Dear JJ: High blood pressure and heart disease runs in my family, and my doctor just warned me I'm on the "hypertension edge" myself. I don't want to take prescription drugs. What else can I do to lower my blood pressure?
Among its many problems, high blood pressure -- clinically called hypertension -- plays a key role in cardiovascular disease (CVD) or heart disease.
That makes sense when you consider your body contains a complex vascular, hormonal, neurologic, and renal system that maintains blood pressure levels. When one system becomes out of whack, others follow, and CVD becomes a potentially fatal outcome.
Optimal blood pressure range is 110-120/70- 80. When your blood pressure rises above 120 systolic and/or 80 diastolic, you have pre-hypertension, what your doctor diagnosed you with.
Once your levels hit about 140/ 90, your doctor may diagnose you with high blood pressure or hypertension, which falls under two stages (the second becoming more severe).
Studies show hypertension puts you at increased risk for numerous diseases, including insulin resistance and CVD. One noted a "substantial overlap between diabetes and hypertension in etiology and disease mechanisms. Obesity, inflammation, oxidative stress, and insulin resistance are thought to be the common pathways."
High blood pressure also damages artery walls, increasing plague formation that can harden your arteries.
Clots and inhibited blood flow decrease delivery to your heart, subsequently failing to provide sufficient blood flow to the rest of your body. That decreased flow increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, and other circulatory problems.
Put another way: Far from being its own problem, hypertension paves the pathway for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many other problems.
If you struggle with high blood pressure, please speak with your integrative physician about dietary and lifestyle alternatives to potentially harmful pharmaceutical drugs.
Among my clients, I've found these 10 strategies help optimize blood pressure and reduce risk for heart disease and numerous other conditions.
1. Go low-sugar impact. Your most effective strategy to normalize blood pressure: A healthy weight. A low-sugar impact diet becomes ideal, since excessive sugar forces your body to horde water, and increased water volume in your blood increases blood-vessel pressure. One study found a "significant relationship between added sugar consumption and increased risk for CVD [cardiovascular disease] mortality." High-sugar impact foods also glycate (or "sticky up") your LDL cholesterol and other proteins, disrupting their normal functions as well as increasing inflammation and oxidative stress. My Sugar Impact Diet provides an effective, easy-to-implement plan to gradually taper off sugar.
2. Dial down fructose. One breakdown product of fructose -- the most detrimental sugar, found in high-fructose corn syrup but also excessive fruit intake -- is uric acid, which inhibits nitric acid that helps keep your blood vessels dilated. Among the detrimental repercussions include high blood pressure and inhibited blood flow to your heart, brain, and other organs. One study showed folks who consumed at least 74 grams of fructose daily had a whopping 77 percent increased risk for hypertension.
3. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods. Among its damage, studies show chronic inflammation increases your risk for hypertension and CVD. An arsenal of anti-inflammatory foods, including cold-water wild salmon and high-fiber foods like legumes, leafy greens, and avocado, helps normalize blood sugar and blood pressure to optimize heart and overall health.
4. Dial up potassium. Once upon a time, our diet provided ample amounts of the mineral potassium. Studies show today we eat far too much sodium and too little potassium. That's too bad, since epidemiological and clinical studies show a high-potassium diet lowers blood pressure, and prospective cohort studies and outcome trials show increased potassium reduces cardiovascular disease mortality. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18724413 Avocado, legumes, wild-caught fish, and leafy greens become excellent potassium-rich foods.
5. Supplement smartly. Look for a professional-quality multi that contains optimal nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium. One study noted magnesium deficiencies could increase hypertension. Studies also show fish oil supplements can reduce inflammation and other roadblocks that contribute to hypertension and heart disease. Beyond vitamins, minerals, and conditionally essential nutrients, herbs like Hawthorn berry can help dial down hypertension while also providing cardiovascular and blood sugar benefits. One study found a significant decrease in blood pressure after three months in the group taking hawthorn berry.
6. Optimize D. Cross-sectional studies associate vitamin D deficiency with increased risk for hypertension, CVD, and heart failure. Very few foods provide enough vitamin D and your body might not be making enough from sunlight, so supplementing becomes the way to go. Ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxy test. Dr. Mark Hyman says optimal levels should fall between 45 ng/dl to 60 ng/dl. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/how-much-vitamin-d_b_796734.html
7. Reduce homocysteine levels. Excess amounts of this sulfur-containing amino acid can damage your arterial wall lining and potentially harden those arteries, increasing your risk for hypertension and subsequently heart disease as well as many other conditions. Especially if you have a familial history of heart disease or the methyltetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) faulty gene, ask your doctor for twice-yearly homocysteine testing. Among your strategies to optimize homocysteine levels include sufficient amounts of the B vitamins folic acid, B6, and B12. Factors like stress deplete B vitamins like crazy, so consider a synergistic formula that contains B vitamins and other homocysteine-normalizing nutrients.
8. Get good sleep. Epidemiological studies show sleep deprivation can contribute to hypertension, coronary heart disease (CHD), and diabetes. Those are among the reasons to prioritize 7 - 9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep every night. Supplemental melatonin, which I prefer in a synergistic sleep-nutrient formula, can improve circadian rhythm: One four-week study found a two-mg melatonin supplement significantly reduced nocturnal systolic blood pressure in people with nocturnal hypertension.
9. Reduce stress. In one study appropriately called "Stress, inflammation and cardiovascular disease," researchers connected cardiovascular disease with chronic stress and inflammation. Another found chronic stress raised vascular-constricting hormones that spike blood pressure. Stress management is a necessity, not a luxury, to prevent or reverse hypertension and CVD. Stress management could literally be the difference between reducing blood pressure and suffering a premature heart attack. Find what works for you, whether that's meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or walking your dog.
10. Burst to lower. Fast, intense, and super-efficient, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or burst training becomes the best exercise to reduce your disease risk. One review found HIIT superior to moderate-intensity exercise to improve insulin sensitivity and arterial stiffness. Other studies show burst training can likewise improve heart health. I've combined HIIT with weight resistance in my Fast Blasts, which you can knock out in just eight minutes. Grab a free one here.
If you've struggled with high blood pressure and any of its repercussions, what strategy would you add here? Share yours below, and keep those great questions coming to AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.