Cardiovascular Wellness Hypertension
By Dr. Haida Mohammad-McQuiston, ND
The term hypertension (high blood pressure) describes an elevated pressure of the blood in the arteries. This condition affects more than 50 million Americans and, according to many studies, contributes directly to more than 75% of all strokes and heart attacks. Hypertension is not limited to any sex or age group. While the disease affects more than half of all Americans over the age of 65, it is spreading rapidly among young adults as well.
As a result, it is rare a new client does not ask me about hyper- tension and the dangers of high blood pressure. Quite often their doctor’s recommendations worry them about the possible side effects of prescription medications, making them eager to learn about natural-beneficial ways to lower blood pressure.
Blood pressure is described using two numbers: systolic pressure — the pressure of blood exerted against the artery walls just as the heart has finished contracting/pumping, and diastolic pressure — the reduced pressure of the blood against the artery walls between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxed and filling with blood. According to the most recent classifications, optimal blood pressure should not exceed 119/79 mm Hg — a systolic reading of 119 millimeters of mercury over a diastolic read- ing of 79 millimeters of mercury.
Elevated blood pressure may eventually lead to an enlarged heart, a major factor in heart failure. Isolated systolic hypertension — where systolic pressure is high and diastolic pressure is normal— is the most common form of hypertension for men and women over the age of 50, and may also pose a threat for stroke events. In addition, it also is a strong predictor of heart attack and stroke in young adults as well.
Elevated differences between systolic and diastolic readings (“pulse pressure”) may be an indicator of stiffness and inflammation in the blood-vessel wall. Studies suggest that in people over 45, every 10mm Hg increase in pulse pressure beyond the optimum difference (40 mm) increases the risk of stroke by 11%, of cardiovascular disease by 10%, and overall mortality by 16%.
All forms and types of hypertension can often be treated effectively through diet modification, regular exercise, and the use of stress reduction techniques such as yoga and meditation. Diet supplementation, in the form of safe nutraceuticals, has proven to be highly beneficial as well.
The nutraceuticals most beneficial for hypertension include coenzyme Q10, magnesium, the herbs garlic and hawthorn, and the amino acids Taurine and relaxing L-Theanine. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10, present in the heart in large quantities, appears to modulate blood pressure by reducing resistance to blood flow and is also necessary for cellular energy protection. Research has found that supplementing a diet with 100mg of CoQ10 daily for 10 weeks helps lead to a significant decrease in blood pressure. In addition, certain prescription heart medicines have been shown to deplete a person’s CoQ10 levels, making supplemental intake of CoQ10 extremely important and making it a key factor in total heart health.
Magnesium has been used to reduce blood pressure for almost a century and is a very important mineral. Its role in forming adenosine triphosphate — ATP, the energy on which the body runs — suggests its relationship to blood pressure reduction. Research has shown adding a magnesium supplement to the diet not only increases serum levels of magnesium but also may help lower blood pressure, improve total cholesterol and the high-to-low density lipoprotein ratio. By contrast, lower serum levels of magnesium have been associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and future hypertension.
Studies have shown that Taurine, a sulfur-containing amino acid, has specific antihypertensive properties and is important for the maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular system. Taurine supplementation has been shown to significantly decrease levels of plasma epinephrine — a hormone that is activated during times of stress. Individuals with hypertension tend to have higher epinephrine than people with normal blood pressure readings. Research has also shown that Taurine relaxes blood vessels by enhancing the production of endorphins — chemicals released by the brain, resulting in lowered blood pressure.
70% of all high blood pressure problems are related to the body’s stress reactions. L-Theanine, a unique amino-acid commonly found in green tea, has been found to be highly beneficial in helping to reduce stress and resultant hypertension. Specifically, this supplement reduces stress levels by helping to regulate the catecholaminergic and seratonergic neurons in the brain and the peripheral nervous system.
Many herbs are very useful in normalizing elevated blood pressure. Hawthorn berries were used by the ancient Greeks and remain one of the best know tonic ingredients for the heart and blood circulation. Hawthorn is thought to improve coronary artery blood flow and circulation to the extremities by lowering resistance in the peripheral blood vessels. Its flowers, leaves and berries all possess this same ability to help dilate the arteries, which may improve blood supply to the tissues and, as a result, it may contribute to gradually help lower blood pressure.
Garlic’s use as a medicine — specifically as a remedy for hyper- tension, is documented in an Egyptian papyrus dating from 1550 B.C.E. Its sulfur constituent, allium, may aid in reducing diastolic pressure and provides nutritional support for cardiovascular health. Other herbs such as turmeric (an herb helpful with inflammation) and bromelain (an enzyme found in pineapples) are very beneficial and may help those with inflammation in the arterial walls.
While the use of natural supplements is a highly beneficial aid to alleviating the effects of poor cardiovascular health, it is equally important that they “supplement” certain key lifestyle choices. These include no smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, reduced stress, a healthful diet and a regime of regular exercise.