High blood pressure (hypertension) can be hereditary, but more often than not it is driven by lifestyle factors. According to the American Heart Association; over 103 million people in our country are diagnosed at some level of hypertension. That is approximately half of the population of the United States of adults over 18 years old. The number is slightly higher for women than men.
Most people have discovered their condition through regular check-ups at their doctor as it is typically a silent health condition. According to a recent 2020 AHA Journals publication, global guidelines for hypertension are addressed in detail and indicate that hypertension is responsible for 10.4 million deaths per year globally.
Hypertension is not just for people who are overweight, although that can be a factor, it can happen to anyone and should be taken seriously. You have heard a nurse take your blood pressure and tell you the reading is something like 120 over 78. Ok, what do those two numbers mean? The top number is called systolic blood pressure (SBP), which measures the pressure placed on the artery walls with each beat of your heart. The higher the number, the greater the pressure. The bottom number is called diastolic blood pressure (DBP), which is pressure on the artery walls in the resting period between beats. Think of it as a bike tire, if you put too much air in the tire, it will wear out faster as the tread is more exposed to the surface of the road, not allowing the grooves in the tire to cushion the road to create more cushion on the road surface. The tire is also easier to penetrate or explode when stretched to its limit, just like an artery wall.
To describe the severity of hypertension, doctors use the following as guidelines:
- Normal – At or less than 120 over 80
- Prehypertensive – 120 to 130 over 80 to 90
- Hypertension; Stage 1 – 140 to 159 over 90 to 99
- Hypertension; Stage 2 – 160 over 100 or higher
- Essential hypertension – usually familial with no known cause
- Secondary hypertension – a condition linked to other disorders such as obesity, blockage of arteries, kidney disease, side effects of other medication, and tumors is on the shortlist.
After prolonged periods of high blood pressure pounding on artery walls, the body lays down cholesterol on the artery walls to protect those arteries from thinning and bursting. Now you see how someone can go from high blood pressure to hardening of the arteries. This is the beginning of cholesterol and calcium build up in the arteries of the heart. The body is doing what it can to protect the arteries from rupture, but as it protects from one situation another situation is eventually created; leading to heart disease.
This is called the pathophysiology—which refers to the progression of disease. One condition leads to another, and oftentimes that second condition starts simply to protect the body the only way it knows how. Our body, by nature, is designed to keep us in homeostasis, and in this situation of high blood pressure, laying down cholesterol to support the artery is the action taken.
The focus of this series is to understand that one of the conditions of Metabolic Syndrome alone is dangerous, but if the first sign is ignored, this opens the door for the other conditions such as strokes, T2D, liver disease, heart attack, and kidney disease, to name a few.
If you have been dealing with high blood pressure for a while, some of the suggestions below might not be new to you, but persistence pays off. It’s like investing money, if you keep up with the habit of saving and investing, the consistency pays off as compounding starts to happen and you earn money from your investment. In our bodies, compounding works too—and over time—permanent change can happen. Start before there is a further progression of the condition.
- Reducing hidden/added salt by avoiding salty condiments like soy sauce, ketchup, bottled salad dressings, and hot sauces. Our bodies do need sodium, so use a good quality sea salt for the necessary sodium and minerals. The hidden salts in processed foods and canned goods are more often the culprits over added salt in home-cooked meals. See the recipe page on Better Me at 5280 website.
- Avoid processed foods, fast food, and sugary foods/beverages. Add foods high in naturally occurring nitrates found in vegetables like leafy greens, beets, celery, spinach, cabbage, and leeks.
- Reduce or eliminate caffeine if it makes you jittery. Try herbal teas with health benefits like those found at In-Tea in downtown Littleton. I love the Turmeric Ginger, as it has calming and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help reduce inflammation. There are oodles of other teas to choose from.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol (sorry!). There is no healthy way to drink excess. Yes, a glass of wine can have beneficial properties for some people—but not the bottle used to reduce stress. If you smoke tobacco, make it a priority to quit. All hard stuff to change but start somewhere. Make a plan.
- If you have mid-section fat, work to reduce your weight. I know, so easy to say, right! I am here to help with this process to make permanent change. I promise, your future does not need to be full of flavorless food and boring salads, I can show you how.
- Season your food with herbs, ground cayenne, or crushed red pepper. Use flavorful herb blends, ginger, and turmeric, which help reduce inflammation that can help lower blood pressure. Turmeric is not just for Indian food. I put it in potato salad, in my protein shakes with pineapple and on scrambled eggs.
- MOVE! Daily walks, bike rides or simply keeping on your feet by cooking, mowing the lawn, and playing with the kids are great blood pressure lowering activities as well as help with weight reduction. Visit with your friend on the phone and walk on your treadmill at the same time. I have outdoor walking appointments with one friend while on the phone, you will be surprised how fast that hour long walk goes by. You don’t have to be all or nothing, especially if you already have a full schedule—but do something!
- Work to reduce your stress. You can come up with 1001 excuses why you can’t, believe me, I did until my doctor said I was dangerously close to a heart related event. That got my attention. If you end up with health issues, then you have to make change when you don’t feel good, so make a plan for stress reduction.
- Seek advice from your medical professional—you may need a prescription to lower your blood pressure to stay safe—but make lasting change while taking your physician’s advice and add in some of the above recommendations. Be smart, use doctors’ advice, then go educate yourself on your condition. Do the work, reap the rewards!
You might start with a bang and then slip a bit—that’s OK because you are human—just start again. You will find that each time you can go a little longer and enjoy the new habits you are forming, and you begin to feel better. As you feel better, you will be driven to do better. It takes determination and energy to make good choices in our world of abundance, over time it gets easier. You won’t want to go back to the way you used to eat and live.
I am passionate about helping people understand why their bodies are doing what they are doing. If you know WHY you can often affect change. If you don’t know why, you keep repeating the same behaviors that led to the disease or progression of disease. Stop the madness! Listen to your body, your doctor and work with a professional to support that treatment through improved nutrition and wellness. This isn’t hard, losing a loved one is hard. This is simply different than what you are used to. You just need to want it.
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