How to Lower High Blood Pressure Naturally High blood pressure (BP) is one of the top risk factors for heart disease and stroke. It has been linked with 50% of coronary artery disease, 75% of strokes and kills over 110,000 people in England every year. It’s an essential part of every health check and while doctors know that exercise combined with a low GL, Mediterranean style diet rich in fruit and vegetables can bring it down, the general view is that such a regime is hard to stick to, so if your level is up, the chances are you will be offered drugs. Drugs will bring it down by an average of 5.5mmHG diastolic but at a cost. They all come with a fairly nasty number of side effects, which is why many people don’t stick to them either; these range from short term ones like fatigue, muscle weakness and depression to long term illness including heart disease and a pre-diabetic state with high levels of insulin and blood sugar. The drugs come in four main types and their mechanisms range from relaxing the muscles of the blood vessel walls to making you pee more. The latest trend is to market a combination of two different types in one, with the promise of even more effective lowering.
How your system works But if you want to get control of your blood pressure, it helps to have some idea of how the whole system works; that way it’s easier to decide on a treatment plan that’s going to work for you. Unlike the pipes in your domestic plumbing system, your blood vessels play an active role in speeding up or slowing down your blood circulation. Their muscular walls tense and relax all the time. When you’re frightened or exercising you need them to tense and narrow to pump more blood around the body, but then they should relax. When they stay tense for too long the result is hypertension.
It’s a complex, normally self-regulating system that is partly controlled by the ebb and flow of two pairs of minerals in and out of the cells lining the blood vessel walls. One of these pairs consists of sodium (salt) and potassium; sodium inside the cell pushes the pressure up, potassium inside brings it down. The other pair consists of calcium and magnesium – calcium raises while magnesium lowers. This explains why you’re advised to keep your salt intake down (more sodium raises BP) and why one of the types of drug is a calcium channel blocker (keeping calcium out lowers BP). But it also highlights the way that the two halves of the pairs are largely ignored by the conventional approach.
Getting good amounts of potassium and magnesium in your diet or via a supplement is a sensible starting point for any BP lowering regime. The downside of drugs Understanding the system also highlights the downside to some of the drug treatments, such as the diuretics which make you pee a lot. That in turn means there’s less liquid in your blood and so the pressure drops. This downside of this is that a lot of minerals and vitamins are washed out in the process, including potassium and magnesium – precisely the ones you need. There are now potassium sparing diuretics but, typically they put you at risk of a potassium overload! However, drinking enough water – six to eight glasses a day – helps lower blood pressure without the side-effects because a lack of water makes the sodium level inside cells go up, which raises blood pressure. And there are other problems with diuretics.
One study of 1860 men followed over 17 years found that those treated with diuretics were more likely to have a heart attack (23%) than those who weren’t. Those who had a heart attack were more likely to have raised their glucose levels, putting them in a pre-diabetic state . This poor performance by diuretics - an old type of drug but still widely used – is unfortunate since according to one large study known as ALLHAT they are more effective than the newer drugs, which includes the calcium channel blockers and another type known as ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors, which counteracts the effect of angiotensin, a body chemical that contracts blood vessels .
Eat a low GL diet So given their side effects and the doubts about the effectiveness in the long term, the non-drug approach certainly seems to make sense as a starting point. It also offers you many more options. Besides making use of the mineral balancing system, you can go on a low glycaemic load (GL) diet which lowers BP remarkably effectively. We have many cases of people reporting their blood pressure normalizing since following a low GL diet. For example, the graph below shows what happened to Phil when he changed his diet to low GL, over a period of 5 months. His blood pressure went from an average of 175/90 to 115/65, which is perfect.
In addition this approach is very likely to bring other health benefits and it’s very unlikely to raise your risk of heart attack, unlike diuretics, or cause a nasty persistent dry cough as ACE inhibitors can. The diet favoured by ill-informed doctors and dieticians to lower BP is the “healthy balanced diet” which usually means a low fat/high carbohydrate diet.
All too often, though, this allows quite large amounts of sugar, either in fruit juice drinks or in supermarket low-fat meals. A high sugar diet creates compounds known as aldehydes in the body, which in turn can mess up various proteins that are necessary for calcium channels to work properly; one of the results of this is raised ......
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