What if someone was to tell you that treating your high blood pressure with medication may not necessarily equate to a reduced risk of having a heart attack or stroke? Yes, I have opened up a Pandora’s Box with that question – but there is mounting evidence that this may be true and I encourage you to read more.
When asked, “What is an ‘integrative practitioner’?”, I always explain that in addition to spending more time on prevention measures, diet and lifestyle than a regular health care provider, we are generally willing to pay attention to what the research is showing to be true and putting those findings into action without waiting the 10-20 years it takes for academic research/evidence to make it down to mainstream medicine. We have come to understand that hypertension (high blood pressure) is NOT a disease but is a marker of blood vessel dysfunction and damage to the lining of the blood vessels – all leading to heart disease, strokes, and heart attacks. Long before blood pressure raises high enough to be called “high”, damage to the lining of blood vessels and artery muscle has occurred. Remember, that when the muscle or lining of your arteries are damaged, this allows the hardening of them, the abnormal thickening of their muscle wall which narrows the ability for blood to flow through, and plaques that can block arteries (or break off and cause strokes). While of course, we need to lower high blood pressure, what truly needs to happen to reduce one’s risk is to stop the damage to the artery and REPAIR that damage.
So what can you do to help stop and repair damage to your blood vessels and lower your blood pressure?
1. Lose Weight. One of the most effective ways one can reduce blood pressure is to lose weight – as little as 10 pounds can lower blood pressure 5-7 points. It also reduces inflammation in the body – a contributor to vessel damage. See your health care provider or local nutritionist to help you find a way to do this if you are overweight or obese.
2. Exercise. Exercise – regular aerobic exercise – has a similar effect as taking one blood pressure medication (some people with high blood pressure have to take 2-4 different medications for good control). Not only will it drop blood pressure by 10-15 points, but it is also proven to reduce the risk of heart attack and to reduce inflammation and the development of clots. The best form of exercise proven to achieve the above results is to do a form of interval training for 20 minutes at least 5 days a week as well as 40 minutes of resistance/weight training. If interval training or resistance training are terms you are not familiar with – go to your local gym and get a fitness trainer to educate you and help develop a program for you. The cost of a few sessions is far less than the cost of being out of work and the hospital bill from having a heart attack!
3. Diet and Nutrition. The average American consumes 5000mg of salt/sodium daily – we only require 500mg. Decreasing one’s intake closer to 1500mg daily can reduce blood pressure 5 points. Salt is bad in that it promotes stiffening of the arteries so the blood vessels can’t dilate the way they are supposed to when your heart sends blood out to the body. Salt has been shown to damage the heart, kidneys and brain.
Increase one’s intake of potassium. Getting 5000mg of potassium daily can lower your blood pressure 8 points and has been proven to reduce risk of death. My favorite is magnesium – it relaxes muscles, dilates those arteries, enhances blood pressure medications and when taken with potassium, calcium and taurine works great at lowering blood pressure. A dose of about 1000mg of chelated magnesium (malate) is best.
Eat your protein! Low protein and omega-3 fat diets are associated with higher blood pressure. The usual intake is about ½ gram protein (plus or minus) per pound. So, if you weigh about 150 pounds, shooting for 65-75 grams of protein daily is ideal. And speaking of omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, flax seeds, walnuts), they are great at not only lowering blood pressure, but reducing inflammation and lowering cholesterol. And, they stop the thickening of the arteries! Taking 2000-4000mg daily can lower blood pressure a few points and protects the kidneys.
What other nutrients? There are many. The one I will focus most on is vitamin D. In the body, vitamin D is a hormone that when levels are below 30 ng/ml, bad things happen. Receptors for vitamin D exist in the heart as well as the artery lining. At levels above 30-40 ng/ml, vitamin D can reduce inflammation, improve our sugar and insulin levels, increase chemicals that help arteries relax, and also play a role in our immune system and ability to fight infection. The incidence of high blood pressure is 27%-52% higher (depending how low the vitamin D level) compared to people with levels over 40ng/ml. The optimal level for vitamin D is a bit argumentative, but most experts are agreeing 60-80 ng/ml is a good level to achieve. There are few foods one can eat to get this, so taking a supplement is a must. While I recommend testing, most experts agree that taking doses of vitamin D3 at 5000 units is safe (for adults). This is a vitamin that too high of levels can cause toxicity so please make sure you are working with a knowledgeable health care provider if you choose to supplement at high doses. Optimal vitamin D levels can lower blood pressure up to 7-10 points. Other nutrients that are research proven to help lower blood pressure includes: olive leaf extract, garlic, seaweed, vitamin C, vitamin E (but not if you are already on blood pressure medications), vitamin B-6, alpha lipoic acid, l-arginine, taurine, pycnogenol, reservatrol (in red wine), grape seed extract, pomegranate juice, melatonin, and sesame. While it is okay to increase your diet intake of foods with these nutrients, as always I encourage readers to work with a knowledgeable provider to use nutrition as medicine.
It is easy to keep talking about nutrition as medicine to treat blood pressure – and I will. In the meantime try the above modalities. Get your family involved – the things talked about will also help you feel good, look good, and not only reduce your risk of blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack and stroke, but also reduce your risk of cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and a host of other illness. Wishing all health and vitality!
Renae Blanton, MSN, ANP is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Sonas Integrative Medical Center. She specializes in integrative family medicine with a focus on environmental issues such as lead toxicity, anti-aging, women’s health and chronic disease and illness. She can be reached at 970-247-2500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.