Blood Pressure Solutions

30 Day Blood Pressure Plan

Welcome to our blood pressure program.

The first step is to click the button below to print and download the 30 day plan we’ve designed for you.

Click Here To Download & Print 30 Day Plan

The next step is to go through the videos below to give you a better understanding of how blood pressure works and how external things such as food, stress, the environment and other factors play a big part.

We hope you enjoy this course and if you have any questions, feel free to email us at info@naturopathadvisor.com

Warm Regards

Isabelle Taye
Naturopath Advisor

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:

  • Diet
  • Alcohol intake
  • Stress
  • Physical activity
  • Family history
  • Weight gain
  • Medicines
  • Pregnancy

Hypotension is generally a reading under 90/60 and thought to be the result of:

  • Overheating
  • Dehydration
  • Pregnancy
  • Allergies
  • Disorder of the endocrine system
  • Medicines
  • Chronic pain
  • Genetics
  • Cardiac abnormality such as a heart murmur

Symptoms 

Not everyone who has high blood pressure will have symptoms.

Other people may present with:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches / migraines
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Pressure in the neck and head
  • Constant irritability

Symptoms of hypotension include:

  • light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Blurry vision
  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting

Treatment Options 

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Change the snacks to fruit, nuts or home-made oat or protein bars.
  3. Get back to basics – grow your own food where possible or buy food fresh from local growers markets.
  4. Ditch the salad dressings for olive oil or balsamic vinegar infusions.
  5. 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.
  6. Dress salads with olive oil and balsamic vinegar without adding salt or salty dressings.
  7. Ditch the sodium chloride for sea salt or Himalayan salt.
  8. Cook food to conserve flavour and nutrients – stir frying and soups are great as they are time effective.
  9. Create your own flavour grinders.  Add garlic and herbs to salt grinders to infuse food with more flavour.
  10. Read the information on food labels and avoid foods that have a sodium content higher than 120mg/100g
  11. Switch white foods out – think of breads, rice and pastas.  Buy wholemeal or whole-grain to incorporate more fibre and B vitamins.

References

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:

  • Light-headedness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Blurry vision
  • Pale and clammy skin
  • Fatigue
  • Fainting

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.

References

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)
  • Exercise
  • 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

References 

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.

Not bad!

There’s no shortage of choice if you want to get active, so let’s see what works best:

Aerobic

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.

Non Aerobic

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.

Balance

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.

Flexibility

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

References 

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.

For example:

  • 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:

  1. Parasympathetic: responsible for resting and digesting
  2. 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

References 

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:

  1. Kelp 760 mg per 100 g
  2. Wheat bran 490 mg per 100 g
  3. Wheat germ 336 mg per 100 g
  4. Almonds 270 mg per 100 g
  5. Cashews 267 mg per 100 g

Absorbing Magnesium 

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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%).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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

References

  1. https://www.nrv.gov.au/glossary#AI accessed on 23rd May 2016
  2. https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/magnesium
  3. Liska, D,  et al 2004. Clinical Nutrition, a functional approach. 2nd ed.  The Institute for Functional Medicine
  4. Dunne, L.J 2002 Nutritional Almanac. 5th Ed. McGraw Hill
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15692166
  6. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-7176.2011.00538.x/full

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
  • Vegemite
  • Poultry
  • Seafood
  • Bananas
  • Rich, dark leafy greens
  • Eggs

References 

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
  • Diabetes
  • 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
  • Pregnancy

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:

  • Parsley
  • Avocado
  • Perilla
  • Broccoli

References

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 

Hawthorn

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.

Lime Blossom

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.

Garlic

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.

Indian Kudzu

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.

Saffron

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).

Ginger

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!

Turmeric

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

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!

References

Breathe In. Breathe Out.

It sounds almost too simple to be true.

A method of bringing down blood pressure without any drugs or side effects.

It’s so easily available it’s free and can be done anywhere in the world by people of all age groups and genders.

Let’s look at how breathing can immediately lower blood pressure.

The Mechanisms Behind Breathing

All living beings require respiration as this allows us to circulate oxygenated blood around our bodies for optimal functioning whilst getting rid of carbon dioxide.

Our lungs and our hearts work together to achieve this goal.

The lungs are responsible for re-oxygenating our blood whilst our heart and blood vessels pump this fresh blood around our bodies.

Muscles near the lungs help expand and contract lungs to help us breathe well.

These include:

• Diaphragm
• Intercostal muscles
• Abdominal muscles
• Muscles around the neck and collarbone

Most of the time, we aren’t even aware of our own breathing (unless it’s you have a cold or asthma!)

This is thanks to a respiratory control center at the base of your brain which signals to your breathing muscles when to contract and relax.

However, we can over-ride this automatic function any time by changing how fast we breathe.

Emotions like stress, anxiety, anger and grief can also affect your breathing.

How Breathing Can Lower Blood Pressure

Breathing techniques have been practised by ancient cultures since the Dawn of Civilization.

We only have to look at Tai Chi or Yoga to see how breath is connected to health.

According to Jeffrey Rossman PhD, this is because deep breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing allows us to directly stimulate the 10th cranial nerve – the vagus nerve.

This vagus nerve is one of 12 nerve pairs that arise directly from the brain to innervate the rest of the body, controlling things like balance, hearing, sight, taste and sound.

The vagus nerve is responsible for parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and digestive tract.

Put simply, the vagus nerve is responsible for helping you relax and digest food.

New research suggests that it can even play a role in decreasing chronic pain and inflammation.

Fun Fact: In 1921, a German scientist Otto Loewi discovered that stimulating the vagus nerve resulted in a reduced heart rate as a substance named Vagusstoff (German for “Vagus Substance”) was released.

This “Vagus Substance” was later renamed acetylcholine and became the first neurotransmitter ever identified!

Think about this scenario:

You’re rushing around feeling stressed at work.

You haven’t had time to eat so you grab whatever is within arm’s reach and scoff it down at your desk, hardly paying attention to the texture or flavour.

You know it isn’t the healthiest option but you just have so much on.

Your work day ends and you’re now stuck in traffic and you can feel your heart beat racing as your frustrations rise.

Finally, you’re at home and you can breathe.

Oh wait, there’s housework to do, and of course, you need to spend some time with your family.

Dinner is slightly better than lunch but you’re still by no means relaxed.

You end up going to bed feeling full and bloated, knowing you’re going to wake up at some point with a raging case of heartburn.

And that scenario covers the role of the vagus nerve.

Let’s Breathe

We’ve explored why breathing is important and how it works so let’s start breathing already.

Let’s start off with a basic diaphragmatic breath sequence.

1. The easiest way to do this is to lie down with your face up and knees bent so that your feet are flat on the floor.
2. Place your hands palm down on your abdomen just under your rib cage.
3. Slowly inhale on a count of 4 and notice as your hands rise with your abdomen. You should also notice that your rib cage will rise slightly and expand to the side. This is a good sign as it means your lungs are expanding to their fullest capacity.
4. Hold your breath whilst counting to 4 again
5. Slowly exhale whilst counting to 4. You should feel your hands lower.

Practice this form of breathing at least twice a day for 2 minutes and you will notice all kinds of positive changes including better posture, improved sleep, improved focus and concentration and of course, lower blood pressure.

References
https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/how-lungs-work
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/stress-raising-your-blood-pressure-take-a-deep-breath-201602159168
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987706001666
https://www.healthcentral.com/article/why-breathing-helps-us-relax
https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/the-athletes-way/201607/vagus-nerve-stimulation-dramatically-reduces-inflammation

A Time and Place for Everything

Being organised isn’t a skill everyone is born with but it is a skill everyone should have.

Being organised reflects a level of respect not just for yourself but for those around you with regards to time management.

Time spent with family and friends is precious and in today’s modern and increasingly hectic world, this rare slice of peace can do more good for your health than any plethora of pills.

Why Be Organised

Look around at your workplace or bedroom.

Take stock of where things are.

How many items you have?

How are things placed?

Are they clean?

Are they dusty?

Do you see empty spaces?

Is there a filing system in place?

Think of your physical environment as a manifestation for what’s going on inside you.

The more clutter you have externally, the more clutter you will have internally in terms of stress.

Interestingly, there have been studies that suggest increased clutter correlates to increased intake of unhealthy food, especially in women.

From a practical view, the more cluttered a space, the harder it is to focus on tasks at hand as distractions seem to come at you from all angles.

The more distractions around us, the more time we waste and the more we stress when deadlines come around.

Start Small

Looking at Asian cultures in particular, children are taught from a very young age how to clean.

This is the first step in being an independent adult and having life skills as well as teaching them how to be a contributing member of society that respects the environment they are in.

Being organised doesn’t have to be painful.

Let’s start with your wardrobe.

Give yourself a time limit of 2 hours to clear out your wardrobe.

Create piles as you sort your clothes into piles:

• Clothes that you like and wear regularly
• Special occasion clothes
• Clothes by season
• Clothes for work / weekends

Anything that doesn’t fit into a pile that you create should be donated.

Repeat the same process for jewelry, makeup, shoes and bags

Moving Forward

Once you get the hang of organising your personal belonging look to personal care.

• Go through your medicines cabinet and discard anything that is past its expiry date
• Ensure you have a ready, fully stocked first aid kit in your home, car and work space
• If you’re feeling particularly on point, do a first aid training course
• Create annual check ups with your dentist, optician and doctor (if you can, schedule a fasting blood test to create good baseline values
• Set up 15 minutes a day where you can stretch out – it’s important that you get to know your body and where it hurts
• Create daily health routines that are non-negotiable such as brushing your teeth twice a day after meals and ensuring you have at least 1.5 litres of water to drink
• Create weekly routines of health that may include meditation or time outs for creative endeavours such as writing, painting, drawing and music
• Create monthly routines for social events such as time for friends and family allowing yourself a decent amount of time for travel

Little Bits, Often

It’s easy to slip into old bad habits, the trick is to replace one old habit with a new one and stick with it until that new habit becomes automatic.

Keep on top of clutter by doing daily tidy ups at the end of the day, ensuring laundry is folded and put away.

Write things down or put things into your phone as a reminder.

When you slip up, relax and do some deep breathing and then focus on what the most important task is at hand and get stuck into it.

You’ll soon learn that you have excellent time management and organisational skills leaving you with plenty of time to get tasks done!

Eat to Live and Live to Eat

We all know that food is fuel for our bodies and that we should be eating at regular intervals because it helps us maintain a healthy metabolism, regular bowel habits and weight control.

But sometimes knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things.

Ask 10 people what they think constitutes a good diet and you’re going to get 10 different answers.

Food is such a personal experience and humans have adapted to eat foods that were locally available to us.

For example, a traditional Japanese diet consists of carbohydrates in the form of rice and protein in the form of fish which also contains high amounts of cardioprotective fats.

Similarly, a traditional hunter -gatherer diet as seen in the Indigenous Australian diet would consist of all manner of season flora and fauna.

What Does a Good Diet Look Like

Despite cultural differences, nutritional elements that are essential for human growth are obtained from food.

Bearing in mind we all have different nutritional needs based on age, gender, health and genetic history, the following is based on a daily diet of 2000 calories for a grown adult.

The above list is by no means a complete nutritional guide!

There are many more trace minerals such as manganese, boron, silica and chromium that we need in smaller amounts.

When planning daily meals, it’s a good idea to match foods to nutritional needs and what is seasonally available.

A healthy diet should include a huge variety of different vegetables and fruits and at least 6 cups of water.

Putting It Together: A Typical Food Diary

As a general rule, avoid packaged and processed foods that are going to be high in flavours, preservatives and colours.

Obtain extra flavour from herbs and spices that are going to increase mineral and nutritional intake!

Always aim to have good quality proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates with every meal.

Meal times are also important – it takes around 3 hours to digest a meal so try to allow your body time to process one meal before it has to start breaking down the next.

It’s completely normal and natural to allow your body to feel a little hungry before you next eat.

Breakfast:

It’s important to actually eat breakfast every day.

Too many people are simply knocking back a coffee as they run out the door.

Take the time to sit down and eat your meal properly.

Good breakfast options might include a combination of:

• oats and bran based cereals for fiber content
• fruit and yoghurt for calcium, protein and vitamin content
• eggs and vegetables on wholemeal toast for protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrate intake

Lunch:

The middle of the day is the best time to consume complex carbohydrates as this will allow your body time to burn them up.

Their slow release of glucose will also keep you feeling full, especially if you have a good source of protein with that.

Some good lunch options might include:

• broths and soups with beans / meat for mineral content, protein and fats
• wholemeal sandwich or wrap with meat (chicken, turkey, ham, beef) and salad
• sushi rolls for carbohydrates, protein and the seaweed wrap is a great source of iodine
• leftovers from dinner

Dinner:

A good time to eat a little lighter, especially if you will be sleeping soon after!

• grilled miso (fermented foods are great!) chicken or fish and salad or vegetables
• buckwheat noodles with chicken and vegetables in a broth
• roasted vegetables (try roasting kale to form kale chips)
• vegetarian bakes with small amounts of cheese for protein

Move It or Lose It

This is a no brainer.

Exercise does not have to be grueling gym sessions or boot-camp torture sessions.

Once upon a time, we didn’t have cars and so we walked or cycled from Point A to Point B and you know what?

We were all healthier for it.

The modern lifestyle is practically geared towards developing cardiovascular disease so if you want to reverse hypertension, channel your (grand)parents!

Exercise and Hypertension

According to a 2003 Clinical Review, the current exercise prescription for the treatment of hypertension is “cardiovascular mode for 20 – 60 minutes, 3 – 5 days per week at 40 – 70% of maximum oxygen uptake”.

Depending on diastolic blood pressure, resistance exercise could also be included but only if safe to do so.

If we average this out, you should be aiming for 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 4 days a week at 55% of your maximum oxygen uptake.

This might include brisk walking, swimming, biking, elliptical machines or climbing lots of stairs!

The key is finding the workout you enjoy (or hate the least) and committing to it.

Remember that you need to be performing it at 55% of your maximum oxygen uptake so if you’re going to be really tracking your progress you may want to invest in a heart rate monitor.

Where Do I Start?

You don’t need to sign up for expensive gym fees to get in shape.

If this is going to be your first foray into exercise since you were in high school, it’s a good idea to start off slowly and gently – aim for routine and consistency before worrying about things like your maximum oxygen uptake.

Another reason to start slowly is age.

Unfortunately, most people who are diagnosed with hypertension tend to be a little older and as a result have other health issues such as arthritis.

There’s absolutely no point in exercising for your heart, only to find your joints are inflamed or you’ve put your back out.

A good routine might be to stretch in the mornings (before breakfast) using yoga or pilates for 10 minutes before embarking on a 20 minute moderate walk.

This will ensure your muscles are warmed up and your taking care of flexibility and core strength as well as your heart.

Once you’re up and running (ha!) look at challenging yourself by increasing the length of your work to 40 minutes and changing intensity levels every few minutes.

For example, on a 40-minute walk, try and power walk for 30 seconds then slow back down.

Repeat this twice during the 40-minute walk.

What About HIIT?

For those of us who aren’t fluent in gym speak, HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training.

This refers to doing short bursts of high intensity cardiovascular work (about 30 seconds) followed by periods of less intensity.

Now that you’ve got the hang of interval work, try your hand at a higher level of intensity by alternating 30 seconds of high intensity with 2 minutes of moderate intensity for 3 minutes.

According to exercise physiologists HIIT is gaining popularity as it allows for faster results.

However, this is not something that should be attempted if you’re a beginner or suffering from severe cardiovascular disease.

Instead, stick to the regular 40 minutes of exercise (regardless off maximum oxygen uptake) until you feel comfortable to move forward or get your doctor’s advice.

Everyday Activity

Don’t forget about daily activity too – things like carrying groceries and housework are great ways to incorporate cardiovascular exercise.

You can start by parking your car a little further away from the shops and power walking to and from the shops.

Make a list of groceries that you need and get through that list as quick as you can.

Not only will you save time, you’ll be less tempted to make idle purchases (your bank balance will thank you).

Around the house, vacuuming and mopping are great for cardiovascular exercise.

So is cleaning the windows.

All that extra motion (be careful of your posture) results in a cleaner house and burnt calories.

Gardening is also a great form of cardiovascular exercise – sweeping and mowing the lawn will give you a great work out.

If in doubt, channel your inner child! Remember how much fun it was to jump on a trampoline?

Or see how high you could go on a swing?

If daily adult work outs and housework gets tedious, mix it up and just have fun!

Have a look at council parks where you live.

There are some areas that have adult play equipment for this very reason.

It’s a great way to exercise and meet new people.

Who knows?

Your heart could get a work out of a whole other kind!

A Word of Caution

Again, be careful of your limits and if you know you’re just starting out, spread your activity levels throughout the week so that you don’t do too much in one day – for example, if you know you’re going to be doing the lawn, don’t do a long walk with interval training.

Good luck and get moving!

Sleep

What if there was a natural cure to help lower blood pressure?

This cure had no ill side effects, could be employed by any age, any gender and it was completely free.

Even better, it was something that everyone did every day in the comfort of their own homes… or beds.

It should come as absolutely no surprise that good quality sleep is restorative for both body and mind and new research shows that it may be a key intervention for the prevention and treatment of hypertension.

Sleep and Hypertension: The Mechanics of Hormones

So how does sleep help to lower blood pressure?

Well, your nervous system (which is controlled by the brain and runs through your spinal cord) is made up of two halves:

1. Parasympathetic Nervous System
2. Sympathetic Nervous System

The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for resting and digesting.

In other words, this is the side of the nervous system that we should be tapping into to reduce our blood pressure.

In contrast, the sympathetic nervous system is in control of our ability to remain alert and preparing us to fight or flee from dangerous situations.

When we sleep, there is a decrease in blood pressure which lowers cardiovascular risk.

This is further enhanced by how long we stay asleep.

A 2010 study by Calhoun and Harding found that sleeping for shorter spans, particularly during middle age was associated with hypertension.

During sleep, our brain cycles through REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM sleep cycles.

During non-rapid eye movement sleep, it was noted that arterial blood pressure and heart rate decreased compared REM periods suggesting that there was a minimum number of hours that would prove to be beneficial for the treatment of hypertension.

The magic number, according to the Mayo Clinic, is 6 hours of uninterrupted good quality sleep at night time.

Observational sleep studies have suggested that sleeping helps regulate stress hormones in the blood allowing the nervous system to remain balanced and healthy.

Regular sleep debt adds up and can impact hypertension over longer periods.

Sleep and Sleep Apnoea

Sleep apnoea refers to a medical condition in which breathing starts and stops during sleep.

This may result in poor quality sleep and feeling tired throughout the day.

Sleep apnoea can be tested at sleep clinics where oxygen flow is monitored.

Quite often, if someone is overweight, sleep apnoea will also be present with hypertension.

This is because the excess body mass impacts the ability of the lungs and places extra pressure on the heart when lying down.

Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene doesn’t refer to how clean you are when you go to sleep – although, let’s be honest, that wouldn’t hurt either!

Instead, it refers to the routines and practices you do before sleep to ensure that you have good quality sleep every night.

Before we look at even sleeping, ensure that your sleep environment sets the mood for rest and relaxation.

For example:

  • Is your bedroom cluttered
  • Is your bed / mattress comfortable and supportive
  • Check your pillows for the right height
  • Check the temperature, ideally you want the room to be slightly cool but not cold (all the better to snuggle under the covers)
  • Is the environment noisy
  • Ensure all tech gadgets are out of reach – lots of studies have confirmed that looking at the mobile phones / tablets and electronic screens which emit blue lights will make it harder for you to sleep
  • Ensure that you allow at least 2 hours between your last meal and when you sleep (obviously, no caffeine if you want good quality sleep)

Before you get into bed, make a note of how you feel physically and mentally.

Are you actually prepared for sleep? See if you can create a routine that allows you to function on autopilot as your body and mind wind down for rest.

That might mean brushing your teeth and laying out clothes for the next day or doing 20 minutes of meditation or gentle stretching before getting into bed.

Insomnia

If you’ve tried all of the above and you’re still finding it hard to catch some zz’s, it’s time to take things up a notch.

Herbal teas can be great at gently calming and relaxing you before sleep.

Herbs such as chamomile, valerian, kava, hops, passionflower and lemon balm have all been used singly or in combination.

Check out natural sources of melatonin (helps to regulate the sleep cycle) like cherries, warm milk or even chocolate.

Yes. This does mean that the old folk remedy of hot chocolate for sleep has some truth to it.

Magnesium and B vitamins might also be worth looking into if you find that your stress levels are impacting your ability to sleep – even better, they have been shown to be useful in the treatment of bruxism (grinding your teeth at night).

What are you waiting for?

Go sleep!

Laugh Your Way To Health

In 1971 an amazing doctor named Patch Adams wrote a lifechanging paper that would later become the basis of what is now known as the Gesundheit Institute.

Interested in whole systems thinking, Dr Adams and his wife created a pilot hospital model that was ground breaking because it integrated laughter and all other healing modalities into conventional medical practice.

The results were so incredible, Dr Adams’s life was turned into a movie with the late Robin Williams playing him.

Not the first, and certainly not the last, the study of humour has been around since Aristotle and Plato.

Neuroscientists today pose questions around how one acquires humour and how humour may elicit laughter.

From a health perspective, laughter has always been shown to have positive effects as it’s contagious joy serves as a social glue, bonding people together.

Not Just Placebo

Humour has always been a coping mechanism, a way of distracting oneself (or others) from stress and pain.

In one study which saw patients attend a 90 minute weekly laughter clinic, a decrease in blood pressure was shown both for short term as well as long term suggesting that recalling funny events of the past still had the ability to lower blood pressure.

Proving that the old adage “laughter is the best medicine” still rings true, new research is proving that mirthful laughter (real belly-aching-ab-workout-laughing not just “lol”-ing) can also lower catecholamine production and lower inflammatory cytokines resulting in cardiovascular protection.

Even better it has been shown in crease “good” HDL cholesterol!

Backing this up are the results of a 2013 Japanese Geronotological Evaluation Study that showed that daily laughter had positive effects on depression and weight as well as hypertension.

That’s Just Not Funny

Given that humour is such a personal trait, it’s not surprising that different people find different things hilarious.

From slap stick comedy, physical humour, toilet humour and naughty jokes to schadenfreude, the trick to a good laugh depends entirely on you.

(For those of you unfamiliar with schadenfreude, it’s pleasure derived by someone from another person’s expense – like watching someone on their phone walk into a wall. Mean…. Sure… but definitely funny!)

On that note, it was fascinating to see that people who identified as being Type A (particularly hard working, driven and motivated people) were associated not only with increased risk of heart disease but that they also were less likely to experience laughter or surprise during daily activities or social interactions.

Finding The Funny

It’s all well and good to tell people to laugh, but if you’re a Type A or someone who just doesn’t know how to have a giggle, let’s look at some ideas and tips.

  1. Make new friends – remember humour is a personality trait so you may need to expose yourself (NO! NOT LIKE THAT!!) to new people
  2. Look at things from a different perspective – typos can be a source of great joy. Juxtaposition or words, contrast and double entendre can also elicit quick giggles
  3. Breathe your way through anger and frustration – if you’re someone who is quick to anger, you’re already tensing for a confrontation, instead you want to be a little more “neutral”
  4. Get on the internet – a quick search for “Funny Typos” will elicit lots of results. Failing that, check out sites like 9gag for comics and memes that will brighten your day
  5. Funny movies – depending on your sense of humour movies like Dodgeball or American Pie will have you either rolling in stitches or rolling your eyes

The science is clear – laughter definitely does have a place in the healing arts and unlike many other treatments for hypertension, it’s completely safe and contagious in the best way.

Cry Yourself Calm

Have you ever been so angry, so incredibly frustrated that you notice tears are running down your face?

And after you finish crying, you somehow feel calmer and more in control?

Crying from anger, isn’t unusual at all. In fact, there are lots of studies that support the idea that crying is healthy.

The notion that crying is a choice or a sign of weakness is no longer holding up to the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows shedding tears is an important physiological reaction to stress and therefore important in managing hypertension.

Why Do We Cry

Most of us associate crying with babies, extreme physical or emotional pain or sad movies.

It’s been suggested that crying has a special role to play in balancing our moods as it helps provide a physical outlet for stress.

But not all tears are equal.

Photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher put dried tears from different situations under the microscope and revealed that different kinds of tears contain different molecules.

(For those of you who are interested, check out her series The Topography of Tears.)

She discovered three kinds of tears:

  1. Emotional tears – otherwise known as psychic tears, are tears caused by extreme emotions such as happiness and sadness. Under the microscope, each emotion produces very different looking tears.
  2. Basal tears – these are designed to keep your corneas lubricated, every time you blink, these tears which contain oils and mucous secretions are “washed” over the eye to prevent dry eyes.
  3. Reflex tears – these tears are produced in response to stimulus such onions, tear gas or smoke.

Despite the differences in crying, the physical sense of relief we get after shedding a few tears is largely the same.

This was backed up by researchers from the University of Tilburn in the Netherlands who conducted a study that measured people’s moods after watching sad and emotionally charged films.

Of the 60 participants, 28 had admitted to crying during the movie and felt that their moods were even better 90 minutes after the movie had finished suggesting that benefits of crying could be felt in the long term.

Women were shown to be more prone to shedding emotional tears, this is unsurprising given that emotional tears have high levels of proteins, minerals and hormones.

By tearing up, the body can reduce its level of manganese (high levels have been associated with anxiety, irritability and even aggression).

Crying and Hypertension

Given the benefits of crying, researchers at the University of South Florida suggested that “weeping therapy” may be a useful form of treatment for the emotionally distant.

By encouraging a healthy stress response, blood pressure and pulse will also lower.

Crying is most common in women over 60 who suffer from hypertension.

It’s still unclear why, but it may be the result of co-morbidities such as hormonal changes (menopause) or the increased risk of experiencing grief due to the loss of friends or loved ones.

The Best Time To Cry

Obviously, there are some unwanted physical side effects of a good cry, like puffy red eyes and lots of snot!

So, if you’re needing to blow off a little emotional steam, try these tips:

  1. Plan in advance – plan your cry session around big work meetings if you can
  2. Avoid people or let them know – if you want to avoid distressing your nearest and dearest you might want to wait till they’ve gone to bed or left the house, otherwise, just let them know and they might even join you!
  3. Get in the mood – pick out your favourite movie or even those feel-good stories that we all see on the internet
  4. Get it out of your system and move on – try not to linger or dwell on negative emotions after your cry session

Barefoot Basics

Considering how connected we are today, it’s amazing how utterly disconnected we really are.

It seems like a paradox yet consider this: thanks to the rise of technology, we can see what our friends and family are up to at any given point in time yet at no other point in time have we ever experienced such rates of anxiety and depression.

As we know these are key factors for the development of hypertension, so let’s go back to (barefoot) basics.

Engaging with natural therapies does not always mean having to take a plethora of pills.

True naturopathy lies in making conscious choices to be a part of nature each day.

Garden Therapy

Tending to a garden provides endless positive outcomes.

From the physical exercise and exposure to fresh and sunlight to the provisions of fresh produce, cultivating the land has been a source of enjoyment and income.

But what happens if you take that one step further and incorporate a sense of aesthetic into the creation of your garden? Well, you end up with a healing garden.

Whilst this sounds like some new age idea, the truth is that it’s very old – think of Asian cultures that cultivate peace – Zen, whilst meditating against a backdrop of utter serenity.

From Monastic gardens, cactus gardens to these Zen gardens, the innate ability to connect with nature is intrinsically healing.

By dragging our faces away from screens and back to nature we can reduce stress levels by reducing negative emotions and effectively holding attention and interest in our immediate surrounds as nature appeals to all our sense and is highly interactive.

The Japanese have taken this one step further with “Forest Bathing” or “Shinrin-yoku” which simply involves a person visiting a natural area and walking around.

The body of research that supports the health benefits is solid: Many trees release chemicals that support our immune system, whilst being surrounded by an oxygen rich environment has clear benefits for reducing blood pressure and stress whilst improving mood and creativity.

Regular practitioners have also noted increased ability to focus and better energy and sleep.

There really is no right or wrong way to get back to nature.

Even if you live in an apartment block or spend most of your daylight hours in an office building, take the opportunity to walk through parks or set up your own little green area.

Cacti and a window sill herb garden are great places to start.

Having orchids indoors are also a fantastic way to brighten up your space and bring some nature indoors.

Sea Changes and Earthing

If you’re closer to the sea than you are the forest, fear not!

Walking along the beach has also been shown to be hugely beneficial for those suffering with hypertension.

The fresh sea air and the resistance of sand resulted in a cardiovascular workout whilst the environment provided a source of stress release for the participants of the study.

Following the walk, participants showed improved blood oxygenation and pulse rates.

Walking barefoot also enabled participants to ground themselves.

Humans are incredibly fascinating – we are a mix of chemical and electrical potential and being able to walk barefoot on the earth’s surface allows us to form an electrical circuit with the earth.

When we have skin contact with the earth’s surface, we absorb free electrons that can “mop up” free radicals.

With regards to hypertension, a pilot study done in 2013 demonstrated how participants were grounded for 2 hours and their blood was observed before and after the grounding.

Each of the blood samples was then exposed to an electrical field and observed.

Those participants who had been grounded showed that their blood was nearly 3 times less likely to not form clumps.

If you’re going to try grounding, make sure you choose a spot that is free of broken glass and other potential hazards.

Maybe set up an area that has some sand, pebbles, fresh lawn and running water.

Sweat It Out

Think of our northern counterparts for this one!

In Sweden and Finland, the idea of sweating out toxins is taken as completely normal.

They’re not alone – from the hot natural spas of Japan to the sweat lodges of Native Americans, there’s a lot to be said about these ancient purification techniques.

For those wanting to lower blood pressure – keep your hydrotherapy sessions short (ideally around 10 – 15 minutes) depending on the heat of the water.

If in doubt, please check with your physician and do not attempt to lower an acute attack of hypertension by using a sauna or spa.

The point of this article was to hopefully inspire you to just get back out into nature, do a bushwalk or a beach walk or go swimming.

Wherever you look, you are surrounded by nature and science is backing up what we already know – being surrounded by nature has limitless healing potential.

Pet Therapy

Whether it’s constant loyal companionship, enforced exercise or simply the comfort of stroking soft warm fur, there’s a lot to be said for pet therapy as a way to reduce hypertension.

Humans are not naturally solitary creatures, we have evolved to rely on others (including other species) for survival.

Dog Therapy

Most people might associate canine therapy with guide dogs for the visually impaired, but there’s so much more that our canine friends are capable of.

From detecting cancers to warning us of impending epileptic seizures or low blood sugar levels, a dog’s keen sense of smell can be a fantastic indicator of health.

If that wasn’t good enough, they’re great for snuggling on cold winter days and will always be happy to see you!

In a study conducted in 1988, researchers Vormbrok and Grossberg demonstrated that blood pressure levels dropped when participants were petting a dog suggesting that this “pet effect” was worth further study.

Fast forward a few years and in 2018, another study aimed to evaluate the effect of pet ownership on blood pressure in response to mental stress compared to the use of an ACE inhibitor (Lisinopril at 20mg/d).

The results were even more positive: whilst the ACE inhibitor was able to lower blood pressure readings, the participants still noted that their mental stress levels were unchanged.

In comparison, those participants who were engaged with their pets showed not only lowered blood pressure but decreased mental stress.

As far as natural therapies go, this is clear cut – being engaged with your pet in a positive way not only lowers blood pressure but addresses causative risk factors such as stress.

Apart from the immediate benefits of stroking your beloved pooch’s fur, there are other long-term benefits, especially for the elderly.

By relieving social isolation and boredom, cognitive health has also shown to be improved.

In epidemiological studies, those owners who walked their dogs also were shown to have lower complications with cardiovascular disease.

Cat Therapy

Not much of a dog fan?

That’s ok – much of the research associated with the “pet effect” applies to cat owners as well.

The very presence of an interactive, dependent being has been shown to be cardioprotective.

The only downside with cat therapy is that cat owners don’t have the same level of physical activity as their dog owner counterparts, presumably because not many cat owners have to take that cat’s for a walk.

Bird Therapy

Short on space and time?

Consider getting a bird. In a study of 144 elderly people in Italy, individuals who cared for a singular bird had significantly better scores for psychological symptoms.

The elderly residents of the nursing home demonstrated reduced behavioural disturbance and demented subjects had more social behaviours in the presence of the animal.

Another unique positive of bird ownership is the improvement of verbal behaviour.

Birds capable of mimicking human speech can hold “conversations” with their owners, providing another aspect of social interaction.

Fish Therapy

There’s something so very calming about watching beautiful tropical fish glide through clear azure water.

It’s almost hypnotic to watch them as they dart and dance through the coral and sea greens.

If you can’t snorkel or scuba dive on a regular basis then maybe investing in a fish tank might be up your alley.

Whilst fish aren’t as interactive as other pets, the visual pleasure they provide still has an incredible effect on blood pressure and pulse.

Even better, the colour therapy they provide will help brighten your day.

This isn’t exactly ground-breaking.

Dentists have been in on this knowledge for years.

Ever seen Finding Nemo?

Dentists have installed fish tanks in their waiting to calm down patients before they face the drill.

There is a catch though, in one study that had fish tanks placed in an aged care facility, those residents who had access to viewing the fish tanks saw an increase in weight by 1.65 lb between three months before the tanks and four months after the tanks were placed.

Researchers from the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth University as well as the University of Exeter demonstrated that even looking at an empty tank with rocks and seaweed was able to lower heart rate by 3%, when fish were added, this increased to 7%. Interestingly, the more fish (and the increased variety of fish) helped to hold people’s attention for longer and helped to improve moods.

So there you have it, it doesn’t matter what your non-human bestie is, they’re going to help your mood and your heart just by being with you.

Just remember that this love and attention goes both ways.

Animals depend on us for their health needs too, so that means lots of good quality food, fresh water and space to do whatever it is they do!

Music Therapy

Who doesn’t feel better after belting out a power ballad in the shower or channelling their inner rock god(des) in the car as their stuck in traffic?

Music therapy has always been an intrinsic part of healing throughout ancient cultures and modern man is no different.

The Healing Power of Sound

Our ancient ancestors knew the power of sound could be a formidable asset to health and across the globe they used all kinds of sounds to bring peace, improve mental health and relieve pain.

The earliest form of music relied purely on our voices.

Chanting, (singing or speaking sounds using a limited range of pitch) is often used as part of meditation and religious ceremonies.

Popular in Buddhism, Native American traditions, Hinduism and Catholicism (Gregorian chants), chants offer a sense of calm purpose through their unique ability to tap into our innate sense of pitch and rhythm.

Perhaps it is their repetitious nature and the regulation of breath combined with the power and intent of words that allows our conscious mind to “take a back seat” that allows chanting to be so effective.

Offsetting their often-repetitious nature, religious ceremonies often include the use of bells and drums, enabling us to further connect with our primal ancestors.

Chants help to express devotion, gratitude and even compassion in daily live, helping us to relieve stress and monitor our breathing.

Today, English mantras often take the form of affirmations – a sentence that is repeated numerous times daily to bring a conscious change in our thought patterns.

It isn’t just the power of our voices that can stimulate healing effects.

Apart from our primal instincts to connect with rhythm and beat, there have been other instruments specifically developed for improving our consciousness.

A great example are Himalayan singing bowls, a study in 2014 demonstrated that the participants had significantly lower systolic blood pressure after using the bowls in directed relaxation session.

In a more recent study in 2017, Himalayan singing bowls were also shown to be able to reduce tension, anger, fatigue and depressed moods reinforcing the importance of mindfulness in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Thanks to modern technology, we now know that sound is carried through the air in waves and we can use specific waves or frequencies.

A great example of this is using binaural beats (the differences in two frequencies) – these are perceived by parts of the brain that then “tune in”, resulting in alpha brain waves and a state of calm.

Listening to Music

It sounds silly to state the obvious but listening to music can also have immediate effects in lowering blood pressure and improving mood.

Whilst musical taste is personal, there have been numerous ,studies done on the effects of Classical music.

For those of you who aren’t music history buffs, Gregorian chant work was popular in the 10th century whilst the Classical period wasn’t until 1750.

The classical period was incredibly fascinating as newer technologies allowed instruments to be refined and improved enabling players greater flexibility and better tone colour.

Of particular note is the adherence to particular forms to create a sense of unity and completion.

A fascinating study in 2016 compared 60 subjects who were assigned to listen to either Mozart (from the Classical era) Strauss Jr (from the Romantic era which saw composers indulge in more emotionally charged works and freer forms) and ABBA.

The results came back showing that subjects who listened to Mozart and Strauss showed the reductions in blood pressure and cortisol levels. Interestingly, the Mozart group who had listened to his Symphony No 40 (KV550) showed the greatest reductions in blood pressure.

Unfortunately, those who listened to ABBA did not demonstrate large differences in cortisol or blood pressure levels.

Getting Into Music

If you’re more of a “doer” you can always pick up a new instrument.

Apart from the mental work-out you’ll get (which is great for offsetting age related mental decline), you’ll also be actively lowering your blood pressure.

Instruments like violin, guitar and piano require discipline, dedication and a great deal of co-ordination that will force all other mental worries to the background as you focus on the creation of pure joyous sound.

The sense of completion you’ll get when you master a peace is also a great source of joy that is sure to brighten your day.

If you’re not sure where to start or you’re not keen on picking up a new instrument, start humming.

Humming to yourself helps to ground you, getting you back in the moment and allows you to slow down your breathing.

This is fantastic if you suffer from anxiety.

By humming you can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system allowing you to clear your mind and lower your blood pressure.

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