Otherwise known as the silent killer, high blood pressure is one of the most dangerous conditions that anyone can have. Although “HBP” doesn’t always have symptoms, it significantly increases your risk of various problems, including heart disease, stroke, and even kidney problems. High blood pressure contributes to many of the leading causes of death in Europe and the United States.
The bad news is that two in five adults in Ireland have high blood pressure today. The good news is that learning how to lower high blood pressure isn’t as complicated as it seems.
Read on to learn why blood pressure is so important to your health, what causes it to skyrocket, and how to reduce your blood pressure naturally, and quickly.
How do you get high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the medical measurement of the force that your blood exerts when pushing against vessel walls. The heart pumps your blood into these vessels, which carry crucial nutrients around the body. If you have high blood pressure (otherwise known as hypertension), this means that your heart needs to work harder, increasing your risk of various cardio-related conditions.
Although the exact causes of high blood pressure can vary from dietary to genetic and functional (e.g. reduced liver function), researchers believe that many things play an important role, including:
- Obesity or excess weight
- Reduced physical activity
- Excessive salt in the diet
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Chronic disease
- Older age
- Sleep apnea
For around 95% of the high blood pressure cases, there’s no obvious underlying cause. This means that the condition is defined as “essential hypertension”. The reasons behind essential hypertension are still under study, though experts believe that the condition is greatly affected by diet and lifestyle. When you work with Honest + Goodness Nutrition, we will go through each system in detail to evaluate what is happening in your body, and the systems we need to support in your nutrition and lifestyle program.
When a direct cause for high blood pressure is evident, it’s called “secondary hypertension”. The causes of secondary hypertension include:
- Abnormalities in the adrenal glands
- Hormonal imbalances
- The use of certain medications
- Genetic predisposition
Understanding HBP: What blood pressure numbers mean
To determine whether you need to reduce your blood pressure, you’ll first need to know how to measure it. Blood pressure readings track two things:
- The force that pushes on the walls of your blood vessels as they transport oxygen and blood. (Systolic)
- The force created when your heart rests between beats (Diastolic)
If you’re looking at a blood pressure reading of 120/80, the second number would be the diastolic blood pressure, and the first would be the systolic pressure. Blood pressure lower than 120/80 is often considered normal. However, if your number raises above 130/80, then it’s deemed to be high.
If your blood pressure is above normal, but under 180/30, then your doctor might diagnose you with “elevated blood pressure”. This indicates that you don’t have a problem yet, but you are at risk of developing hypertension.
Your blood pressure readings will depend on how much blood your heart needs to pump, and the level of resistance to the flow of blood within the arteries. If your arteries are narrow, your blood pressure will be higher. If either of the numbers on your reading grows too high, this indicates that your arteries and heart are facing increased pressure. The result could be anything from a stroke, to heart disease.
How do you get blood pressure down?
High blood pressure leads to a range of dangerous conditions, including atherosclerosis, congestive heart failure, and even heart attacks. In some cases, it may also prompt vision loss, memory loss, chest pain, and peripheral artery disease, among other problems.
The good news is that when you have elevated or high blood pressure, there are lifestyle changes that significantly reduce your risk. Often, you won’t even need medication.
For instance, you can:
1. Alter your diet
Changing what and how you eat can make a big difference.A study in 2010 found that dietary changes could reduce blood pressure by up to 4.5 mm HG diastolic, and up to 5.9 hg systolic. For example, research in 2012 found that that a reduced carbohydrate diet could support people in lowering their blood pressure levels. A low carbohydrate isn't suitable for everyone, and these types of dietary changes should not be undertaken without professional guidance.
When you have high blood pressure, you are encouraged to reduce salt intake. But remember salt is essential to the body so it is about getting the balance right. Balancing salt and potassium can ease the tension in blood vessels. Foods that are naturally high in potassium include like fish, fruits (apricots and bananas), and vegetables (potatoes and tomatoes).
If you struggle to change your diet significantly the heart healthy for life programme is designed to help you create a sustainable long-term nutrition plan for your lifestyle. In addition to food (we always take a food first approach) there are a number of nutritional supplements that are clinically proven to help lower blood pressure, such as:
- Magnesium (can be deplete if there is too little salt or too much stress!)
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated acids (found in oily fish and some seeds)
- L-Citrulline (also found in foods such as watermelon)
- Coenzyme Q10 (particularly if you are on cholesterol lowering medications)
- Hawthorn (prior to medication only)
2. Exercise more often
Exercise is a great way to lower high blood pressure. One study in 2013 discovered that adults participating in aerobic exercise reduced blood pressure by an average of 4.5% diastolic and 3.9% systolic. These results are on par with some medications for hypertension.
As you increase your breathing and heart rates with activity, the muscles in your heart get stronger, allowing them to pump with reduced effort. This lowers your blood pressure. Something as simple as doing housework or chores, walking for 30-40 minutes per day (does not have to be all at once) or going for the occasional bike ride can all get your blood pressure down. If this isn't possible for you, rebounding (using a small trampoline that is low to the ground) for 15-20 minutes per day can have the same effect and 'happy hormones' and relieve stress.
As I said above exercise also addresses another issue that can worsen blood pressure conditions: stress. Working out regularly will give your brain a boost of endorphins that you can use to tackle feelings of worry and anxiety. You could add in sessions of deep breathing (breatheology), meditation or yoga into your routine to address this specific problem. One review in 2013 on high blood pressure and yoga found a reduced blood pressure of around 4.17 mm hg systolic and 3.62 mm hg diastolic for those who practiced yoga.
3. Look at bad habits
If you’re wondering how to lower high blood pressure, there are other 'bad' habits that could be contributing to your condition too. Smoking causes an immediate increase in your blood pressure, as well as a slight increase in your heart rate. In the long-term, the chemicals in your cigarettes can increase blood pressure more consistently by harming the blood vessel walls and causing inflammation. This means that your arteries become narrower. Even reducing your exposure to second-hand smoke is helpful. If you are a smoker, then you already know this so I'm not going go on about this any further.
Alcohol and caffeine also raise your blood pressure even in otherwise healthy people. In one study, researchers found that alcohol increases blood pressure by up to 1mm Hg for every 10 grams you drink.
Caffeine from all sources not just coffee and tea, increases your blood pressure too. Some people are more sensitive to these effects than others and find it more difficult to process. If green tea makes you feel jittery or you get heart flutters from energy drinks this is a clear sign that your body doesn't process caffeine well. For others the signs might be more subtle e.g. difficulty falling asleep or switching off, increased irritability One study found that caffeine’s impact on blood pressure may be higher if your BP is already high.
4. Get the right amount of sleep
When asking how to lower high blood pressure, most people don’t think about their sleeping patterns, or how they affect their health. However, just like your diet, exercise, and even exposure to stress can make you more likely to experience hypertension, your sleep can cause issues too.
Your blood pressure will usually reduce while you’re sleeping, because your body doesn’t need to work as hard. If you struggle to sleep well, your blood pressure can increase. In fact, people who have sleep deprivation are more likely to have high blood pressure.
If you struggle to get the sleep that you need each night, consider methods like The Relaxation Technique, journalling or meditation to help you relax. Alternatively natural substances that can reduce stress like st. john's wort, chamomile or valerian. These can be taken as droplets, tinctures or teas.
Having a hot drink of tea e.g. Night Time Tea, Lavender, Chamomile, Valerian, Lemon Balm Tea before bed can help you to unwind, provided that there’s no caffeine or liquorice in the brew.
How To Control High Blood Pressure
Learning how to control high blood pressure is individual to your body and the reasons behind your blood pressure. Our heart health programme contains proven strategies work to reduce blood pressure.
We will go at your pace to when making changes to your diet, adding specialist supplements and lifestyle changes such as changing your exercise routine.
Together we will find ways to reduce stress in your life and help you get more sleep as these will also significantly improve your chances of reducing your blood pressure.