THE WORLD Health Organization estimates that one in every three adults worldwide has elevated blood pressure. Other experts declare that as many as 90 per cent of people will have high blood pressure as they age, even if their pressure was normal in their 50s.
Conventional medical wisdom states that in 90 per cent of all these cases of high blood pressure, the cause is unknown. They call this supposedly mysterious disease essential hypertension. Just imagine billions of people worldwide diagnosed with a disease without any known cause.
Of course, if doctors do not know the cause, they declare the condition incurable and insist that the patient must take medication indefinitely. But in my opinion, high blood pressure is not a disease in and of itself, but rather a symptom with identifiable causes. It is most important that we address the underlying cause and not just treat the numbers on the blood pressure machine as is often practised.
We all know about the many lifestyle factors associated with high blood pressure: poor diet, obesity, chronic stress, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking, etc. Unfortunately, not enough attention is given to these crucial issues, while the major medical emphasis is on managing the problem with drugs. Most people with high blood pressure should first focus on these issues and lower their blood pressure naturally.
Fix your diet
Most of us have an imbalanced diet and do not eat enough vegetables and fruits while consuming excessive quantities of processed food. This results in a lack of essential nutrients: several vitamins, magnesium, calcium, and potassium, with excess of others like sodium in your diet. This can most definitely elevate your blood pressure.
Supplementing with vitamins, minerals, the omega 3 fatty acids, and herbs like garlic and hawthorn berry in combination with a healthy diet is most useful. I use a nutritional plan called cellular nutrition. Another strategy involves juicing fresh, preferably organic vegetables and fruits such as beet, kale, cucumbers, callaloo, celery, carrots, apples, papaya, and pineapple. These juices can be had straight or diluted in coconut water.
The relationship between obesity and high blood pressure is very well known. I object to the all-too-common situation of the obviously overweight/obese individual taking lots of blood pressure medication without being on a structured weight loss programme. The cellular nutrition programme is extremely effective at correcting obesity in a healthy fashion. Moderate regular exercise will both assist in weight loss as well as lower blood pressure.
What about salt?
Modern research findings strongly question the common wisdom that salt is bad for you and your blood pressure. A detailed evaluation (meta-analysis) of seven different studies of salt and blood pressure published in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes, or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. Only a few people are truly salt sensitive.
It should not be about severely restricting your sodium intake, but rather, creating an optimal balance between magnesium, potassium, and sodium in your diet. Most of those with high blood pressure are deficient in magnesium rather than oversupplied with sodium. Use sea salt moderately.
Check your medicine cabinet
There are many medicines known to increase blood pressure as a side effect. Antidepressants, birth control drugs, steroids like prednisone, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents commonly used as pain killers and decongestants found in cold, flu, and sinus medicines are only a few common examples. Were you taking any medications around the time your blood pressure went up? Note, however, this problem may not develop immediately after you started using the drug.
Some form of stress, whether emotional, physical, or environmental often contributes to high blood pressure. Sometimes the stress originated way back in your childhood and may now be buried in your subconscious mind.
In addition to identifying your stressors, it is important to modify how you respond to them. Learn to relax and reboot your system even for a few minutes each day to allow your body to reset itself to a lower 'normal' blood pressure. Yes, you can use relaxation to lower your blood pressure, and this is what the simple relaxation exercise on my CD, A Time to Relax, teaches.
Improve your sleep
This is critical, especially if you sleep less than five to six hours per night. Good-quality and quantity sleep are vital for your hormonal balance as well as the rejuvenation of your nervous system. It is during sleep that your body heals and repairs itself, and practising good sleep hygiene will have a positive impact on your blood pressure. Using my Time to Relax CD at bedtime will also help you sleep better.
Check on Vitamin D
Medical research continues to find many important benefits of vitamin D. It turns out that the lower your levels of vitamin D, the higher your risk of high blood pressure. A daily sunbath and/or a vitamin D supplement could be the missing link in your hypertension-control programme.
Remember, the darker your skin, the more sunshine you need to make enough vitamin D. In addition to a regular sunbath, I suggest taking generous daily doses of vitamin D for about 60 days and then have your blood levels of vitamin D tested. This will help decide what your maintenance dose of the vitamin should be.
Drugs for blood pressure
Only after I have addressed the issues above do I consider using drugs. The list of drugs used to treat high blood pressure is very long. Some investigators believe that the drug doctors prescribe is often influenced more by drug companies' hype than by scientific rationale.
ALLHAT is the largest study to compare the effectiveness of different medications in treating high blood pressure. It was sponsored by the United States-based National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the results of the study were published in 2002 in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
The ALLHAT hypertension study reported that cheap, traditional diuretics (water tablets) are more effective than the newer expensive drugs like the calcium channel blockers (e.g. Norvasc) or the ACE inhibitors (e.g. Enalapril) at lowering high blood pressure and preventing some forms of heart disease.
Sadly, doctors have largely ignored the message from this important research. It is estimated that the United Kingdom could save over $100 million per year and the US between $500 million and $1 billion annually if physicians stuck to the cheaper drugs for hypertension. I wonder what the savings could be for Jamaica.
You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His new book, 'An Ounce of Prevention, Especially for Women', is available locally and on the Internet.