Health Canada has dedicated the month of April to be hypertension awareness month! This article is designed to do just that – Raise awareness on the various risk factors for hypertension, while providing some education on alternative treatments. Hypertension or high blood pressure is a sustained rise in blood pressure (BP), which makes it harder for the heart muscle to do its job. A systolic BP (top number) of > 140 mmHg and a diastolic BP (bottom the number) of >90 mmHg persistently, is defined as 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 of work and home life. Reducing blood pressure can help protect the body from a possible heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, eye disease, and/or cognitive decline.
Symptoms that could potentially indicate a sustained rise in blood pressure include, headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness and sweating. However, hypertension is commonly referred to as the “silent killer” because most of the time people do not actually experience any of these symptoms. It is important to be preemptive when it comes to health and wellness. Taking measures early on to prevent the rise in blood pressure can allow you to live a healthier and longer life. It is also important to be aware of what risk factors can make you more prone to developing hypertension.
Top 6 Symptoms of Hypertension:
- Genetics (More prevalent in middle-aged men and postmenopausal women)
- Age (Risk increases with age)
- Dietary factors (High in refined carbohydrates, fats, sugar, salt, alcohol and caffeine)
- Chronic stress
- Physical inactivity
Recent studies have demonstrated naturopathic medicine to be effective for the prevention and treatment of hypertension and cardiovascular disease as a whole. It is well documented that lifestyle changes can lower blood pressure pretty effectively! Here are some tips that can be incorporated into daily life to help lower blood pressure.
1. MEDITERRANEAN DIET
Plants are nutritional powerhouses that are packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre that can positively influence heart health! The best dietary change for supporting a healthy heart is The Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet was found to improve inflammation in the body while reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. It emphasizes eating primarily plant-based whole foods, like fruits, legumes, whole grains and nuts; swapping butter for healthy fats; eating less meat and cooking with more herbs and spices. Foods like celery, onions, parsley, apples, radishes and olive oil are encouraged on the Mediterranean diet and have specific properties that can lower blood pressure.
Try these 3 simple steps to help get you started with the Mediterranean diet:
- Cook and dress with Olive oil vs. butter
- Snack on nuts vs. snacking on salty or sugary foods
- Devote half of your plate to fruits and vegetables at each meal (Canada's Food Guide says so!)
Aerobic exercise is the best thing you can do for improving heart health. It is one of the most effective tools for strengthening the heart muscle, keeping weight stable, lowering blood pressure and maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 4 days a week. Exercising does not have to be long and strenuous. It is about finding simple ways to incorporate more exercise into your daily routine.
Try the following tips to achieve your exercise goals:
- Taking the stairs vs. taking the elevator
- Walking or biking to work vs. driving
- When spending time with friends, go for walks vs. that weekly coffee date
3. REDUCE DIETARY SODIUM
Did you know 80% of sodium intake comes from processed foods, like pasta, bread, cold cuts and pizza? The average Canadian eats twice the sodium than they should be eating on a daily basis! A reduction in average dietary sodium from 3500 mg to 1500 mg can actually reduce blood pressure by about 5 systolic points! Weed out high sodium foods by reading labels before purchasing foods and preparing your own foods as much as possible.
4. OLIVE OIL
There have been several small trials that use olive oil as the main source of fat in one's diet. It has the potential to reduce blood pressure up to 10 points!
Aim for 2-4 tablespoons a day.
5. NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS
- CoQ10 - CoQ10 is an antioxidant that is needed by the heart muscle. It is therefore considered a "tonic" for the cardiovascular system. CoQ10 has been shown to reduce blood pressure and improve overall heart function.
- Magnesium - Magnesium is commonly used as a supplement for managing blood pressure.
- Fish Oil - Fish oil supplementation and increased dietary fish intake have shown benefit in reducing blood pressure.
6. HERBAL MEDICINE
Herbs are a reliable all-natural solution to decreasing blood pressure as they have been used for centuries. They have blood pressure lowering effects through mostly relaxing blood vessels which allows blood to flow more freely.
- Garlic - Garlic has been used for a variety of cardiovascular conditions and can be helpful in lowering blood pressure. Many of garlic's health benefits come from its active ingredient, allicin. Using encapsulated garlic supplements is preferred for absorption. Otherwise, 2-3 cloves of uncooked garlic a day!
- Avena Sativa - A diet that is rich in soluble fiber-rich whole oats can improve blood pressure and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
- Hibiscus Sabdariffa - Hibiscus Sabdaridda is one of the most extensively studied plants for lowering blood pressure. Super tasty in tea form!
- Theobroma Cacao -Theobroma Cacao enriched with flavonoids and is used for preventing cardiovascular disease. Daily consumption of dark chocolate can lower blood pressure.
7. SUGGESTED DOSING
|Exercise||Aerobic exercise at least 3-4x a week|
|Reduce sodium||<1500-1700 mg/day|
|Olive oil||2-4 tbsp/day|
|Fish Oil||4 g combined EPA + DHA|
|Hibiscus||2 cups of tea/day|
|Threobroma cacao||45-100 g|
Hypertension prevention/treatment involves an integrated approach by using various tools from a Naturopathic toolbox – nutrition, exercise, nutritional supplements and herbs. Naturopathic interventions work quite well for reducing blood pressure, especially in pre, mild and moderate stages. 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 or for further guidance on dosing and achieving targets!
Written By: Dr. Saira Kassam | 2017
The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.