Three Tips To Reverse Hypertension Naturally
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects 1 in 3 adults in the United States. It’s a major risk factor in some of the leading causes of death such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. And yet the mainstream advice for how to treat high blood pressure has fallen short of producing real changes in people’s health.
Did you know that even modest reductions in high blood pressure can produce huge improvements in health? For example, a small reduction in blood pressure can produce a 40 percent reduction in deaths from stroke. But the question remains, if mainstream advice doesn’t work, what will?
In this article we’re going to see how science has shown time and time again that a handful of practices that are easy to put into place can dramatically improve both blood pressure and quality of life.
Blood Pressure Basics
Your body contains an incredible amount of blood vessels. In fact, the average adult has enough blood vessels that their total length is about 60,000 miles, which is more than twice the circumferences of the planet.
Every minute of every day your blood vessels have blood moving through them, bringing oxygen and nutrients to all the tissues of your body. They play a really important role in your health. And so the health of your blood vessels is important.
All that blood moving through your blood vessels places pressure on the walls of the vessels. The pressure needs to be sufficient for the nutrients to move across the walls into the tissues. But if it is too high then the pressure can damage the vessels over time. Moreover, chronically elevated blood pressure may indicate other related problems that can produce other damages to the tissues.
Blood pressure is measured using millimeters of mercury (mmHg). And as you likely know, blood pressure readings are a ratio of two numbers. Those two numbers represent the blood pressure values at two points during the heartbeat. The top number is the systolic pressure, which is measured during the contraction of the heart. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, which is measured during the passive phase in which the heart fills with blood.
Two of the main mechanisms involved in controlling blood pressure are called peripheral resistance and blood volume.
Peripheral resistance is determined by the relative elasticity or rigidity of the blood vessels. As we’ll see, peripheral resistance is largely determined by the stress response. A stress response increases the rigidity of blood vessels. The result is an increase in blood pressure that can deliver more nutrients and oxygen to tissues. In the short term that allows for greater strength and endurance to meet stress. However, when stress is chronically elevated, the result is chronically rigid blood vessels and elevated blood pressure.
Blood volume is determined, largely, by the mineral balance in the body. When the ratio of sodium to other minerals (especially potassium) is high, blood volume increases. That is the primary reason why the mainstream advice has been to reduce sodium (usually in the form of salt) intake. But as we’ll see, there are better solutions.
Is Hypertension Inevitable?
As I already mentioned, 1 in 3 American adults has hypertension. In fact, the numbers would be even higher if more conservative references ranges were used. In the United States hypertension is defined as 140/90 mmHg or higher, but according the evidence is that the ideal blood pressure for most people is closer to 115/75 mmHg. So it turns out that far more than 1 in 3 adults have hypertension.
Plus, the rates of hypertension increase with age. Among men over the age of 60 half meet the official diagnosis for hypertension. Since so many older adults suffer from hypertension, many people are under the mistaken impression that hypertension is an inevitable side effect of aging.
But those trends don’t occur everywhere. In rural and traditional cultures around the world, older adults are at no greater risk for hypertension than are younger people. That suggests that hypertension is likely due to dietary and lifestyle causes.
Reducing Chronic Stress
As we’ve seen, one of the major causes of hypertension is peripheral resistance. And peripheral resistance, which is rigidity of the blood vessels, can be caused by stress. Research shows that just as hypertension increases among adults as they age in North America, so do stress hormone levels such as cortisol.
We live in a society that offers plenty of stressors but little support for developing healthy habits regarding stress. And yet, research shows that it is possible to develop such healthy habits. Those who learn how to have a healthy stress response have reductions in stress hormones and in blood pressure.
How to effectively develop a healthy stress response is a subject we’ll address in more depth in other articles. However, as a starting point, much research shows that any practice that develops greater awareness, particularly awareness of the body and sensation, is an effective way to develop a healthy stress response. Examples of practices that are shown to produce that effect are tai chi, qigong, mindfulness, and meditation involving awareness of the body (such as awareness of the breath). A good way to get started is simply to become more aware of what it feels like to do the activities that you do throughout the day. For example, when you are walking, pay attention to the physical sensations of walking, giving attention to the feet, the legs, the pelvis, the torso, the arms, and the head. Although that may seem like a very simple practice, research shows that over time it can have profound benefits.
A great deal of attention has been given to sodium by mainstream health advocates. But as we saw in a previous article, the advice to restrict salt excessively has negative consequences. Research shows that those who eat less than 3 grams of salt per day typically suffer worse health than those who eat 3 to 6 grams of salt per day. While it’s true that eating excessive salt (more than 6 grams) per day may have negative consequences, the average salt consumption among Americans of 3.4 grams is healthy.
The problem for most people isn’t too much sodium. Rather, it’s too little potassium. Potassium is a mineral that works to reduce high blood pressure by reducing high blood volume. Potassium is found primarily in fruits and vegetables as well as dairy. So, not surprisingly, eating more fruits and vegetables can have a positive effect on blood pressure. Among the best sources of potassium are leafy green vegetables, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, avocados, bananas, milk, and beans. Other fruits and vegetables are generally also good sources.
Other minerals can also be beneficial, including calcium and magnesium. Calcium can help to reduce elevated blood volume and magnesium can help to reduce blood pressure in others ways. Calcium is best obtained from food for reasons that we’ve seen in previous articles, so dairy, which is also a good source of potassium, is an excellent way to obtain calcium as well. Magnesium can be obtained through food or through supplements.
Research has shown that a few other nutrients or foods can have significant benefits on blood pressure as well.
First off, ironically, even though the American Heart Association still recommends using polyunsaturated fats for heart health, it turns out that highly polyunsaturated fats such as soy, corn, canola, and safflower oils can cause arterial damage and increases in blood pressure. The worst offenders are trans fats, which are from partially hydrogenated oils. They are so harmful, in fact, that many countries and states are now outlawing them. In any case, don’t eat foods that list partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients. And non-hydrogenated polyunsaturated fats such as soy, corn, canola, and safflower can oxidize easily, which has been shown to also cause increases in blood pressure.
Traditional fats such as butter or coconut oil are shown to have neutral or even positive effects on blood pressure.
Finally, vitamin K2 has also been shown to improve blood pressure. Since butter is a source of K2, that’s yet another reason to eat butter. Other good sources of vitamin K2 include cheese, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and organ meats such as liver.
High blood pressure affects the majority of American adults and is linked with fatal conditions. Unfortunately, the common advice isn’t often enough to improve the condition. In this article we’ve seen that the following are shown to produce benefits:
- Developing a healthy stress response
- Eating more potassium along with enough calcium and magnesium
- Eating traditional fats instead of hydrogenated or polyunsaturated oils
- Eating foods containing vitamin K2