Hypertension: A Holistic Approach to Heart Health
Written by Elizabeth Miller and Lauren Houser, CRNP One in every three adults is affected by hypertension or high blood pressure in America. Only half of those diagnosed are considered well controlled. Hypertension is an important risk factor in the prevention of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. The good news is that an integrated approach that includes nutrition, exercise, supplements and mind body medicine is very effective at lowering blood pressure.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension is chronically high blood pressure. Physiologically, when your blood pressure is high the blood is putting an abnormally large amount of force on the arterial walls of the heart. Overtime this can cause weakness in the vessel, scarring and can increase the risk for blood clots. The most common type of hypertension develops slowly over years and can be impacted by your weight, diet, age, level of activity, stress, and alcohol and tobacco use.
How is hypertension diagnosed?
Hypertension is diagnosed by a healthcare provider taking your blood pressure with a blood pressure cuff two or three times at three or more separate appointments. The average blood pressure is 120/80 mm Hg. A hypertensive blood pressure is anywhere upwards of 140/90 mm Hg. The top number is known as the systolic blood pressure which is the blood pressure while your heart is contracted and full of blood. The diastolic number or the bottom number is the blood pressure while in between beats.
What is the integrative approach to hypertension?
While there are many medications to lower blood pressure, both conventional and integrative medicine agree that the first line treatment for hypertension should be lifestyle changes. Some changes are straightforward, if you are smoker quitting is imperative or if you drink more than two alcoholic beverages a day reducing your intake is important.
From an exercise perspective, moving more is key. The recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise like walking or biking can make an impact in your blood pressure reading. As we shared in a previous post, recent research even suggested that short intense exercise was helpful.
Nutrition can have a large impact on your blood pressure and heart heath. Diets like the Mediterranean diet which is abundant in fish, vegetables, fruit, good fats and whole grains has been proven to be beneficial at lowering your risk of heart disease. It is also recommended to decrease your sodium intake—best done by avoiding processed, canned and frozen foods. Foods like 70% or more dark chocolate and olive oil can be part of a heart healthy diet.
Managing stress and developing a consistent mind body practice is an essential tool in modulating blood pressure. Check out our previous posts for tips for starting a daily practice. Another overlooked contribution to heart health is the power of social connection, read more about this fascinating research here.
Supplements for Hypertension Supplements can also be used to help lower blood pressure. Magnesium glycinate is a natural relaxer in our body, helping to vasodilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure. CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant useful in preventing heart disease. We have all heard about the benefits of omega 3s or fish oil as both an anti-inflammatory and heart protective nutrient. Make sure yours is in triglyceride form for best absorption and contains at least 1-2 grams of the active ingredients DHA and EPA. To avoid the fishy aftertaste, try keeping it in the freezer! A lesser known vitamin associated with hypertension is Vitamin D; low levels have been associated with high blood pressure readings. This is likely due to Vitamin D’s regulation of hundreds of genes including the renin gene and thus the renin-angiotensin system that controls blood pressure. Most supplements can be taken in colloboration with hypertensive medications as well.