension, there are no medications.
However, symptoms may be improved by ensuring proper hydration and looking at dietary salts.
The Dangers of Processed Food and Sodium
The Salt Conundrum
Salt as we know it is the combination of two different minerals – sodium and chloride.
Quite simply, we need salt to survive. Once upon a time, it was so valuable it was seen as a form of currency.
The reason for that is because it allowed food to keep for longer, allowing people to travel further.
It did this by drawing moisture out of the food, thereby preventing bacterial growth.
But how much salt is too much?
Salt and Hypertension
With growing obesity and cardiovascular disease rates facing most developed countries, it’s no surprise that countries are starting to pay attention to preventative health.
Quite simply, disease costs a lot of money in terms of medication and ongoing health care.
It simply makes sense to raise awareness of disease risk factors and salt intake is no different.
The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia recommends salt intake be limited to 1.15 – 2.3 grams of salt.
Unfortunately, thanks to processed foods, most Australian adults have a daily salt intake of about 10 gram.
As a result, a ‘Suggested Dietary Target’ of 1600 mg of sodium (equivalent to about 4 grams of salt) has been set with the upper limit being set at 6g.
Salt is particularly harmful for blood pressure as it forces the body to retain more water, thereby raising blood pressure.
Furthermore, excess salt content forces the kidneys to excrete salt faster at a higher rate, increasing the risk for kidney disease.
Not All Salts are Equal
Table salt is often obtained through salt mines or purifying and processing sea water.
The result is nearly pure sodium chloride with anti-caking agents to ensure that the salt doesn’t clump.
In more recent times, governments have sought to include iodine (creating iodised salt) to prevent thyroid disorders.
Ironically, natural sea salt already contains trace minerals such as iodine, magnesium, zinc and manganese which are also needed for health.
The difference between table salt and natural sea salt depends on where the sea salt is harvested from.
Generally speaking, sea salt is “less salty” than its purified counterparts and the darker the salt, the more trace minerals within.
For example Celtic sea salt is often a greyish colour and contains a higher amount of water.
Another popular salt is Himalayan salt which is harvested in Pakistan.
The unique pink colour is the result of iron oxide. In terms of taste, it is often more subtle that table salt.
The Salt Addiction
Like most things, our brains are wired to have a reward system – taste buds can be trained to certain levels of sweet or salty.
As a result of salt being used to preserve food, we all have relatively high tolerances for food passed down to us from our ancestors.
The rise of processed food, being quick, cheap and readily available has only perpetuated that need for salt in industrialised countries.
The Dangers of Processed Foods
Otherwise known as a typical Western or Industrial Diet, this is unfortunately, a diet all too familiar for many people.
Our diets are a complex game of psychology and clever marketing.
Our appetites naturally lead us towards foods that will give us high energy (hence cravings for sweet, salty or fatty) and food manufacturers will exploit this.
Packaging is designed to fool us. Everything from colours, unrealistic food photography, font and serving size are all designed to appeal to our base desires.
So what does a typical Western, highly processed diet look like? Maybe something like this:
Breakfast: white coffee with sugar, cereal with milk or toast with jam
Morning Tea: biscuits with another coffee or tea, perhaps some fruit or nuts or a protein / nut bar
Lunch: burgers with chips and salad / schnitzel, wraps, sandwiches on white bread, pizza with soft drink
Afternoon Tea: chocolate, piece of cake / cookies with coffee / tea, piece of fruit
Dinner: pasta, rice, pizza, barbecued or fried meats, vegetables or salad
After Dinner: ice cream, chocolate, chips, yoghurt
You’ll notice that most of these are pre-made and packaged.
You may even think that’s a pretty balanced diet with the vegetables and the fruit. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.
We are living in a time poor and nutritionally defunct society.
The impact it is having on our health is very real.
Everything from early onset puberty, infertility, obesity and cardiovascular disease can all be modified by our diet.
Remember, our diet is a chemical soup that has the ability to alter gene expression.
What To Avoid In Packaged Foods:
- High in corn syrup and palm oil – not only terrible for the environment (destruction of native habitat to grow palm trees has single handedly devastated habitat for thousands of animals), these highly inflammatory sugars can lead to insulin resistance, cholesterol issues and heart disease. Worst of all, they are empty calories – devoid of all nutritional goodness they just make you put on weight. Ditch them. Ditch them now.
- Preservatives – real food is designed to have a limited shelf life. Preservatives are chemicals that prevent food from spoiling and can often be quite challenging for the liver to process. In particular sulphites and sulphates which are used to preserve fruit can cause gastro irritation and bloating.
- Colorants – real food doesn’t need to look good. Just as our taste buds have become perverted, our visual sense of food has also been altered. Meat in butchers is often pumped with water and dye to make it more appealing.
- Flavour Enhancers – these chemicals are designed to enhance flavour by way of activating glutamate receptors in the brain. A prime example is MSG.
- Numbers – There are code apps and books available that break down what these numbers mean. As a general rule, numbers in food is not a great sign.
Making Healthier Changes
Take a look again at the the typical Western Diet and see if you could make the following changes:
- Change your breakfast: Start the day with steel cut rolled oats and Greek style low fat yoghurt. Jazz it up with some nuts and fruit. Ditch the coffee for green tea or plain water.
- Change the snacks to fruit, nuts or home-made oat or protein bars.
- Get back to basics – grow your own food where possible or buy food fresh from local growers markets.
- Ditch the salad dressings for olive oil or balsamic vinegar infusions.
- Remove salt shakers from the table and the kitchen, including salt in all its guises—sea salt, garlic salt, onion salt, and all the expensive gourmet salts of various colours.
- Dress salads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar without adding salt or salty dressings.
- Ditch the sodium chloride for sea salt or Himalayan salt.
- Cook food to conserve flavour and nutrients – stir frying and soups are great as they are time effective.
- Create your own flavour grinders. Add garlic and herbs to salt grinders to infuse food with more flavour.
- Read the information on food labels and avoid foods that have a sodium content higher than 120mg/100g
- Switch white foods out – think of breads, rice and pastas. Buy wholemeal or whole-grain to incorporate more fibre and B vitamins.
Hypotension and Dehydration
It should come as no surprise that when you are dehydrated, there is a lack of blood volume which results in low blood pressure. Symptoms of hypotension include:
- Blurry vision
- Pale and clammy skin
An easy fix is to drink water – plain water.
Don’t fall into the trap of having coffee / tea / alcohol or soft drinks and assuming that will be okay.
Quite often, this may minimally address the hydration issue and actually raise your blood pressure.
Especially in the case of coffee, alcohol and soft drinks.
As an extra health bonus cutting out the sugary drinks and caffeine, you will also lower your sugar intake and lose a few kilos.
A common complaint is “but water tastes boring”.
I can’t admit to understanding that comment. It’s water. It’s supposed to be life-giving not setting off fireworks in your mouth.
Regardless, if you find that you suffer from “boring water syndrome” (not actually a real disease!) you can try some of the following ideas:
- Citrus wedges – cut lemons, limes or oranges into wedges and add to water
- Freeze fruit juices into ice cube trays and pop a couple into a glass of water. You’ll have a flavour hit without the full strength (and sugar) of juice
- Herbs – mint (especially crushed chocolate mint), lemon balm and even lavender are a pretty and healthy touch to waters. Considered a weak infusion they will impart flavour as well as their healing properties into the water.
- Vegetables – yes, vegetable water can taste quite nice. Cucumber is a great example of this!
Hypertension and Hydration
Drinking water is one of the cheapest and healthiest ways to lower blood pressure.
Chronic dehydration causes blood vessels to constrict.
The body will then try to conserve water to maintain blood pressure by reducing water loss through perspiration, urination, and respiration.
Unfortunately, constricted blood vessels will force cardiovascular tissues to work harder, resulting in high blood pressure.
But you can have too much of a good thing.
A study in 2014 revealed that “excess water intake increases blood pressure in healthy individuals” and that the underlying mechanism and the long term effects still need to be explored.”
This was further supported by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center which found that water can “increase the activity of the sympathetic nervous system” resulting in “raised alertness, blood pressure and energy expenditure”.
Similarly, a Red Cross study found that drinking 16 ounces (473ml) of water before blood donations resulted in a decrease of fainting by 20% .
So there appears to be a Golden Window of Water that is optimal for each person.
This will depend on your age, gender, weight, environment and overall physical fitness.
For example a 13 year old female student who spends most of her time in front of the computer is going to require less water than a 35 year old male construction worker who works outdoors.
As a general rule, aim for between 1.5 – 2 L a day of plain water and if possible, take daily blood pressure readings at the same time every day.
This will allow you to monitor your blood pressure and note any correlations with water intake.
The Great Water Debate
There’s a lot of contention between tap water, bottled water, boiled water and filtered water.
Each has their pros and cons, ranging from environmental concerns to cost and the impact on health.
Tap water is freely available, cost effective, environmentally friendly and in most Western countries is subject to constant scrutiny.
According to Stuart Khan, an associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of NSW, tap water and bottled water are regulated differently.
Tap water (in Australia) needs to meet much more stringent quality criteria.
However, there have been serious health scares in the past and there was a great deal of press coverage highlighting pipe maintenance.
One must also consider the widespread use of chemicals to ensure water quality.
Boiled water is the result of boiling tap water – whilst this will ensure your water is free from micro-organisms such as harmful bacteria, it can impact taste.
Some people will often state that there is a stronger “metallic” taste to boiled water.
The logic behind that is this: mineral deposits in water do not easily evaporate at boiling temperature.
Rather, there is a certain amount of water that evaporates resulting in a higher ratio of water to mineral content.
The result is more minerals to less water accounting for a more metallic taste.
Filtered water is probably the best compromise. There are many good quality water filters available – from filters that fit onto taps to water containers that have inbuilt filters.
These allow water to be purified of chemicals and other nasties. There are some that are able to alkalise water and there are some filters that work by using pressure to push water through a semi-permeable membrane.
These are known as reverse osmosis filters and are the only filters known to remove fluoride.
Bottled water often claims to have better health benefits, however, there are unscrupulous companies.
Unfortunately, bottled water can be expensive and incredibly detrimental to the environment.
Good Fats and Bad Fats
What Is Cholesterol
Cholesterol has a huge impact on blood pressure, and we’re often told by our health professionals to lower our cholesterol levels to be healthy.
In fact, it’s gotten to the point where doctors will blithely hand out cholesterol lowering medication but fail to educate people on what cholesterol is.
So let’s start there.
Cholesterol is a waxy, off white coloured fat.
Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is not only a result of the food you eat.
In fact, only about 20% is from food sources. The other 80% is made by your liver and your intestines.
This explains why some healthy people will have genetically high cholesterol levels despite a very clean diet.
Excess cholesterol in the blood stream is a well-known contributor to the creation of plaque that clogs arteries.
As we age, arterial elasticity declines and so these clogged arteries accumulate more plaques which can impede blood flow, resulting in a heart attack.
However, new research is suggesting that cholesterol is not acting alone – in fact, there are some populations with high cholesterol levels that show a decreased levels of arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arterial walls).
This has led researchers to new evidence suggesting that the development of cardiovascular disease may actually lie with inflammation (stress, diet and environment).
Why We Need Cholesterol
Cholesterol is not quite the big evil your doctor has led you to believe.
For starters, every cell in your body needs cholesterol as it’s part of the cell membrane.
Cholesterol also plays a crucial role in making Vitamin D, bile salts as well as sex hormones .
Think about this: as we age, our cholesterol levels rise as our sex hormones and ability to digest food decreases.
Let’s do a quick exercise:
Consider the average body type of a 25 year old woman with an 85 year old woman
Now consider the average body type of a 25 year old man with an 85 year old man
Lastly, consider the body types of the 85 year old man and woman
It would be fair to say that despite gender differences, the body types of the 85 year old male and female have more in common than with their younger counterparts.
This is a result of decreased sex hormones causing a general lack of muscular tone and a tendency for fat to deposit centrally (around the abdomen).
How many elderly people are on blood pressure medications, cholesterol lowering medications as well as reflux or heartburn medications?
It is no surprise as all three are linked.
As a naturopath, the aim is to continue to support the body to do what it does naturally – that is make cholesterol in healthy levels.
We can ensure that sex hormone synthesis is not too greatly impaired by age by ensuring a good quality diet, high in fatty acids and doing regular exercise (particularly strength training).
Good Cholesterol vs Bad Cholesterol
As cholesterol is a fat, it can’t travel alone in the bloodstream without being bound to protein.
When bound to a protein, it is now called lipoprotein (fatprotein) and is able to travel through the bloodstream in different densities.
Generally speaking, the lower the density, the worse the cholesterol.
But have no fear – the lipoproteins are able to “morph” from one density to another.
Here’s a quick list of the different forms of cholesterol:
Chylomicrons: The largest particles that mainly carry triglycerides (fatty acids from your food).
They are made in the digestive system and are influenced by what you eat.
Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL): Also transport triglycerides to tissues.
They are made by the liver. Extracted fatty acids from VLDL turn into IDL and, later, LDL.
Intermediate Density Lipoprotein (IDL): Formed from VLDL, they are removed from the liver and can be changed into low-density lipoproteins.
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL): A more concentrated form of cholesterol as the triglyceries have been removed, this is known as the BAD cholesterol as it is linked to the build-up of plaque.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL): These are like Hope that escaped from Pandora’s Box – these good cholesterol particles remove cholesterol from circulation and artery walls, returning to the liver for excretion.
In ye olden days, before cholesterol was separated into its different forms, doctors would see only the one reading and automatically assume the worst.
This was when eating too many eggs was bad and coconut oil was the worst thing on the planet. Ah, how things have changed.
What To Do Next
So now you know what cholesterol is, why we need it and why, in excess, it can cause issues.
If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, the first thing a naturopath will do is look at your diet and its impact on your liver and gall bladder.
This is why we are termed holistic practitioners – rather than just giving you a pill to lower your blood pressure, we prefer to get to the root of the problem and address it there.
In this case we know that gallstones are extremely common in the Western world, with up to 80% of the gallstones being composed of cholesterol.
Bile is secreted by the liver and is largely made of cholesterol, so the more bile is made, the more cholesterol is taken out of circulation.
So let’s look at ways to increase bile, Vitamin D and sex hormones:
- Remove refined sugars and carbohydrates – if it’s been processed and it’s white, get rid of it
- Ditch the caffeine
- Increase whole foods – especially fiber to promote better digestion and elimination
- Decrease animal fats
- Decrease fried foods (high in bad fats)
- Get out in the sun for around 20 – 30 minutes a day. Expose as much skin as you can, avoid doing this during the hottest part of the day during summer
- Consider seeing your naturopath to make more personalised suggestions regarding hormonal status or digestive function
The Importance of Exercise
Why Exercise Is Good
Humans are designed to move.
We did not get to the top of the food chain by sitting down and waiting for food to come to us.
Think about the term “Hunters and Gatherers” – both of these are active roles.
Ok, so one is less dangerous than the other yet both involve their fair share of walking, running, jumping, lifting, bending and climbing.
We had to expend a lot of energy to gain energy back, which created an elegant cycle.
Fast forward to today’s modern society where most people have a much higher intake of energy in the form of fast food that is also harder on the body to process and a much lower energy expenditure.
Exercise plays an important role that nutrition alone cannot address – it makes your heart stronger.
Like with any other muscle, working out tones your heart ensuring that it can pump more blood with less effort.
When the heart is more efficient, there is less force on the arteries resulting in lowered blood pressure.
In particular, the systolic reading (the top number can go down by up to 10mm Hg.
Exercise also helps maintain a stable weight – when the body has less mass, it requires less blood circulation.
Like most natural approaches, this takes time and perseverance.
You’ll need at least 3 months of moderate exercise to see some decent results.
Of course, if you stop, you’ll notice that your blood pressure (along with your waistline) will slowly expand again.
In this course, we will be going over everything the beginning artist needs to know about sketchbooking.
We’ll cover the supplies you need, how to choose a sketchbook that’s right for you and the media you want to employ, and perhaps most important of all, why to keep a sketchbook.
There are three main reasons why people choose to keep a sketchbook.
First of all, if you are a visual person, a sketchbook can help you to take notes.
Rather than simply writing words about what you see or want to remember, you may find that a sketchbook of pictures, perhaps accompanied by words, can help you to organize thoughts, clarify ideas, and capture a concept.
If you’re an illustrator, you will find a sketchbook a crucial part of hammering out ideas for storyboards, book dummies, and characters.
The second reason to keep a sketchbook is for sentimental value.
It can be very meaningful to sketch places, people and even objects that you love as a way of strengthening your memories of a time and space.
It’s a great way to capture a moment or memory.
What Exercise Works Best
We’ve already explored how fatty acids can lead to plaques and result in high blood pressure.
Let’s now explore why exercise is so important.
Fat and carbohydrates are the main fuel sources for the body with fat containing 9 calories per gram of fat whilst carbohydrates contain roughly 4 calories per gram of fat.
Fat is by far the more efficient fuel to burn however, it will need more oxygen to burn it.
As your body becomes used to doing exercise it will adapt and become more efficient at it, allowing your muscles to consume more oxygen by way of increasing mitochondria.
The result is less fatty acids in the blood stream, a more efficient heart, reduced body mass and increased fuel burning capacity.
There’s no shortage of choice if you want to get active, so let’s see what works best:
Not quite the spandex clad classes of the 80s (thank goodness), aerobic activity is also known as cardio by those in the fitness industry as it stimulates the heart and breathing.
Aerobic activity refers to how our cells get their energy.
During exercise with adequate fuel and oxygen muscles can contract repeatedly without fatigue.
This is known as aerobic exercise.
Generally you should be able sustain aerobic activity for the duration of the session (usually 45 – 60 minutes).
Examples of aerobic exercise include walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, martial arts, skiing and of course, aerobics classes.
Aerobic activity can turn into non-aerobic activity when the level of workout intensity increases, forcing the muscles to rely on other reactions that do not need oxygen to fuel contractions.
This is seen when glycogen (fuel stores) are broken down and turned into energy.
This produces waste molecules that can impair muscle contractions and lead to performance fatigue.
Most common among these is lactic acid.
Examples of non-aerobic exercise include heavy weight lifting, sprints, interval training and isometrics.
Ideally a balance between the two is good for strength, bone density and overall fitness, however, if your goal is purely to lower your blood pressure then you should focus more on the aerobic activity.
Start slow and gentle but BE CONSISTENT.
Things like dancing, gymnastics, yoga, pilates and martial arts all aim to improve balance and co-ordination which is particularly important as you get older.
The difference is the focus: when doing a balance work out start out very slowly and aim to control your breathing and posture. Generally speaking, this is a slower paced work out and whilst great for mental and physical health, may not do much to bring down blood pressure.
Like balance workouts, the goal here is on ensuring muscle suppleness to prevent injuries and falls.
Handy Hints for Exercise
- Routine – start up a regular routine. I like to have a shower and then do my exercise first thing in the morning. It wakes me up and gives me some time to myself before I start the day
- Allow for 30 minutes every day – mix it up by going for a walk, using light hand weights, stationary bike, swimming, yoga, pilates
- Incorporate more movement into your day – If you’ve been sitting in front of a screen for 2 hours, make sure you go for a walk, do 10 squats (hold the table or chair if you need to), stretch our
- Get gardening – there’s plenty of work to be done out there (please be sun smart), weeding, cutting back overgrown hedges, watering the lawn, this all takes energy
- Technological inspirations – technology isn’t all bad. Consider getting a fitness app that tracks how many steps you walked, or check out YouTube fitness channels. There are some that specialise in 10 minute fitness solutions and are graded so you can start at an easy level and work your way up. Great for discovering some self defence moves!
- Use the stairs – ok so everyone knows this one. Stairs will get your heart rate up, but if you don’t have steady balance or your knees are giving you problems, try walking in water instead. Most local pools will have ramp access – this is perfect for giving you some resistance whilst ensuring your work out is low impact
- Local adult parks – sounds fun cause it is!!! There are lots of parks popping up around Australia that have adults in mind. Everything from balance equipment, to games that are designed to encourage mental and physical health, get out and get active.
- Low cost solutions such as a balance ball or thera-bands are excellent as they help you provide resistance to your work outs and ensure that joints don’t get abused
The Real Cost of Stress
We can all thank Dr Hans Selye who, in 1936, defined stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change”.
We’ve all experienced stress throughout our lives.
Moving out of home, the breakdown of a relationship, the loss of a loved one, financial pressures, health issues, work stress, dealing with family members.
To some extent, stress is a good thing – it motivates us to solve problems and rise to challenges, allowing us to develop and grow.
There are also health benefits to short term stress.
- Hormones such as adrenalin and noradrenalin are released which boost speed, alertness and performance
- We have a more narrow perspective – we filter out “noise” or unimportant things allowing us to concentrate our energy on the task ahead
- For short term periods, stress can stimulate the immune system, encouraging wound healing
- When experienced as part of a group, it can forge deep social bonds – this is why you may still be friends with people from high school
The problem arises when stress is ongoing (more than 3 months).
It then shifts from being called acute stress into chronic stress and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that chronic stress is to blame for a lot of health disorders.
This is because it suppresses cell mediated immunity (simply, it decreases your immune system), thereby increasing inflammation.
A Common Scenario
Think of it like this:
You are in a stressful work situation that you know will resolve in 2 months time.
Unfortunately, that deadline keeps getting pushed back. You are tired. You are staying up late, getting up early and what sleep you do get is poor quality.
On top of that your posture is bad and your diet is even worse, running entirely on sugar and caffeine.
As this happens your adrenal glands (these sit on top of your kidneys and are responsible for the output of adrenalin) begin to tire of pumping out so much adrenalin.
Cortisol levels also begin to rise.
When this happens, your body is more likely to hoard energy (making you put on weight), have issues with digestion leading to heartburn and reflux, and you may experience hormonal disturbances.
Most people associate cortisol with anti-inflammatory steroid drugs (used to reduce inflammation), and as anyone who has been on these drugs will know, short term, they are wonderful.
Long term, you run the risk of weight gain and thinning of the skin among other things.
The Science Behind It
Like everything in nature, there must be a balance.
You have two arms of the nervous system:
- Parasympathetic: responsible for resting and digesting
- Sympathetic: responsible for fight and flight
As you can see from the scenario above, the balance tipped from acute stress which the body is able to quite happily deal with, to chronic stress in which the sympathetic nervous system became too dominant.
This can result in what is known as “Adrenal Exhaustion”.
Stress and Blood Pressure
We’ve seen how hormones and the nervous system are activated during stressful periods.
One of the effects of adrenalin is to increase cardiac output, preparing our bodies to either fight or flee.
The result of this is an increase in blood pressure.
During chronic stress, there is more inflammation.
Many doctors now believe that it is this inflammation that occurs on a cellular level along the blood vessels, particularly in plaque that leads to cardiovascular disease.
A useful marker is CRP (C-Reactive Protein).
This can be tested through your routine blood tests and is incredibly useful for detecting inflammation.
CRP is produced by the liver in response to inflammation and can be used for a wide range of conditions – predicting not just cardiovascular disease, but auto immune conditions and even cancer.
A Harvard Women’s Health Study revealed that high CRP levels were “more predictive of coronary conditions and stroke in women than were high cholesterol levels”.
If you have high cholesterol levels and a high CRP reading, changing diet and lifestyle would definitely be of immediate concern.
Interestingly, another study revealed that CRP levels may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Like smoking, it’s never too late to quit.
In this case, quitting stress doesn’t mean quitting your job or living like a hermit in the middle of nowhere (although, that could be fun).
Rather than change your stress, you have the unique ability to change your reaction to stress.
So here’s some tips to help you cope:
- Start with your diet – move away from proinflammatory foods that are high in sugar and caffeine and move towards more greens
- Switch tea and coffee for green or herbal teas – if your stressed, chamomile, passionflower, valerian, and lemon balm are my favourites
- NO LICORICE – licorice, even as a herb has the ability to raise blood pressure, if you already suffer from hypertension, you may want to cut this out
- Deep breathing – changing your breathing patterns will enable you to intake more oxygen, refreshing your brain and has the added bonus of making you aware of your posture. Take 5 deep breaths and hold each for 5 seconds before slowly releasing
- Stretch – ensure that you stretch and bend throughout the day
- Nature – so many studies prove that being in nature reduces stress, if you’re at work, get some plants, look outside your window, have the window open, listen to nature soundtracks, have crystals on your desk
- Sound – have low volume music in the background to keep you going
- Smell – if you have your own workspace, maybe have a roller of your favourite essential oils – lavender and rose work very well, as do frankincense, myrrh and jasmine
- Exercise – set time aside for your body, splitting the difference between mental and physical stressors
- Water – keep hydrated!
- Me time – you’re not being selfish or inefficient if you take time out for yourself
Magnesium and Hypertension
So far we’ve explored what causes differences in blood pressure, the importance of diet, the impact of exercise and the cost of stress.
Let’s now explore how magnesium can impact blood pressure.
According to some studies, magnesium intake of 500 mg/d to 1000 mg/d may reduce blood pressure (BP) as much as 5.6/2.8 mm Hg.
Again, when taken in combination with other diet and lifestyle interventions, you should see a marked improvement if you suffer from hypertension.
What Is Magnesium
Magnesium is classed as an essential micro-nutrient.
Micro-nutrients differ from macro-nutrients in that they are needed in smaller quantities but perform essential roles for normal growth and maintenance of health.
There are approximately 18 different minerals classed as micro-nutrients.
Magnesium is able to directly relax the vascular smooth muscle cells and also works with other minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium to regulate blood pressure.
This makes it unique in its ability to directly and indirectly impact blood pressure.
On a cellular level, hypertension is the result of high sodium compared to low potassium levels.
This is directly attributed to a high sodium / low potassium / low magnesium diet.
Natural Sources of Magnesium
Magnesium is widely distributed throughout plant and animal based foods.
Most green vegetables, legumes, peas, beans and nuts contain high amounts of magnesium.
Unrefined cereals may also contribute to magnesium intake however, refined and processed foods contribute little.
The highest content of food sources of magnesium (in mg per 100g) are:
- Kelp 760 mg per 100 g
- Wheat bran 490 mg per 100 g
- Wheat germ 336 mg per 100 g
- Almonds 270 mg per 100 g
- Cashews 267 mg per 100 g
The body is uniquely capable of regulating magnesium intake from the diet.
One study showed that a diet that was high in magnesium only absorbed 25%, however on a low magnesium diet, there was an absorption rate of 75%.
(Schwartz et al 1984). If you are going to look at magnesium supplementation, please note that it is best absorbed in small quantities throughout the day.
For this reason, powdered forms of magnesium are preferred.
Magnesium is absorbed in the lower small intestine and the colon via passive transport – this means the body does not expend any energy to uptake the mineral.
Like sodium, the kidneys help to regulate magnesium concentrations by excreting it in response to high plasma levels.
The presence of lactose and carbohydrates appears to increase magnesium absorption whilst alcohol and caffeine may cause an increase in urinary excretion.
Remember what we said about a chronically stressed lifestyle that was fueled by caffeine and sugar?
It also prevents magnesium absorption – one of the key minerals needed to regulate rest and relaxation.
Excess magnesium may result in symptoms of diarrhea (more than 600mg), drowsiness, lethargy and weakness.
In the elderly, hypermagnesemia may occur due to the large amounts of antacids and laxatives that may be used.
Forms of Magnesium
If you’re going to look at magnesium supplementation, it is crucial to understand that not all magnesiums are created equal.
- Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate
The best chelated amino acid form of magnesium is aspartate or arginate. The body will therefore absorb the magnesium as if it were a protein structure.
- Magnesium Oxide
Also referred to as “Magnesia”, magnesium oxide is most often used to treat constipation and acid reflux. Not easily absorbed, it has poor levels of bioavailability (only 4%).
- Magnesium Citrate
One of the more popular forms of supplementation, magnesium citrate is derived from the magnesium salt of citric acid, this form of magnesium has lower concentration, but a high level of bioavailability (90%). Magnesium citrate is commonly used as to induce a bowel movement, but has also been studied for kidney stone prevention.
- Magnesium Orotate
One of the most effective form of magnesium supplements. Extensive research by Dr. Hans A. Nieper, M.D. demonstrated that orotates can penetrate cell membranes. This resulted in the magnesium being delivered to the cellular organelles making it particularly effective for those with heart conditions.
- Magnesium Chloride
Often used for industrial use, it is still used as a form of supplementation as it has higher levels of bioavailability when compared to magnesium oxide. Used to manufacture paper, some types of cements and fireproofing agents.
- Magnesium Lactate
This type of magnesium shows moderate concentrations, but higher levels of bioavailability as compared to magnesium oxide. Magnesium lactate is a mineral supplement that is most commonly used for treating digestive issues. Magnesium lactate should be avoided by those with kidney disease or kidney-related problems.
- Magnesium Sulfate
An inorganic form of magnesium commonly referred to as Epsom Salt and is particularly effective for topical application such as soaking in hot baths to relieve muscle cramps.
- Magnesium Carbonate
This form of magnesium has 30% bioavailability rates. Magnesium carbonate has a strong laxative-effect when taken in high amounts. It is also commonly known as chalk, and is used as a drying agent by pitchers, gymnasts, rock climbers and weight lifters.
- Magnesium Glycinate, Malate & Taurates
The best form of magnesium supplement available is magnesium biglycinate as it is easily absorbed and does not appear to cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract.
Magnesium and Drug Interactions
Nothing, but nothing causes health practitioners more stress than not having the full story.
If you are on medications or supplements, it is CRUCIAL that you are honest and up front about it as sometimes, there are side effects.
Given that magnesium has the ability to lower blood pressure, try to have it away from your normal blood pressure medications.
Some medications that may interfere with magnesium include:
- Antacids – antacids reduce the laxative effects of magnesium
- Antibiotics – some antibiotics known as aminoglycosides affect the muscles, in particular taking
- Anti-coagulants – magnesium may slow blood clotting and can exacerbate medications, leading to increased bruising.
- Bisphosphates – magnesium can decrease how much bishosphate the body absorbs – take 2 hours away before magnesium
- Calcium Channel Blockers – these drugs stop calcium from entering cells, magnesium works in a similar way, taking both may cause blood pressure to go too low
- Digoxin and Gabapentin – digoxin helps the heart beat more strongly, magnesium may decrease how much digoxin is absorbed
- Quinolone or tetracycline antibiotics may decrease effectiveness. If in doubt take 2 hours before magnesium or 6 hours after
- Sulfonylureas – some magnesium salts might increase how much sulfonylurea the body absorbs, increasing risk of low blood sugar in some patients
- https://www.nrv.gov.au/glossary#AI accessed on 23rd May 2016
- Liska, D, et al 2004. Clinical Nutrition, a functional approach. 2nd ed. The Institute for Functional Medicine
- Dunne, L.J 2002 Nutritional Almanac. 5th Ed. McGraw Hill
B Vitamins and Hypertension
B vitamins refer to a group of 8 water soluble vitamins that are essential for metabolism, energy production and other enzymatic reactions.
Simply put, these vitamins are essential for the chemical reactions of life to continue.
As they are water soluble, they are often used and excreted through urine, if you’ve ever had B vitamins, you will know when they are excreted as your urine will turn a colourful yellowish green.
Not to worry, that’s actually completely normal and an excellent indicator of how quickly you are breaking down and using your B vitamins.
As B vitamins are used for metabolic processes including energy production and digestion, they will get used faster during times of stress.
Like magnesium, B vitamins play a protective role for a healthy cardiovascular system.
Let’s have a closer look at the 8 B vitamins:
B1 – Thiamine
Used for the nervous system and has been shown to be low in people with anxiety and depression. It can be used to improve mood, memory and concentration making it particularly useful for students, the elderly or those with chronic stress. It is also essential for converting glucose into energy. A deficiency in B1 causes beriberi, in which there may be impaired sensory perception, weakness and pain in limbs, edema and heart failure.
B2 – Riboflavin
Riboflavin is used to release energy in the electron transport chain and the citric acid cycle inside cells. It is also in enzymatic reactions and the activation of other minerals. A lack of B2 results in ariboflavionosis in which the person may develop cracks in the lips and a sensitivity to sunlight.
B3 – Niacin
Supporting the parasympathetic nervous system for mood and digestion, the body can actually produce its own niacin from the amino acid L-tryptophan. (L-tryptophan is incredibly important for mood disorders). A deficiency in B3 can cause aggression, depression, irritability, stress and mood disturbances. Interestingly, niacin also releases energy from carbohydrates, making it a useful tool for curbing sugar cravings and controlling blood sugar levels.
B5 – Pantothenic Acid
Touted by some in the cosmetic industry as being a “go-to” for repairing damaged hair, B5 is actually an important precursor to Coenzyme A which is used in hundreds of metabolic reactions. A lack of B5 would hinder growth and wound healing among other things.
B6 – Pyridoxine
Like many of the other B vitamins, B6 is involved in the manufacturing of neurotransmitters which help to regulate mood and can influence symptoms of anxiety, stress and depression. A deficiency of B6 can lead to neurological symptoms and dermatitis like skin eruptions.
B7 – Biotin
Biotin is necessary for the metabolism of fats, proteins and carbohydrates and is a crucial co-enzyme of something called propionyl CoA-carboxylase which is involved in the metabolism of not just energy but also cholesterol.
B9 – Folic Acid
Folic acid is an essential vitamin needed for energy. The body is unable to produce folic acid on its own. If there is a deficiency in folic acid, people may experience depression and fatigue which may produce higher levels of stress. A recent study by Harvard showed that folic acid actually can lower stroke risk in people with high blood pressure.
B12 – Cyanocobalamin
Vitamin B12 is absolutely crucial for memory function and is often tested in the elderly as a marker for cognitive dysfunction such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. A deficiency in B12 will result in mental confusion, neurological changes and an inability to regulate moods and cope with stress. Even more telling is that it is also needed to synthesise the hormones melatonin (necessary for sleep) and serotonin which improves mood.
Please note that there are a number of other B vitamins, which is why they are often classed as a B complex. Even more important is that they are often best absorbed together.
B Vitamins and Blood Pressure Medication
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, the use of B6 has been shown promising for easing inflammation and decreasing homocysteine. This is particularly relevant if you have high blood pressure.
Even better, the use of B vitamins has not been shown to decrease the effectiveness of hypertensive medications, suggesting that concomitant use (that is, using both) would actually be beneficial for stress management which is a large contributor to hypertension in the first place. Interestingly, it was suggested that the vasodilating medication hydralazine can actually reduce levels of B6, suggesting that B vitamin levels should be tested routinely in patients.
B Vitamins in Food
If you’re not keen on popping extra pills, and really, why would you want that?
Look to your diet to increase your intake of B vitamins
- Brewer’s yeast is particularly high
- Liver and kidney
- Rich, dark leafy greens
CoQ10 and Hypertension
New nutritional compounds are discovered or re-classified all the time.
One example of this is CoQ10.
Also known as Coenzyme Q10, this nutraceutical is actually related to vitamin E.
As a fat soluble vitamin, it is found in every cell within the body of not just humans and animals but also in some bacteria.
To be even more specific, CoQ10 is found within the mitochondria or the energy house of cells, making it a component of the electron transport chain and necessary for aerobic cellular respiration.
Because of this, organs that require the highest amounts of energy have the highest concentrations of CoQ10 – heart, liver and kidneys.
What Does CoQ10 Do
We’ve already explored how CoQ10 is involved in energy production, but there’s so much more to it than that.
Deficiencies are linked to mutations, aging related oxidative stress and even cancer processes.
Unfortunately new evidence is suggesting that statin drugs – drugs that reduce cholesterol can actually deplete CoQ10.
To put it simply, the drugs that are supposed to help prevent cardiovascular disease are actually impairing the body’s own protective mechanisms.
This explains why so many statin drug users complain of feeling tired or having heavy muscles.
As an intracellular and extracellular antioxidant, CoQ10 is in the unique position to protect cells from inside and outside, manipulating gene expression and preventing damage on a cellular level.
To that end it has been used to address:
- Migraine and tension headaches
- Infertility (particularly for men)
- Weight loss
- Dental disease
- CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and fibromyalgia
- Reduce hypertension
- The reduced form of CoQ10, ubiquinol, is being studied for its ability to increase resistance of low density lipoproteins, making it a potential treatment for atherosclerosis (plaque deposits within blood vessels)
- Neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Huntington’s disease
Safety of CoQ10
In short, CoQ10, at doses up to 150mg has an excellent safety profile.
Most clinical trials have not reported any significant adverse effects and no trial has been stopped.
Minor gastrointestinal effects such as abdominal discomfort, nausea and diarrhea have been noted in higher doses.
Similarly, there have been incidences of an allergic rash developing.
Studies suggest that concomitant use with blood pressure medication may improve medication effects and minimise side effects.
This could mean lower doses of medication for many with the hope that they may be able to stop medications if dietary, lifestyle and exercise goals were met.
Theoretically, CoQ10 is also similar to vitamin K, in that is may counteract the anticoagulant effects of warfarin, suggesting caution is needed if you are taking warfarin.
CoQ10 and Blood Pressure
Because CoQ10 has the unique ability to protect cells and increase energy production, it has the ability to:
- Lower blood pressure by making the mitochondria in cells more efficient
- Protect cardiac cells from oxidative damage
- Reduce atherosclerosis (fatty plaques)
- Increase endurance for exercise that will further protect the heart and improve circulation
Sources of CoQ10
The body is capable of making up to 95% of its own CoQ10, with diet acquiring the rest (approximately 3 – 6mg).
Unsurprisingly, organ meats such as heart, liver and kidneys are the highest sources of dietary CoQ10.
Like many other nutrients, frying will reduce content of CoQ10 by up to 32%.
If you are vegetarian, there are modest amounts of CoQ10 in:
Herbal Interventions for Hypertension
When we created this course, we wanted it to be as similar to a real naturopathic consultation as possible.
As a result, it’s no co-incidence that herbal interventions are the last resort for hypertension.
Just as in the medical world, all interventions must be weighed against possible side effects and contra-indications with other medications.
Given that we are in a consumer driven, results focused society, simply substituting medicines for herbs fails to take into account biopsychosocial individuality.
This is the true crux of natural medicine – the idea that each person is completely unique and must be treated as such.
To that end, our focus has been on education before treatment options:
- How blood pressure may be altered
- The impact of a modern diet
- The importance of hydrating
- Benefits of regular, moderate exercise
- The biochemical processes behind stress and how they impact health
When looking at treatment options, again, we attempted to shift the modern diet towards something that is more holistic and nutritionally dense – this is true naturopathy.
As Hippocrates, the father of all medicine said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.
Before we can start exploring herbal interventions, please note that herbs should be dispensed by a qualified herbalist.
Unfortunately many herbs go by different names, when in doubt, always follow the botanical name (usually in Latin).
Please do NOT start using herbs just because you read it in an article – some herbs don’t play nicely with other medications.
If in doubt, ask your herbalist to start you off with a herbal tea to ensure you’re ok with herb before moving you to a herbal extract.
Generally speaking, a herbal tea has one part of herb to 20 parts of water and is less active than a 1:1 herbal extract.
For mild disorders or maintenance, teas are definitely a viable option.
Herbs for Hypertension
Otherwise known as Crataegus spp., has been used for centuries by Western herbalists for treating hypertension. In one study, patients who took 500mg of hawthorn over 10 weeks showed a decline in systolic and diastolic readings. Furthermore, anxiety levels were also noted to decrease.
Otherwise known as Linden or Tilia spp europaea, lime blossom is another herb that has been shown to be hugely effective for treating hypertension. Like hawthorn, it’s primary mode of action is through the nervous system. This means that it is going to reduce anxiety and stress which will in turn also reduce blood pressure. A combination tea of both would be highly effective (and incredibly fragrant). An ideal dosage in a tea would be 5g of flowers to 250ml of hot water, steeped for 10 minutes and drunk once to three times daily.
This is one herb that most people are very familiar with. Known as allium sativa, there have been multiple studies confirming it’s hypotensive effects. Even better, garlic is cheap and easy to grow at home with some trials stating that it can lower systolic blood pressure by 10mmHg and diastolic pressure by 8mmHg. In particular aged garlic which contains the bioactive sulfur compound s-allylcysteine is believed to be highly tolerable with “little or no known harmful interactions” when taken with other blood pressure medications. Given that this is a culinary herb, feel free to incorporate diet into your daily diet.
This is not a Western herb, but is very popular in Indian (Ayurvedic) and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In one study, it showed a significant drop in blood pressure as well as plasma fibrinogen levels and was tolerated well without any untoward side effects. Please see a qualified herbalist to get the best dosage for your needs.
Another culinary herb, Crocus Sativus is often used with garlic and turmeric in curries. Interestingly all three have strong anti-inflammatory profiles making them incredibly useful for all kinds of disease processes including cardiovascular issues. At a dose of 200mg/k/day, it showed to prevent hypertension in a rat study yet did not affect normotensive (normal blood pressure).
Why not take a combination of saffron, ginger and garlic every day in your food? Perfectly healthy and adds real flavour to food! Ginger is a rhizome that at a dose of 0.3 – 3mg/kg of body weight was able to lower blood pressure by way of a blocking the voltage of calcium-channels. Even better, it’s perfectly safe (even beneficial) for pregnancy!
This is one spice that has really been doing the scientific rounds recently. Known as Curcumin, it is notoriously poor in its bioavailability – that means that you will only ever absorb a small fraction of what you ingest, yet, it has some powerful results. Throw it into the spice mix and enjoy!
Herbs for Hypotension
Licorice is a beautiful tasting herb (that’s where we originally got the lollies from) but whilst it is amazing for stress, it has the unfortunate side effect of raising blood pressure. So if you are someone who is acutely or chronically stressed but has low blood pressure, this is definitely the herb for you.
If you have high blood pressure but still want to enjoy licorice, look for deglycyrrhizinated licorice – in which the component that raises blood pressure has been removed.
St John’s Wort
This herb is pretty dicey at the best of times when dealing with someone who is on other medications. Quite simply, it doesn’t play well with others and needs to be handled by a professional with great respect. That said, it is fantastic for anxiety and depression and has also been shown to increase blood pressure
Green Tea and Black Tea
There’s a great deal of conflicting evidence on this, but it has been suggested that drinking green and black tea will actually raise blood pressure levels as a result of the caffeine intake.
So there you have it – a short summary list of every day herbs that you can use to get your cardiovascular health back on track!