A Holistic Approach To High Blood Pressure (Naturopathic Doctor Approved)

A Holistic Approach To High Blood Pressure

(Naturopathic Doctor Approved)

Continuing along the theme of heart month, today’s post will focus on a very common health condition that affects about 1 in 3 adults in North America and over 50% of elderly who are over the age of 65. This very common health condition is known as high blood pressure or hypertension. The rates of hypertension amongst individuals have drastically increased over the years due to modern lifestyle changes, industrial environments and all the physical/mental pressures from daily life. Chronic, untreated high blood pressure can lead to some very serious conditions including, stroke, heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, kidney disease and eye damage. 
So, it is very important to understand what hypertension is, how it can develop and how you can work to prevent/treat it. 

What Is Hypertension?

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure. The heart has to work harder in order to pump blood through the entire body leading to an increase in blood pressure. When this happens for an extended period of time, it can cause long-term damage to the heart and blood vessels. This can lead to more serious health concerns including, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease.

How Do You Measure Blood Pressure?

I’m sure most of you have had your blood pressure taken at the doctor’s office and wondered what those numbers really mean! When measuring blood pressure, it is looking at the amount of pressure in your blood vessels - systolic which is the top number and diastolic which is the bottom number.  When the heart beats it contracts to push blood through the arteries. Systolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure in your blood vessels when the heart contracts.  Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in the arteries in the break between heartbeats. 
Blood Pressure measurements are categorized as follows:
  • Normal: <120/80 mmHg
  • Elevated: 120-129/80 mmHg
  • Stage 1 hypertension: 130-139/80-89 mmHg
  • Stage 2 hypertension: >140/>90 mmHg
  • Hypertensive CRISIS: >180/>120 mmHg - SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION!


What Are The Symptoms Of Hypertension?

Symptoms that indicated a sustained rise in high blood pressure include:
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Nosebleeds
  • Vision problems
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
However, more often than not, hypertension is commonly referred to as the “silent killer”. This is because high blood pressure won’t cause noticeable symptoms but chronically elevated blood pressure can increase the risk for heart attacks, stroke, heart failure and much more. 

What Are The Risk Factors of Hypertension?

Most cases of high blood pressure are a result of both inherited and lifestyle factors including but not limited to:
  • Advanced age
  • Obesity
  • Family history
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Dietary factors (high in refined carbohydrates, sodium, sugar) 
  • Chronic stress
  • Sleep apnea
So whether you have normal blood pressure or elevated blood pressure making some lifestyle modifications can help to prevent you from developing hypertension in the long run. Now, if you already have high blood pressure, following these lifestyle changes can help to control your blood pressure and reduce the risk of developing more severe health conditions that come with long-standing hypertension. 
The conventional management involves the use of antihypertensive medications to help bring the blood pressure down. Naturopathic treatment can work both in conjunction and as a stand-alone therapy when treating hypertension. This is done through encouraging dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as adding in some nutritional supplements and herbal medicine. 

Naturopathic Treatments For Hypertension

Eating For Your Heart

What you eat can help to strengthen the heart muscle and support your cardiovascular system all together. Most of the scientific evidence for diet shows that a low carbohydrate diet can reduce blood pressure. 
Avoid simple carbohydrates including, rice, bread, pasta and swap it for complex carbohydrates and more whole grains including, oats, quinoa and whole grain rice. Aim for a diet that is rich in colourful vegetables and fruits, healthy fats (nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, coconut oil), high fiber (flax seeds, oat bran, hemp seeds) and lean meats or fish while limiting red meat, sweets and trans fats. These guidelines are in line with the Meditarranean Diet approach that has been extensively studied to help lower blood pressure. 
Foods that are higher in specific sulfur compounds like garlic, onions and leek can help to increase nitric oxide, which leads to the vasodilation of blood vessels.  Stay tuned for next week’s article on specific foods that can help to improve cardiovascular health. 

Limit Sodium Intake

Bodies need a certain amount of sodium to keep fluids balanced. However, too much of it can lead to water retention and high blood pressure. Best to aim for <2000 mg of sodium per day which is about 1 tsp of salt.
Here are some simple tips to reduce sodium:
  • Don’t add any extra salt to foods
  • Cutting down on salt does not mean you will be cutting out the flavour in food. Try using more herbs and spices like basil, coriander, paprika, turmeric and oregano vs. adding salt to your foods. 
  • Read food labels to know how much sodium  is in that one meal 


Increase Physical Activity

30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity a day, 4-7 times a week can be extremely beneficial to your cardiovascular system. There is a positive link between lowering blood pressure and exercise. 
Here are some examples of moderate intensity exercises:
  • Shovelling the snow
  • Raking leaves
  • Jumping rope
  • Swimming
  • Walking at a steady pace
  • Yoga
  • Running
  • Spinning


Weight Management

Higher body fat percentages can increase your risk of high blood pressure and Type II Diabetes. Ensure that your body mass index (BMI) is within the normal range for you. Weight loss in overweight patients can lead to significant drops in blood pressure.

Smoking Cessation and Alcohol Reduction

Smoking can lead to the loss of oxygen in tissues while also making the arteries less elastic. This contributes to atherosclerosis causing an increase in blood pressure and raising overall heart disease risk. 
Reduce alcohol to less than 4 drinks a week to help reduce blood pressure. 

Stress Reduction 

Stress in general increases the Sympathetic Nervous System activity. This adversely affects the cardiovascular system through inducing vascular changes. This is compounded with overeating, using alcohol and smoking to try and cope which causes further damage. 
Implementing strategies for stress management can help to reduce blood pressure. Examples of stress management techniques include: guided meditations before bed, breathing techniques, baths before bed, journalling and really anything that helps you make time for the activities you love and enjoy. 

Nutritional Supplements

  • Coenzyme Q10 - CoQ10 helps cells in the body produce energy and has been linked to the reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure
    • Dose: 100 mg 2x a day
  • Magnesium - Magnesium is one of the most commonly used supplements for managing hypertension due to its impact on relaxing smooth muscles
    • Dose: 400 mg/day
  • Vitamin B6 - Vitamin B6 can lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by lowering the body’s ‘stress hormones’ - norepinephrine and epinephrine
    • Dose: 25-50 mg
  • Omega 3’s - Fish oil supplementation and increased dietary fish intake have shown to have benefits in lowering blood pressure, due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
    • Dose: 4 grams of combined EPA and DHA


Herbal Medicine

  • Garlic - Helps to increase nitric oxide in the body which helps to relax the blood vessels, ultimately leading to lower blood pressure, specifically systolic blood pressure. Do keep in mind that gastrointestinal discomfort is the most well known side effect of garlic.
    • Dose: 500-1000 mg/day
  • Hibiscus Tea - This is one of the most extensively studied plants for improving high blood pressure! Studies have shown a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in both medicated and unmedicated populations. These effects are due to the anthocyanins in Hibiscus.
    • Dose: 200-300 ml of tea (1-2 grams of dried herb 2x/day)
There is no one approach to manage high blood pressure, but rather takes into account a person’s lifestyle and overall health to recommend gentle shifts in diet and exercise. Naturopathic treatments for reducing blood pressure involve an integrated approach with adjusting diet, exercise, stress reduction, nutritional supplements and herbs.  
Remember that interactions between medications, supplements and diet may exist so make sure to speak to your Naturopathic Doctor if you are interested in learning more!
** Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.