According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 75 million Americans, or 29 percent of adults, have high blood pressure or hypertension. In addition, nearly one of three adults has prehypertension. High blood pressure costs the United States $46 billion each year.
Hypertension occurs when blood vessels are constricted, narrowing the space which blood travels through. In addition, fluid may be retained, which increases blood volume in the vessels. Although hypertension typically has no symptoms, uncontrolled hypertension puts stress on the heart muscles and increases risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease.
Americans take an excessive amount of medication to control their blood pressure, and many different types of prescription medications are available. According to Kaiser Health News, in 2013 the most frequently prescribed medication was Lisinopril, used to treat hypertension. This drug was prescribed or refilled 37 million times, by more than 7 million Medicare beneficiaries, at a cost of $307 million.
In many cases, medication is appropriate and essential, but none of the prescriptions used address the underlying cause of elevated blood pressure. In the case of prehypertension or mild to moderate hypertension (which includes approximately 80 percent of cases), diet and lifestyle improvements may be sufficiently effective to lower blood pressure. Regardless of whether a patient is medicated or not, it makes sense to investigate the cause of the elevated blood pressure. Every medication comes with some degree of risk and relatively little is known about medication interactions, so it is ideal to limit prescription medication whenever possible. By identifying and modifying individual risk factors, patients may be able to avoid medication, or at least decrease their dose or number of blood pressure medications. In addition, the bonus is that hypertension risk management typically has the added benefit of lowering risk for additional disease.
Several factors have been proven to contribute to hypertension, including genetics, cigarette smoking, stress, and poor nutritional choices. Exercise and self-care are extremely important in lowering blood pressure. A simple experiment shows the benefits of relaxation. If you have access to a blood pressure cuff, measure your level. Take ten slow, deep breaths and then take your pressure again. In almost all cases, blood pressure will immediately decrease.
High elevation may also play a part in hypertension. Many, if not most patients who have hypertension, have increased blood pressure at high altitude. There is some preliminary research supporting the use of oxygen for lowering blood pressure. Blood is meant to deliver oxygen to the tissues and oxygen concentration in the air at 9,000 feet is lower than at sea level. If there is less oxygen in the air, the body may increase the pressure of blood in order to force more oxygen to the cells.
In terms of nutrition, the primary focus has been placed on weight loss and sodium reduction. Although these factors are important, nutritional improvements should exceed these simple suggestions. Hydration, including alcohol and caffeine reduction, is also extremely important, and may be the single most influential factor for some people with blood pressure elevations. In addition, a plant-based, anti-inflammatory diet with a variety of clean protein is important. Unfortunately, there is no one diet that works for everyone, so individual nutritional counseling may be necessary.
In addition, there are a wide variety of traditionally used herbs and nutrients, and a growing number of research based supplements that have shown to lower blood pressure.
Regardless of how patients choose to address their hypertension, it is important to work with a skilled doctor who can help monitor blood pressure, cardiovascular health, and other health factors contributing to longevity and wellness.
For more information on naturopathic medicine in Summit County, contact the Mountain-River Naturopathic Clinic.
(970) 668-1300 or MountainRiverClinic.com