But 80% of high blood pressure sufferers can resolve it with
lifestyle changes, not medication
I meet many patients who say, “I have been on blood pressure pills for 15 years; is there any chance of finding an alternative?”
Blood pressure should be assessed in two stages: the first step is to establish whether they have genuinely high blood pressure (BP). This is often confirmed with 24-hour monitoring. The second step is to look for the underlying cause, hopefully to find and do something about it to reduce the risk of serious complications.
Asking difficult questions
My first university session on hypertension went like this…… The facility professor selected an anxious student and started asking him a series of difficult questions and, when he could not answer, made negative remarks. The student’s anger escalated. At this point, the professor asked another student to take the angry student’s blood pressure. To our great amusement, it was very high. The professor ignored the issue and went on to deliver the practical session. After a little while, he asked another student to take the angry student’s BP again, and, again to our great amusement, this time it was normal.
The professor commented that it would be a grave mistake to make a diagnosis of hypertension on the basis of a single measurement.
The World Health Organisation definition is as follows. Hypertension, also known as high or raised blood pressure, is a condition in which the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure. Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in the vessels. Each time the heart beats, it pumps blood into the vessels. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels (arteries) as it is pumped by the heart. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to pump.
Hypertension is a serious medical condition and can increase the risk of heart, brain, kidney and other diseases. It is a major cause of premature death worldwide, with upwards of 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women – over a billion people – having the condition.
The silent killer
Traditional medicine classifies hypertension into:
– Primary (essential) in 90% of patients – when there is no identified cause.
– Secondary in 10%. These include those with kidney disease, adrenal tumours and overactivity, and rare congenital defects (coarctation of the aorta), meaning there is a narrow segment in the main artery out of the heart.
In the UK, hypertension affects 35% of adult population, and 60% of those who are overweight. It is the third leading cause of death.
Hypertension does not usually show any symptoms, apart from rare headaches and nosebleeds in those with very high BP. Hypertension puts affected people at risk of heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease and dementia. But one third of people with hypertension are unaware of it – that is why it is known as “the silent killer.”
Functional medicine classifies hypertension as a lifestyle-related condition in 80% of patients. This gives patients hope and motivates them to correct their lifestyles to keep their BP under control without medication.
How do you diagnose hypertension?
Previously, we used BP apparatus to take three measurements on three different occasions. This has been found to be inaccurate particularly in patients likely to suffer with “white coat hypertension.” In these patients, BP measurements at home are always in the normal range.
The blood circulation is powered by the heart. When blood vessels are flexible, the heart exerts a gentle contraction to push blood through the body. When the blood vessels become hard, stiff or calcified, the heart has to push harder and harder to overcome the resistance. As the heart continues to push harder, the BP goes up.
Looked at this way, high blood pressure is a necessity, created to overcome resistance due to stiff and inflexible blood vessels. Over time, this can damage sensitive organs like the kidneys and the brain, resulting in chronic kidney disease, strokes and dementia.
Why do the vessels become stiff? We are familiar with the process known as atherosclerosis, characterised by the deposit of cholesterol plaques along the vessel walls, making them inflexible. We put the blame on the “bad guy” cholesterol, LDL, and prescribe cholesterol pills like statin to rid the body of it.
Traditional medicine therefore stresses the need for patients to take their medications for the rest of their life.
However, research over the last couple of decades has given hope to millions of high BP sufferers that perhaps they do not have to live with hypertension. Applying advanced medical technology, we can identify the cause(s) of hypertension in most affected people.
Simple observation shows that obese people who are able to attain their ideal weight also lower their BP. I see this happening constantly as a side effect of our weight management program.
Some patients, though, may require high-tech advanced genetic and biochemical tests to find the underlying cause of their hypertension.
Modern science has discovered that cholesterol plaques on blood vessels are the outcome of a combination of inflammation and oxidative stress.
The process usually starts by inflammation of the blood vessel lining commonly attributable to a western diet of sugar and processed food. For the same reason, LDL particles become oxidised. But nature tends to “tidy up” by hiding the damaged LDL particles. Concurrent inflammation gives nature the option of hiding these particles under the inflamed blood vessel lining. Just like sweeping unwanted objects under the carpet!
“Bad guy” cholesterol is innocent; free radicals are guilty
But what damaged the LDL cholesterol particles in the first place? They are damaged by free radicals, which are generated by burning food to produce energy. High levels of free radicals are generated by sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol and toxic fat.
But LDL particles are not always bad. They normally transport fat around the body to be used as fuel. So, the bad guy starts out good, but turns bad when damaged by free radicals.
Again, high triglycerides, another type of fat, can have the same effect. Interestingly a low level of HDL, the “good guy” cholesterol, can also cause the same problem.
Inflammation could also happen due to common allergies such as gluten, dairy or soy.
Please keep an open mind about what may contribute to your high blood pressure, but, in essence, you can blame poor western diet for atherosclerosis and hypertension.
Therefore, hypertension should be considered as lifestyle related. Efforts to resolve it should focus initially on correcting lifestyles. Lifelong medications may be considered when natural safe means are exhausted.
The second cause of hardened blood vessel is calcification. This happens when calcium is deposited in blood vessels rather than in bone, where it is supposed to be. Obviously, this can make the blood vessels become stiff resulting in high blood pressure.
In view of this possibility, a scan was developed (calcium score) to detect calcium deposited in blood vessels. This has become a reliable test to assess cardiovascular disease.
Patients with this condition would benefit from vitamin K2. This removes calcium from soft tissues, including blood vessels, and deposits it in bone. I have had a number of patients who have lowered their BP in response to this simple measure, with minimal or no side-effects.
Another very common cause of inflammation is insulin resistance. This escalates insulin levels resulting in obesity and metabolic syndrome. Hypertension is the outcome of high insulin, causing fast division cells in the blood vessel walls, resulting in their thickening.
Tobacco smoking is a modifiable risk factor of cardiovascular disease. Giving up can lower blood pressure. Again, smoking can cause severe inflammation and high oxidative stress, so, advising patients against smoking is killing two very big birds (inflammation and oxidative stress) with one stone.
Studies show that BP medications control BP in 30% of patients taking them. We also know that 20% of patients fail to respond to diet and lifestyle interventions, and they would be good candidates for BP medications.
Any patient was BP above 160/100 should receive immediately BP medication. Such high blood pressure is associated with serious complications such as heart-attack or stroke, so medications may be life-saving in this situation.
On the other hand, prescribing drugs for borderline hypertension may be inappropriate. Studies have confirmed that the risk may outweigh the benefits.
How to lower your blood pressure the natural way
You can increase your potassium intake, thus reinstating your sodium and potassium balance. For every 500 mg of potassium that you take daily, you lower your systolic BP by 1 mm of Hg, and your diastolic by 0.5 mm of Hg. Foods rich in potassium include most fruits and vegetables, in particular, bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes and leafy greens such as spinach.
Reducing sodium intake would help patients with genetically determined salt sensitivity carried in the ACE & AGT genes.
For other patients, please do not take processed (refined) table salt as it is stripped of every beneficial trace mineral. Depending on your circumstances, the best salt to take is pink Himalayan salt, second is sea salt. These are rich in the trace minerals essential for your body’s function.
Take more magnesium, which is important for relaxing the blood vessels, and converting the amino acid Arginine into nitric oxide. Foods rich in magnesium include seeds, nuts and chocolate.
Vitamin D is known to stabilise both systolic and diastolic BP. Treat those people with low vitamin D with supplement and regular daily sunshine, free of charge!
As we mentioned above, vitamin K2 is essential to move calcium from the blood vessels into the bone. The dose should be 180 microgram per day, particularly in patients on high doses of vitamin D. Foods rich in vitamin K2 include egg yolk, and grass-fed butter and cheese.
Hibiscus tea is wonderful for lowering BP. Take 2 to 3 cups every day.
Other supplements include: COQ10, Arginine, tryptophan, 5HTP, GABA, Theanine, cod liver oil, garlic, Macca.
And of course, I would be failing in my duty to you if I did not also say…………
Adopt a healthy diet: studies showed 60% of hypertensive patients could get their BP lowered by just adopting a paleo diet of whole organic real food, locally produced.
Undertake physical activity that includes cardio and strength training, together with yoga for relaxation, joint flexibility and core stability.
Lower your stress level by practising meditation, deep breathing, listening to your favourite music and humour, taking Epsom salt baths, and walking in nature.
Get adequate sleep in a dark room and enjoy sunshine during the day to establish a good circadian rhythm.
And now, my friends, I would love to hear from you about your successes and challenges while working hard to control your blood pressure. What worked for you? Sharing your experiences may help someone else resolve their BP problems.