Every time a Pakistani parent or elder tells you that you’re “giving them high blood pressure”, there’s a one in three chance that they’re actually correct and it’s not the melodrama talking.
According to a statement made by Margaret Chan, Director of the World Health Organisation, 18 per cent of adults, and 33 per cent of adults above 45 years old in Pakistan have hypertension. Unfortunately, only 50 per cent of those are diagnosed and half of those diagnosed are treated.
That means only 12.5 per cent of cases are adequately being controlled. We need to do what we can to fill the gaps.
Firstly, let’s talk about the definition of high blood pressure. From a measurement perspective, a blood pressure reading of 120/80 mmHG is considered normal, and a reading of 135/85 mmHG becomes cause for concern, as it is classified as borderline high blood pressure.
From a pathological perspective (i.e. what’s really happening inside your body), high blood pressure refers to the high pressure that is exerted against artery walls when the heart pumps blood around the body. This high pressure occurs when arteries become narrow or constricted, or when the blood volume increases.
Given the well known association of high blood pressure with salt intake and mental stress, it should be no surprise to most readers that high blood pressure is largely caused by lifestyle factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise and stress.
This is the key to reversing the condition.
If you’ve read my previous article on “Why we shouldn’t be popping pills long-term”, you’ll know that I’m an advocate of finding the root cause behind an issue, instead of solely relying on pills for treatment.
Pills will help you manage current symptoms, but it won’t prevent them from happening again in the future.
Let’s take a look at some of the main causes of high blood pressure and address each one with specific action items you can take starting today:
Excessive calorie consumption
• Aim for smaller portions at mealtimes, in particular when it comes to meat, bread and rice. A meat serving should be no more than the size of your palm (two for men), a grain or starch no more than a cupped hand (two for men), and replace the rest of the calories with vegetables.
• Studies have shown that weight loss leads to significant improvement and also reduces the number of prescription drugs a person needs to take.
High sodium-to-potassium ratio
• Potassium and sodium have an antagonistic relationship and are kept within careful balance to regulate the water and salt balance in our bodies. If one increases, the other is forced to decrease. For example, if you have too much sodium, doctors will often prescribe a therapeutic dose of potassium to cause cells to release sodium to be excreted through urine. Some easy ways to incorporate more potassium in the diet include eating more bananas, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, lentils, dates and coconut water!
• Eliminate table salt and when needed, swap it for sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. The former only has two minerals, sodium and chloride, whereas the latter has over 70 trace minerals that are essential for proper nerve and cardiovascular function. Excess sodium causes water retention and raises blood volume.
Diet low in fibre, calcium, magnesium and Vitamin C
• At every mealtime, ensure that half of your plate is full of vegetables.
• Darky leafy greens are an excellent source of these nutrients, in particular magnesium, as this is the central atom in chlorophyll (plant blood), similar to how iron is the central atom in human blood.
• Processed food (i.e. cookies, chips, crackers) is void of nutrients and fibre, and high in salt and sugar. Aim to swap this with more fresh fruit and vegetables, which has been shown to lower blood pressure.
High consumption of saturated vs. Omega 3 fats
• More than 60 double-blind studies have shown that fish oil supplements are effective in lowering blood pressure.
• Take 3000mg of combined EPA and DHA per day (typically equivalent to 1 Tbsp. of fish oil) to see a reduction of approximately 2 mmHG.
• Include more Omega 3 in your diet, include fish, walnuts, pecans, pine nuts, flax, and chia seeds.
• Take out 10-15 minutes per day where you focus on deep breathing (approximately six breaths per minute). Either do this at home or if you require an extra push, sign up for a yoga class.
• Studies have shown that shallow breathing leads to retention of sodium in the body, whereas deep, slow breathing improves oxygen saturation, exercise tolerance and blood pressure monitoring by the body’s pressure sensors.
Lack of exercise
• Research has shown that as little as 20 minutes of mild to moderate activity three times per week can lower blood pressure.
• Clinical trials involving patients with hypertension have established regular exercise as an effective treatment for high blood pressure.
Aside from the guidelines above, below are some specific natural remedies that have been clinically proven to lower blood pressure:
• Celery contains a compound called 3-n-butylphthalide, which has been proven to lower blood pressure. In animals, a small amount of this compound lowered blood pressure by 12-14 per cent, which is the equivalent of 4-6 stalks of celery. Celery lends itself really well as a base for juice and smoothies, so this amount would not be hard to incorporate!
• Eat a clove of garlic alongside each meal! Studies were conducted using dried garlic powder with 1.3 per cent alliin at 600-900mg (equivalent to 1.8-2.7g of fresh garlic per day), resulting in a drop of 11 mmHg in systolic blood pressure and 5 mmHg in diastolic blood pressure over a period of one to three months.
• Beet juice contains l-arginine which helps relax blood vessels. A recent study proved that consuming one cup of beet juice per day was comparable to the effect of medication on patients with high blood pressure, which is approximately 9/5 mmHG.
• Hibiscus tea has been proven to lower blood pressure through various studies. In one such study, drinking three servings of 240ml (three cups of hibiscus tea in total) per day lowered systolic blood pressure by 7.2 mmHG after six weeks.