by Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN
Every doctor visit generally requires a blood pressure check. Normal blood pressure is 120/80, but what do those number needs and why do we always have to get it checked? Blood pressure is essentially a ratio of the systolic and diastolic pressures in the heart. Systolic pressure is the arterial pressure while the heart is contracting. Diastolic pressure is the arterial pressure while the heart is in relaxation and refilling with blood. When either of these numbers are too high, it means that the heart must work harder to pump blood. Blood pressure can be high because of stress, diet, plaque formation, weight, kidney disease, thyroid problems and genetics.
Another important number to pay attention to is your pulse pressure. The pulse pressure is the difference between the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure. If the pulse pressure is above 40, it indicates an increase in stiffness in the arterial wall. This lack of elasticity within the arteries can be the result of arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. Arteriosclerosis decreases blood flow, which can lead to increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Traditionally, when either the pulse pressure or blood pressure is elevated, a doctor will prescribe a common blood pressure medication. Common side effects of blood pressure medications include cough, altered gut function, dizziness, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, headache and nausea, along with nutrient depletion of B vitamins, magnesium, sodium, zinc, potassium and phosphorus.
However, from an integrative health approach, there are many natural ways to decrease blood pressure, therefore potentially decreasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. An integrative approach involves the incorporation of traditional Western medicine and natural medicine. With the aid of proper nutrition and natural, well-documented and researched herbal supplements, the numerical imbalances of heart health can be resolved.
Specifically, for high blood pressure, there are some well-researched natural therapies. These include olive bark extract to blocks the beta adrenergic activity, magnesium orotate as an electrolyte to aid the heart muscle, Coenzyme Q10 and activated vitamin B-6 as pyridoxal 5 phosphate. To help lower an increased pulse pressure, vitamin C at 2000mg (corn free) per day helps with the elasticity in the arteries. With any supplement suggestion or research, it is best to consult with someone trained in integrative medicine before beginning a regimen.
Another aspect to consider for heart health is a maintaining a well-balanced diet full of whole foods. A whole foods diet is based on plenty of fresh vegetables and limited commercial or prepackaged foods. Decreasing the amount of white sugar and adding more vegetables into your daily diet will improve your overall health. Some professionals also suggest salt-restricted diets as well. Also, drinking half of your body weight in ounces of clean spring water will also aid in improving your health. Some form of daily exercise is very beneficial, whether it be going to the gym or deciding to park farthest from the door at work or your favorite shopping plaza. Finally, for anyone dealing with high blood pressure, try to include deep breathing and de-stressing techniques in your daily life as well.
High blood pressure is something not to be ignored since it puts a direct strain on your heart. There is a reason it is called the “silent killer”—often a patient with heart disease may be asymptomatic. Be sure to seek medical care if there is a rise in blood pressure, whether it is from a traditional allopathic doctor or someone who is certified in integrative medicine. Get to know your numbers by checking them often at home in a safe, worry-free environment. If your numbers are elevated, change what you can to help take control of your heart health by living a healthy lifestyle and seeking the help of a trained professional.
Elizabeth McMillan, CNS, LDN, is an integrative nutritionist at the Rose Wellness Center, in Oakton, VA. She specializes in digestive health, hormone balance, sugar control and inflammation.