High blood pressure is one of the most common diagnoses in the developed world. Beginning to lower your blood pressure is a journey of proper diet and meditative exercise and relaxation.
To learn more about what causes high blood pressure and what you can do about it read on.
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is one health metric that tends to slowly increase with age, but it is also highly correlated with heart disease and stroke when it reaches hypertension -- high blood pressure.
Blood pressure can come in a few stages:
- Normal blood pressure is generally anything below 120/80 mm HG
- Elevated blood pressure (prehypertension) represents a blood pressure ranging between 120-129 mm HG systole and below 80 mm Hg diastole.
- Stage 1 represents a blood pressure ranging between 130-139 mm Hg systole and 80-89 mm Hg diastole.
- Stage 2 represents a blood pressure ranging 140+ mm Hg systole and 90+ mm Hg diastole
- Hypertensive Crisis is a blood pressure above 180/120 mm Hg. If this is your blood pressure call 911.
Blood pressure medication, such as beta-blockers or angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors can help reduce potential risks and maintain healthy blood pressure with mild side effects, if any. In fact, most studies on diuretics and other blood-pressure monitoring drugs suggest they can lower the risk of cardiovascular events among those with blood pressure levels between 140/90 and 159/99.
Metabolic and Cardiovascular Health
While there are often few or no symptoms associated, the long term contributor to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease is your diet.
When we eat food it is digested by our body and put into the bloodstream. Then signaling molecules, like insulin, are responsible for moving the nutrients out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
When the body begins not to respond to insulin then it has trouble putting the sugar into the cells. The sugar stays in the bloodstream much longer, which is what can lead to diabetes.
Diabetes and other forms of hyperinsulinemia can make your body very sugar saturated and full of oxidized fats. Lymphocytes, white blood cells, consume these oxidized fats to protect the body and become foam cells.
Foam cells will consume oxidized fats until they explode. When they explode then the body recruits more white blood cells to the site and begins to lay a layer of calcium over those fats to prevent them from reaching the rest of the body. This is called atherosclerosis, and it is the leading cause of heart attacks across the world.
Monitoring how much calcium has been deposited in your body can be judged through tests like blood pressure. Calcium deposits in the cardiovascular tissue such as heart valves and major arteries is one of the biggest drivers of chronic high blood pressure and heart disease.
If you have high blood pressure you should consider determining your CAC (coronary artery calcium) score to see if you are at risk of having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or other related incident in the coming years.
Insulin and Insulin Resistance
So why is diet so important for blood pressure and heart disease? It all comes down to insulin or more accurately insulin resistance.
Insulin has been nicknamed the master hormone by some, since it affects more signalling cascades than almost any other molecule in the body. It is produced by the beta-cells of the pancreas in response to food. It is released in greater volumes based on the molecular makeup of the food.
Insulin has a larger spike in response to the glycemic level of a food.
The larger the spike, the larger the impact they have on creating hormone imbalance and insulin resistance over time.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends reducing sodium intake with the use of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH). Maintaining healthy insulin levels requires reducing the amount of sugar the body has to process. In general, limit sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day or less.
The primary cause of metabolically driven diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure (hypertension) is by following a healthy DASH diet that is rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy.
You can also increase your potassium intake by including potassium-rich foods, such as:
- Fruits, such as bananas, apricots, melons, and avocados
- Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale
- Vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes
- Fatty fish, such as tuna and salmon
- Beans and lentils
- Nuts and seeds
- Dark chocolate and cocoa powder
Eating a low glycemic diet with proper levels of fats and proteins can greatly benefit your body’s natural metabolic mechanism, and get you on the right track to fighting hyperinsulinemia.
Remember, the glycemic load that your body takes on is what determines the amount of insulin that gets rushed into the bloodstream. The larger the load, the larger the spike. The more big spikes you have over your lifetime the more insulin resistance you develop.
You can also make healthy lifestyle changes by avoiding stress, quitting smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, avoiding sugar, high-sodium condiments, salt, and high processed foods like canned soup, pizza, and chips. Instead, opt for herbs and spices to add flavor to your meals. Living a healthy lifestyle can help you avoid, delay, and even reduce the need for blood pressure medications.
Stress and Hypertension
While magnesium deficiency is related, the second biggest contributor to high blood pressure is through emotional or physical stress. Usually in a healthy person, the effect this has on your blood pressure is acute, short term, and beneficial, but chronic stress can have negative health outcomes.
In response to either physical or emotional stress your sympathetic nervous system floods your bloodstream with a hormone made by your adrenal glands called cortisol.
Cortisol is responsible for your “fight-or-flight” response. It ramps up your heart rate, raises your blood pressure, and dilates your pupils, making you ready for action.
Cortisol is also the compound that the body uses to help you get up in the morning, which means that you may have a higher blood pressure reading in the morning.
Chronic stress can lead to your body never getting a break from cortisol, resulting in extra wear and tear on your body. One of the first places this wear and tear is in your blood vessels leading to serious health problems.
The “fight-or-flight” stress response is a natural mechanism that your body needs for otherwise dangerous situations, but without taking the time to relax your body can reach some dangerous long term consequences.
Reducing stress is a great way to reverse the effects of acute stress-induced hypertension. Here are a few great techniques:
Just thirty minutes of yoga a day can have a positive effect on your overall mood and blood pressure. Multiple studies have found that practicing yoga and other mind-body activities alleviates stress and decreases hypertension.
Get Quality Sleep
Getting a proper night’s sleep is very important to your overall health and wellbeing -- both physically and emotionally. According to one study, having poor sleep quality can be a major risk factor for hypertension.
Engage your social support
Venting and otherwise leveraging the people who care about you to resolve confrontational issues in your life can remove the stress creating stimuli altogether.
Engage the present moment
Savor your food and think about the interesting tastes and textures.
Get a massage or take a hot bath and let the stress be lifted away.
There are lots of different meditation techniques that you can follow but Tai Chi and Transcendental Meditation are two that are science backed for the reduction of high blood pressure. Tai Chi focuses on breathing and slow movements, while transcendental meditation is a focus of your being and meaning.
Spend Time in the Great Outdoors
A study published in Nature Scientific Reports found that people who spend at least thirty minutes in green spaces each week are less likely to have high blood pressure and depression.
Create a stress-free space
Keep your sleep space clean and free from work/school items! Nothing stresses the mind out like a dirty space.
Put a drop or two of the following oils on to diffuse and relax.
- Lavender: Calms anxiety and offers sedative effects.
- Chamomile: Calming, reducing stress.
- Bergamot: Lowers heart rate and blood pressure and helps with anxiety and stress.
- Clary Sage: A natural sedative that may reduce your cortisol levels.
- Valerian: Reduces anxiety, which can help you to fall asleep and stay asleep longer.
- Sandalwood: A sedative that aids in relaxation and calms anxiety.
- Ylang ylang: A sedative that can have calming effects to relieve anxiety.
- Jasmine: Helps restless sleeping, improving the quality of your sleep.
- Frankincense: Promotes relaxation to calm the body.
High blood pressure can be the result of chronic problems like stress and diet or more acute stimuli like the morning or short-term stressors. Beginning to lower your blood pressure is a journey of proper diet and meditative exercise and relaxation.
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