Recognizing and Managing Hypertension
Key Nutrients to Incorporate
Over 2,500 Americans every day die a cardiovascular related death (Bauman College slides, 2010). A major precursor to compromised cardiovascular (heart) health, is hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure. Hypertension affects 1 in 4-5 people in the United States, and is the #1 precursor to strokes. What hypertension actually means, is that the heart is having to work/pump harder to get blood circulating through the body due to narrowing of the vessels, and this eventually leads to a weakening of the heart (the biggest muscle in our body). Hypertension is defined as anything over 140/90. The top number is referred to as the systolic pressure, and is the maximum arterial pressure during contraction. The bottom number is the diastolic pressure, and refers to the time when the heart is in a period of relaxation/expansion (medicinenet.com). A normal blood pressure is considered to be 120/80 or less (not too much lower, we don’t want the systolic pressure below 100, because this can signal hypoadrenia/low adrenal function). There are many negative effects of hypertension, some key effects being the damaging of arteries over-time (leading to plaque build-up, aka atherosclerosis), ruptured vessels, aneurysms, strokes, heart enlarging from being overworked, congestive heart failure, and damaged capillaries in the kidneys and eyes (Bauman College, 2010). A major factor in Hypertension is that there typically can be very few warning signs, and is therefore nicknamed “the silent killer.” It is crucial to pay attention to warning signs such as: shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, dizziness, rapid pulse, and vision problems. The good news is that there are ways we can prevent and/or reverse hypertension through diet, lifestyle, and possible supplementation. Below I have listed several key nutrients to focus on (although there are many).
While focusing on eating all quality macronutrients is important (fat, protein, carbohydrates), protein is the building block of our cells. We need quality protein to keep our systems working properly and efficiently. According to an article released by the American Heart Association in 2005, a diet high in quality protein sources is linked to a decrease in blood pressure. A minimum protein requirement would be approximately 20 grams of protein per meal, although for hypertensive individuals, this should most likely be higher. Be sure your protein sources are coming from high quality, organic meats (beef, lamb, poultry, fish). Fish is an especially good source, as managing appropriate Omega 3:Omega 6 fatty acid ratios are essential in managing hypertension. This ratio is so important that if adequate fish intake is not possible (3-4 servings/wk), a quality cod liver oil supplement is highly recommended. For vegetarians, 1 tbsp. of flax oil/day has been shown to significantly lower high blood pressure (bauman college 2010). Vegetable sources of protein should include whole grains, legumes, and organic eggs.
Micronutrients: Potassium and Salt (Na:K ratio)
The Potassium:Salt ratio is critical in managing HBP (high blood pressure). Of course, all nutrient dense foods act as medicine and work wonders for combating HBP, but potassium is one of the most important. According to Joseph Pizzorno and Michael Murray, naturopathic physicians and authors of the "Textbook of Natural Medicine," the typical North American consumes too little potassium and too much sodium, in a ratio of 1 to 2. Studies suggest the optimal potassium-to-sodium ratio is at least 5 to 1 and perhaps as much as 100 to 1. Consume vegetables and fruits to increase intake of potassium. Fruits and vegetables are also rich in fiber and antioxidants. Foods high in potassium include all meats, dairy, and fish, avocados, fresh apricots, bananas, leafy greens, potatoes (with the skin), prunes, kiwis, canataloupes, winter squash, and more.
For those of you who have followed my blog, you know in what high esteem I hold garlic! It is, among many other things, a natural remedy for HBP. In a meta-analysis of seven randomized controlled trials of garlic supplements, three trials showed a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and four in diastolic blood pressure (altmedicine.com). So how does it work? Garlic dilates the muscles of blood vessels, therefore helping in lowering blood pressure. It achieves this through a compound called adenosine, which aids in vasodilation and is also a muscle relaxant. While both cooked and raw can be beneficial, garlic in its raw form is more potent. Garlic also interferes with the formation of blood clots and helps in reducing cholesterol.