The physiology of blood pressure is well explained in this article. Behavioral and nutritional strategies for dealing with high blood pressure are offered.

- Designs for Health® Institute – Issue 11

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension: The Silent Killer

High Blood Pressure has often been called the "silent killer." It can damage many areas in the body, and such damage can progress rapidly and without symptoms. Frequent television commercials reminding hypertensives to take their medication shows lack of attention people give to this dangerous condition even after it has been diagnosed. Chronic elevated blood pressure is the most prevalent form of heart disease in America, affecting one out of every three adults. It contributes to half a million strokes and over a million heart attacks per year, and can damage organs, arteries, and accelerate other health problems as well.
The good news is that diet and lifestyle have been shown to help reduce blood pressure. Avoiding and controlling this dangerous condition can be as simple as watching what we eat, making sure our intake of essential nutrients is adequate and exercising regularly. Losing excess weight is also important.

Regular check-ups with your physician are the best way to keep track of your blood pressure. Because there are no symptoms, only a qualified health professional can tell you if your blood pressure is high.

Your nutritionist can also assist you in keeping track of your blood pressure, and will work with your physician to help create a nutritional program to lower your blood pressure naturally.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries that pushes fluids, carrying a cargo of nutrients and oxygen into the cells. By the time the blood reaches the veins, much of the nutrient-rich fluid has been pushed into the tissues. The concentrated blood in the veins attracts the fluid back into the circulatory system. Thus the cells of our body are nourished and cleansed.
A certain blood pressure is necessary to insure our tissues can receive the nutrients and oxygen they require. The ideal blood pressure for this to happen is approximately 120/80. The top number, 120, is called "systolic" blood pressure and is the pressure when the heart contracts. The bottom number, "diastolic", represents the pressure when the heart relaxes. Let's look at a chart that shows when blood pressure begins to be too high:

What Causes Hypertension?

High blood pressure rarely occurs in primitive cultures eating traditional diets. People living in rural area in China, the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Africa, Panama and Brazil display almost no hypertension, nor do they show an increase in blood pressure with advancing age as people in Western Society do. When members of these "primitive" societies travel to more civilized societies, their incidence of hypertension increases dramatically.

The protective factors in these traditional diets are thought to be the high fiber content and the large amount of vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, magnesium and potassium these primitive diets contain. These people groups also consume very little sugar. Low vitamin, mineral and fiber intake combined with high sugar intake has been found to increase the build-up of plaque on artery walls. This process is known as atherosclerosis, and it causes arteries to harden which, in turn, raises blood pressure.

What is the influence of specific nutrients?

Magnesium has been called by nutritionists the most undersupplied nutrient in the American diet. Magnesium is found in wheat bran, leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, and seafood. Magnesium levels are consistently lower in hypertensives as compared with normotensives. In one double-blind clinical study, magnesium supplementation lowered blood pressure by 12/8 mm Hg in 19 of 20 subjects in the experimental group, with virtually no results in the placebo group.

Does the kind of fat one eats affect blood pressure?

Unrefined, expeller-pressed vegetable oils such as flax, safflower, and walnut oils can lower blood pressure dramatically. The body hormones which control and lower blood pressure are called prostaglandins and are manufactured by our body from these healthy oils.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils like margarine and shortening should also be avoided, for they interfere with the health and blood benefits healthy oils like flax oil can give your body.

What effect does sugar consumption have on blood pressure?

Sugar can raise blood pressure. Sugar overstimulates the adrenal glands which are the glands which help control blood pressure. Sugar also raises blood levels of the hormone insulin which can further trigger a rise in blood pressure.. Sugar also accelerates calcium and magnesium excretion which would otherwise help control blood pressure. Sugar can also raise blood fat levels and interrupt the synthesis of valuable prostaglandin hormones necessary for blood pressure regulation.

What effect does fiber have on blood pressure?

Fiber lowers blood fat levels and slows the entry of dietary sugars into the blood. Fiber also helps prevent obesity by filling the stomach more quickly, and by giving the body the vitamins and minerals usually abundant in high-fiber foods. With all these benefits, missing fiber has been found to be a common underlying factor in many western diseases. Adding a wide range of fibers to the hypertensive's diet is an important aspect of managing this condition.

Does alcohol have an effect on blood pressure?

Even moderate amounts of alcohol can produce acute hypertension in some people due to over stimulation of the adrenals. Chronic alcohol consumption is one of the strongest predictors of blood pressure problems due to the nutrient-depleting and stressing effect this substance can have on the body.

Does smoking raise blood pressure?

Cigarette smoking's contribution to hypertension is well documented. This is again due to over stimulation of the adrenal glands. Smoking also depletes the body of Vitamin C, which lowers blood pressure. Smokers also have higher concentrations of lead and cadmium in their tissues, metals which raise blood pressure.

What effect does stress have on blood pressure?

Stress can cause high blood pressure in many instances. Relaxation techniques of all kinds have been found helpful in reducing blood pressure. This can vary from yoga and biofeedback to simply relaxing with deep breathing several times throughout the day. Find the mode of relaxation that works best for you and try to carry that sense of relaxation with you throughout the day.

How does exercise affect blood pressure?

Exercise is invaluable in lowering blood pressure, since it reduces stress, heavy metal load, aids in weight reduction and improves overall health. Hypertensives should be careful to consult with their physician before beginning an exercise program, for their systolic blood pressure could rise too high if they choose too vigorous an exercise program. Beginning with a walking program may be best.

What other nutrients affect blood pressure?

The Western diet high in refined foods does not supply many of the nutrients needed to maintain healthy blood pressure such as Vitamin C, Calcium, Potassium, Zinc, B-Complex vitamins, and other nutrients. One study found that if hypertensives were supplied with enough Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium in their diet, salt would not raise their blood pressure. A diet high in refined bread and oil products, and too high in non-essential saturated fats has a negative effect on blood pressure.

Does obesity increase the risk for high blood pressure?

Excess weight is a strong promoter of hypertension. Possible mechanisms include elevated cardiac output, increased body sodium due to increased insulin levels, and alterations in hormonal control of blood pressure. Weight reduction has been found to be a very effective method of lowering blood pressure. It should be thought of as the primary way to decrease hypertension in obese patients.

Is there any proof that coffee raises blood pressure?

Though inconclusive, there is evidence that caffeine raises blood pressure. Short-term studies consistently show temporary elevation of blood pressure when caffeine-rich foods like coffee are consumed.

Should I avoid salt if I have high blood pressure?

Many high blood pressure patients experience a significant reduction in blood pressure when they reduce their intake of salt and sodium. (Salt is composed of 40% sodium.) What may be of greater importance is their dietary ratio of potassium to sodium. Imbalance in the intake of these minerals is thought to be more of a problem than merely the intake of sodium alone. Excessive sodium consumption, coupled with diminished dietary potassium, causes an increase in fluid volume and an impairment in blood pressure regulating mechanisms. This can result in hypertension in susceptible individuals. To keep your potassium- sodium ratio in a healthy range, adopt the following strategies:

a) Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, not canned. The latter is usually laden with salt. b) Avoid processed and boxed food as much as possible. Choose baked potatoes and fresh whole grains over their processed counterparts to give your body the most nutrients possible.

c) Rinse tuna from the can under running water for three minutes. This will reduce its sodium content by 80 percent.

d) Eat organically grown or home grown produce whenever possible. Modern chemical farming methods in the U.S. have yielded fruits and vegetables that studies at Rutgers University have found to have higher sodium and less potassium than organic produce.

General Strategies to Help Control Hypertension

Eat plenty of foods which have demonstrated a blood pressure lowering effect such as garlic, onions, vegetables of all kinds, beans, walnuts, fresh sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and cold water fish such as sardines, mackerel, salmon, and albacore tuna. These fish have the valuable Omega-3 fatty acids that favorably influence blood pressure controlling prostaglandins.

Begin an exercise program that is approved by your physician . Walking, jogging, and other weight-bearing exercises are an excellent way to begin.

If you smoke or drink alcohol, try to quit or reduce these habits as much as possible. If your energy is low, start to exercise! If you drink regular coffee or tea, try to limit your consumption to one or two daily or switch to decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea if possible.

Improve your stress management techniques. Do you take time to relax each day? If you are an overachiever or are under a lot of pressure , give your body adequate rest each day. Overreacting with emotional outbursts can raise your blood pressure and further damage your system

Eat a diet rich in essential nutrients. Designs for Health nutrition programs aim to provide all essential nutrients. In order to do this vitamin supplementation is sometimes recommended. Some of the nutrients which nutritionally support hypertension are: Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, EPA found in fish oil capsules, Vitamin C, Coenzyme Q10 , Taurine and Carnitine. Garlic and celery are two foods which studies have shown to help lower blood pressure as well.
Supplemental Vitamin E should not be taken in doses over 50 IUs per day, as this nutrient may cause a temporary rise in blood pressure. Tyrosine and phenylalanine are two amino acids which should not be taken by hypertensives, as they also can cause a rise in blood pressure. Stimulant herbs such as ephedra and guarana should also be avoided.

Restrict sugar intake as much as possible. This includes table sugar, milk sugar, and sugar from sweet fruits. Artificial sweeteners may be used in place of regular sugar, except for Nutrasweet. Nutrasweet contains the amino acid phenylalanine which can raise blood sugar. Designs for Health nutritionists will be sure to show you how to control your blood sugar levels since high blood insulin levels can be a causative factor in hypertension. Chromium is a very useful nutrient in controlling blood sugar disorders

Lose weight if necessary. Your Designs for Health nutritionist will be sure to help you achieve your weight goal and help you meet your body's nutritional needs.

Have your doctor monitor your blood pressure regularly. Hopefully, as you lose weight and increase your intake of essential nutrients, your blood pressure will naturally come down, and you will live a long and healthy life with normal blood pressure throughout.

Contact Member:
Brother Bernard Seif, SMC, EdD, DNM
420 Frantz Road - Salesian Monastery (Not 414, which is an internet error)
Brodheadsville, PA 18322-7722
United States / e-mail: monk@epix.net
Designs for Health Institute - Issue 11