According to recent statistics around one in three Australians are affected by hypertension. The unfortunate flip side of this is they are at risk of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease – all serious health conditions.
Identifying causes, including addressing emotional connections and keeping a watchful eye on what you eat, along with improving your lifestyle can keep your health moving to the right beat.
When something goes wrong in one part of your body, a ripple effect can create problems elsewhere. It’s not uncommon for a traumatic life changing event to trigger off a hypertensive response. Certainly, the majority of high blood pressure cases are caused by an underlying medical condition; however the emotional connection should never be overlooked.
Understanding your blood pressure is a great place to start when working towards improving it. Taking a holistic approach to is more strategic than simply adopting a ‘band aid approach’ to your signs and symptoms.
So let’s take a closer look at possible causes of hypertension.
On a physical level, influences can be:
Atherosclerosis: Fatty plaque build-up in your artery wall can damage its innermost layer. Causes of this damage come from elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, high blood pressure, tobacco smoke, diabetes and other causes.
Cholesterol: High levels of bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol mean you could be at risk of heart disease. Hormonal imbalances such as thyroid imbalance and menopause can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels – regardless of how good your diet is.
Obesity: Many medical studies have shown a relationship between obesity and high blood pressure.
Why is this? Firstly it changes your vascular system – fat houses extra blood vessels. So your cardiovascular system has to work harder to pump the blood further.
Obesity is often linked to high sugar concentrations in the blood as high levels of insulin are secreted. This is often a flow on effect from conditions such as diabetes and impaired glucose regulation.
Insulin, secreted by the pancreas, is responsible for:
- thickening of the blood vessels, increasing their rigidity, thus increasing the blood pressure;
- increasing cardiac output, because the secretion of adrenalin is increased;
- influencing fluid balance thus increasing the blood pressure;
- finally obesity is responsible for over-sensitiveness to sodium, which is known to increase the rigidity of the arteries.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): High blood pressure or hypertension is an underlying symptom of PCOS and a key risk factor in developing coronary heart disease (CHD), which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Adrenal imbalance: There are many factors that can interfere with adrenal hormones such as cortisol and aldosterone. For example corticosteroid medications, pituitary tumours or stress can cause the adrenal glands to produce too much of the hormone cortisol, consequently raising blood pressure.
Mental stress: There is plenty of evidence linking mental stress to high blood pressure.
Thyroid imbalance: This is one of the most misunderstood and poorly diagnosed medical conditions among women. Both a hypo and hyperactive thyroid can contribute to heart disease.
Sleep apnoea: Irregular breathing during sleep (often a result of obesity), causes oxygen deprivation. This may damage the cellular lining of the blood vessel walls, depriving them of the elasticity they need to regulate blood pressure.
Medications and supplements: Various prescription medications — from pain relievers to antidepressants – can cause or aggravate high blood pressure. Birth control pills, decongestants and certain herbal supplements, including ginseng and St. John’s wort, may have the same effect. Many illicit drugs also increase blood pressure.
Menopause: There is an association between menopause and hypertension, namely due to the decline in oestrogen levels.
Dietary changes and nutritional support can be helpful.
- Eat whole, fresh, unrefined, and unprocessed foods. Include fruits, vegetables, garlic, onion, whole grains, soy, beans, seeds, nuts, olive oil, and cold-water fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut, and mackerel).
Low sodium high potassium diet: Most people are aware that reducing sodium (salt) intake can help reduce blood pressure. However, that may not be the whole picture. Restricting sodium intake to lower blood pressure appears to work better if accompanied by increasing potassium intake. Keep in mind that reducing sodium intake involves more than not using a salt shaker, but also reading processed and prepared food labels for the sodium content.
- Avoid salt, sugar, dairy products, refined foods, fried foods, junk foods, and caffeine.
- Eliminate food additives such as MSG.
- Drink more water: Dehydration can contribute to elevated blood pressure.
- Supplements are intended to provide nutritional support. Because a supplement or a recommended dose may not be appropriate for all persons, a licensed naturopathic physician should be consulted before using any product.
Recommended doses follow:
- Calcium – Take 800-1500 mg daily.
- Vitamin C – Take 1000 mg daily.
- Coenzyme Q10 – Take 50 mg twice daily.
- Flaxseed meal – Grind 2–4 tablespoons daily. Flaxseed meal is a better choice due to its fibre, lignan, and vitamin content, but flaxseed oil (1 tbsp daily) can be substituted.
Herbal medicine is often used to treat hypertension; however best results are achieved when a ‘tonic’ is formulated specifically to your requirements. This way, the underlying causes can be addressed, leading to a more thorough treatment strategy. It is recommended that herbs be used only with a physician’s supervision.
Successful treatment of hypertension can be achieved through emotional, nutritional and lifestyle changes. Identifying the causes can sometimes be complicated, but with the right advice and an active approach, it can be controlled – ensuring you a healthier, longer life.
Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is a practising naturopath specialising in the research and development of natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances, which have contributed to such symptoms as weight gain, cravings, anxiety & mood swings. Reviewed by the Australian Naturopathic Practioners Association, Narelle was the recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award.
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