Naturopathic Approach to Hypertension

High blood pressure, known as hypertension, is a condition where the pressure that blood exerts against blood vessels is abnormally high. Our blood pressure is normally regulated within a healthy range. It can increase when there is more resistance to the flow of blood in the arteries. This happens the volume of blood is too great for the arteries to accommodate. It is normal for your blood pressure to increase during activities such as exercise. It is not normal for it to be elevated all the time.

Blood pressure readings are given in two measurements. The first measurement represents your systolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts and pushes blood throughout your body. The second reading represents your diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries between heartbeats. It is measured in units called mm/hg. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg (<120 systolic blood pressure and <80 diastolic blood pressure).

How is hypertension determined?

The American Heart Association updated the classification of high blood pressure (1). There are five blood pressure categories:

  • Normal
  • Elevated
  • Stage 1 hypertension
  • Stage 2 hypertension
  • Hypertensive crises

Normal blood pressure is optimal and below 120/80 mm Hg. Elevated and Stage 1 blood pressures should be monitored, while pressure readings in the Stage 2 category should be addressed. It’s worth noting that extremely low blood pressure, known as hypotension (>90/60 mm Hg) has risks of its own.

Naturopathic treatment of hypertension

Chronic high blood pressure rarely resolves itself, and the consequences of ignoring hypertension affect the heart (heart attacks, heart failure), the eyes (vision impairment), the kidneys (chronic renal failure) and the brain (strokes, confusion, headaches).

According to the British Columbia guidelines on hypertension (2), the blood pressures greater than 140/90 mm Hg should receive medical intervention.  If your blood pressure is >180/120 mm Hg, this should be considered a crisis and you should seek treatment immediately.

I recommend a multi-faceted approach to lower blood pressure. Blood pressure can be successfully treated through good health behaviours such as improving diet, increasing physical activity and participating in relaxation activities. These behaviours can have substantial effects on your blood pressure, as outlined in the table below.

Lifestyle changes and their effect on blood pressure

 

Lifestyle Change
Effect on Systlic BP (mm Hg)
Effect on Diastolic BP (mm Hg)
Diet & weight control -6.0 -4.8
Reduced Sodium consumption -5.4 -2.8
Reduced alcohol comsumption -3.4 -3.4
DASH diet -11.4 -5.5
Increased physical activity -3.1 -1.8
Relaxation therapy -3.7 -3.5
*Courtesy of  BCGuidelines.ca

To put things into context, if you have a blood pressure of 150/100 mm Hg (which is considered stage 2 hypertension), following the dash diet (reduction of 11.4/5.5 mm Hg) along with increased physical activity (reduction of 3.1/3.5 mm Hg) and doing Tai Qi (reduction of 3.7/3.5 mm hg) can improve your blood pressure to 132/88 mm Hg. All this, without any prescriptions, and it comes with additional benefits that affect all aspects of your health.

In addition to developing healthy behaviours, I would also consider supplements such as magnesium(3) or L-arginine(4) to help lower blood pressure. It is important to know that these supplements only lower blood pressure when they are taken. Both act by expanding blood vessels, but do not have a permanent effect.

Should a pharmaceutical be indicated, a diuretic is my first choice for medication (5). Diuretics work by causing your kidneys to excrete more salt into your urine. The salt in the urine then pulls more water out of your blood to reduce the overall volume. This will cause you to pee more frequently. Other common medications for hypertension include ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers and calcium channel blockers. None of these medications have a permanent effect, which is why they must be taken daily to help you to control your blood pressure.

Changes in health habits can create long term benefits for your entire body and may help to permanently reduce your blood pressure. Supplements and pharmaceuticals can be very useful to bring your blood pressure under control, but lasting changes occur with alterations to your lifestyle.

Naturopathic Medicine Can Help

I help my patients to implement these changes while simultaneously achieving control over their blood pressure through the use of either supplements or medication. If you are concerned about your blood pressure or would like help with your existing blood pressure concern, you should consider a consultation.

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References
  1. The American Heart Association. 2017 Hypertension Clinical Guidelines. Retrieved Aug 28, 2019. Avaliable at: profesional.heart.org
  2. BCGuidelines.ca. Hypertension – Diagnosis and Management. Retrieved Aug 28, 2019. Avaliable at: www.bcguidelines.ca
  3. Kass L, Weekes J, Carpenter L. Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012;66(4):411-418
  4. Sudar-Milovanovic E, et Als. Benefits of L-Arginine on Cardiovascular System. Mini Rev Med Chem. 2016;16(2):94-103
  5. Therapeutics Initiave. [106] Using Best Evidence for the Management of Hypertension. Retrieved Aug 28, 2019. Avaliable at: www.ti.ubc.ca