Hypertension may already be stealing minutes from your life. What is it, and what can you do to reverse it?
By Larry Trivieri, Jr.
Is your blood pressure too high? If you are like many Americans, you may not know the answer to this question—but finding out could save your life.
If not detected and treated in time, high blood pressure (hypertension) can cause heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, and kidney failure. It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that high blood pressure has quickly become one of the leading contributing factors of premature death—though maybe it should.
According to the American Heart Association, approximately one-third of all American adults have high blood pressure, even including those in their early 20s. Between 1996 and 2006 alone, the number of deaths from high blood pressure in the US increased by 19.5 percent. This is because over 20 percent of those with high blood pressure don’t realize they have it, while more than 30 percent of people who are aware of their condition do not seek professional treatment.
Fortunately, high blood pressure is an easily detectable and very controllable condition that can often be completely reversed. The key lies in knowing and addressing its various causes.
Causes of High Blood Pressure
Chronic high blood pressure can be caused by a variety of factors, the most common of which are poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, oxidative stress, environmental pollutants, and unhealthy lifestyle factors, such as smoking, lack of exercise or regular physical activity, and excessive intake of alcohol, coffee, or other caffeine-rich drinks. People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, as do those subjected to chronic stress and emotional upsets.
The standard diet of the Western industrial world may also be to blame. Research dating back to the 1980s shows that chronic high blood pressure is virtually nonexistent among indigenous cultures in Asia, Africa, and South America, even among the elderly. But when people from these cultures adopt a Western-style diet, incidences of elevated blood pressure quickly rise.
The main dietary culprits at work here include an excessive intake of animal fats and salt, along with a daily high caloric intake, unhealthy food additives, and a lack of vital nutrients. And according to Garry F. Gordon, MD, DO, medical director of the Gordon Research Institute in Payson, Arizona, undiagnosed food sensitivities can also be to blame.
The nutritional deficiencies that result from a poor diet are also major contributing factors to the rise of free radicals in the body, which in turn lead to free-radical damage, or oxidative stress. In 2010, a study conducted by researchers at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research conclusively demonstrated that oxidative stress is directly linked to the increased production of the hormone angiotensin—the on- going production of which can lead to dangerously elevated blood-pressure levels.
Oxidative stress can also be caused by environmental pollution. Research has shown that even low concentrations of various environmental toxins can significantly increase the risk of high blood pressure. “Environmental pollution today is inescapable, which is why it is so important that doctors help their patients minimize the effects of their exposure to these toxins,” Dr. Gordon says. “I never fail to find elevated levels of lead, cadmium, and other heavy metals in my patients with hypertension. Unfortunately, too many doctors today still do not screen their patients for such toxins, or they don’t know how to help them reduce their overall toxic load.”
Drugs Alone Are Not The Answer
in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), this explains why 69 percent of patients who use such medications do not have their blood pressure under control. To combat this problem, an increasing number of physicians are now taking a much more comprehensive approach to helping their patients deal with this widespread scourge.
One of these physicians is Richard O’Brien, DO, an integrative physician in upstate New York. “When evaluating patients presenting with hypertension, I attempt to understand the patient in terms of all the potential contributing factors they may be dealing with,” Dr. O’Brien says. “This includes their organ health, psycho-social health, lifestyle habits, their understanding of related medical issues, their motivation, any chemical dependencies they might have, and their socio-economic ability to comply with my medical recommendations. Unfortunately many of the problems people are suffering with, which contribute to hypertension, also create and maintain other serious medical conditions. If I can assist patients with these problems on the way to treating the hypertension, the patients will receive a many-fold health benefit.”
As part of his initial consultation, Dr. O’Brien evaluates high blood pressure patients using the following checklist:
ANXIETY/DEPRESSION—Obtain a good history and create a plan to resolve or significantly improve this condition, which can include counseling, lifestyle change, helping patients be- come proactive, and appropriate medications, if necessary.
SLEEPING PROBLEMS—Identify the contributing factors (poor scheduling, poor habits, lack of exercise, environmental disturbances, anxiety, etc.) and make a plan/set some goals to implement positive changes.
CHEMICAL FACTORS—Identify potential culprits (caffeine, tobacco, illegal and certain legal drugs, etc.) and work to diminish the intake of these substances.
LIFESTYLE MODIFICATIONS—As needed.
With so many potential causes, it’s easy to understand why medications alone so often fail to effectively manage blood pressure. Simply put, blood-pressure medicine cannot ad- dress all of these factors, and according to a survey published “I try to work with each patient to optimize the correcting of these contributing factors, then test for organic factors, such as kidney function, plaque buildup in arteries, and environmental toxins,” Dr. O’Brien adds. “Finally, should it be necessary to recommend anti-hypertensive medications, I try to make those choices based upon not only their potential for effectiveness, but also upon the patient’s willingness to follow all of my recommendations, so the success of that medication treatment is greatly improved.”
When appropriate, Dr. O’Brien also employs osteopathic manipulation. To explain why, he references the Textbook of Medical Physiology by Arthur Guyton, an acclaimed guide used throughout our nation’s medical schools. As the book points out, “Experiments show when sympathetic nerves to the kidneys are stimulated continuously for several weeks, renal [kidney] retention of fluid occurs and causes chronically elevated arterial pressure as long as the sympathetic stimulation continues. Therefore, it is possible for nervous stimulation of the kidneys to cause chronic elevation of arterial pressure.”
Using various osteopathic techniques to adjust the areas of the spine that correspond to the kidneys (T12 through L2), Dr. O’Brien works to decrease stimulation of these sympathetic nerves, which, in turn, helps alleviate high blood pressure. “It is also important to note that emotional stress exaggerates the increase of this detrimental sympathetic tone,” Dr. O’Brien adds.
Detoxification is another important element of a comprehensive treatment plan for high blood pressure, which allows patients’ bodies to release stored heavy metals and other toxins. Dr. Gordon recommends physician-supervised treatments such as sauna therapy and both IV- and oral-chelation therapy to accomplish this. He also screens all of his blood pressure patients for food allergies and sensitivities.
“I have patients learn to measure their own blood pressure and then, for two weeks or more, I have them eat only foods that they are not sensitive to,” Dr. Gordon says. “In the vast majority of cases, this means refraining from eating wheat, corn, dairy, and other foods to which most people can develop sensitivities. This is almost as effective as fasting.” By taking a comprehensive approach to treating blood pres- sure, Dr. Gordon reports that he has successfully eliminated the need for blood pressure medications in over 95 percent of all his patients, going back more than a decade.
What You Can Do
As both Drs. Gordon and O’Brien point out, relying on your physician to address high blood pressure is not enough. To effectively prevent and reverse high blood pressure, they say, you need to take a proactive role in your health. Here are some essential keys that they recommend for doing so:
DIET Changing what you eat can be as effective in control- ling blood pressure as taking medications, as was shown in a study published in 1997 and conducted by researchers at
Johns Hopkins, Harvard, and Duke Universities in conjunction with the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health. This study showed that simply increasing their daily intake of fruits and vegetables enabled participants to show a drop in blood-pressure levels in as little as two weeks. Moving away from a conventional diet to one more in line with what is known as the “Mediterranean diet”—one rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry and a plentiful supply of olive oil—can help achieve even greater results. This diet is also rich in healthy fats, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory fatty ac- ids, and heart-healthy spices such as garlic and onions, both of which have been shown to protect against high blood pressure. Limiting caffeine intake is also recommended, as is drinking plenty of pure, filtered water throughout the day.
Dr. Gordon recommends regularly including dark, green leafy vegetables in your meals. In addition to the many other vitamins and minerals they provide, they are also a rich source of nitrite, a compound that has been shown to greatly increase blood flow and thus improve blood-pressure levels. Nitrite achieves this effect because it can easily be converted into nitric oxide, which has long been known to expand blood vessels and improve overall circulation, Dr. Gordon adds.
Dr. O’Brien points out that increasing your intake of calcium- and potassium-rich foods (also found in dark, leafy vegetables) can reduce blood pressure levels by an average of 8 to 14 points over time.
NUTRITIONAL AND HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS In addition to healthy eating, the wise use of supplements can also help improve blood-pressure levels. Nutrients that have been shown to provide benefit in this area include vitamins B3 (niacin) and B6 taken with a complete B-complex formula, magnesium, potassium, and omega-3 oils (from fish or flax- seed). Dr. Gordon reports that vitamin C taken in conjunction with garlic extract can also be helpful because of the way both supplements work synergistically with each other. Additionally, other useful herbs include hawthorn berries, ginseng, and valerian root. Maitake and reishi mushrooms have also been shown to have anti-hypertensive properties.
LIFESTYLE “Based on many studies conducted over the past ten years it has been shown that individuals can definitely re- duce their blood pressure by proactively engaging in lifestyle modifications,” Dr. O’Brien says. “Simply being physically active for 30 minutes a day can reduce blood pressure by an average of 4 to 9 points, for example, while weight reduction on the part of people who are obese can result in an average drop of 5 to 20 points for every 22 pounds lost.”
Other lifestyle activities that help prevent and reverse high blood pressure include not smoking and moderate alcohol consumption. “I recommend men limit themselves to no more than two drinks of beer or wine per day, and that women consume no more than half that amount,” Dr. O’Brien adds. “Taking care to manage your stress levels and regularly getting a good night’s sleep is also important.”
So what is it that these doctors want you to remember? In a nutshell, that it’s time to take control. High blood pres- sure may be a common condition, but there are plenty of measures you can take to prevent, reduce, and reverse its effects on your health and your life. “It’s not about choosing a recommended medication and calling it a day,” Dr. O’Brien emphasizes. “To achieve and maintain optimal blood pres- sure levels, it’s essential that people take an active role in their own health.”
About the Author
Larry Trivieri, Jr. has written about health and healing for more than 20 years. In addition to being the editor of Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, he is the author or co- author of more than a dozen health books and the founder of the online health-coaching program www.nopainhealthgains.com.