High blood pressure-also known as hypertension or “the silent killer”-affects 1 in 3 adult Americans, or roughly 67 million people, and that number only continues to grow. 90-95% of cases are known as primary hypertension, which is hypertension with no underlying medical cause. The small left-over percentage is caused by conditions such as kidney disease. But what is this mysterious silent killer?
Blood and its circulation are vital to sustain life. They supply crucial nutrients and oxygen to all the cells and organs in our body. They also remove waste and carbon dioxide. When the heart beats it creates pressure that pushes blood through your arteries and veins. This pressure, if you haven’t guessed, is our blood pressure. Two forces pump the blood through our bodies, the first being created by the heart pumping blood out into the arteries, and the second occurs when the heart rests between beats and blood is drawn back into the muscle. When your blood pressure rises, damage can occur that upsets this system.
If you have hypertension, your heart has to work extra hard to pump blood through the body. And while healthy arteries are made of semi-flexible muscle, the force of high blood pressure will lead to overstretching their walls. This overstretching can lead to tiny tears in blood vessels (known as vascular scarring) that leaves tissue that catch things such as cholesterol/plaque, and other blood cells. Building off of the latter, this leads to an increased risk of blood clots. The walls will also become weakened over time. Tissue damage from being oxygen depleted occurs in parts of the arteries on the other side of a blockage or build-up of plaque, depriving it of fresh oxygenated blood, and heart attacks and strokes are the result if the pressure becomes too high.
Before starting drug therapy, try lifestyle changes and some home remedies for high blood pressure. Not surprisingly, things such as diet and exercise play a big role in lowering blood pressure, so always keep those two things at the forefront of your mind. Medications can be harsh, and while best avoided if possible, if you are on them, know that natural remedies can interfere with their functioning.
Salt is not the problem when it comes to high blood pressure, per say, but rather its chemical component sodium. A little bit is fine, but too much sodium disrupts the balance of fluid in the body. To “flush” the excess salt from your system, water is drawn from surrounding tissues. The higher volume of liquid results in the heart working harder to pump the blood-hence, high blood pressure. Sure we use a lot of table salt on our foods, but still, that amount isn’t enough to account for the rise in blood pressure. Actually, only 6% of our salt consumption comes from the table shaker. The vast amounts of salt we consume daily (on average 1-2 generous teaspoons) couldn’t possibly be caused by the salt we sprinkle on our food alone. No you have to dig a little bit more to get to the source-processed foods. Such an extraordinary quantity of excess salt is added into processed foods it’s easy to stray over the healthy limit of sodium intake. A specific example-a single microwave “roast turkey” meal can have salt in the meat, the flavoring, the gravy, the stuffing, and the potatoes, to equal a whopping 5,400 milligrams of sodium. The utmost maximum daily limited is listed at 2,300 milligrams-even less for African Americans, men, and anyone over the age of 51. If you fall into one of those categories, you should only consume less than ½ teaspoon a day. Even foods that are labeled low-fat or low in sugar can still contain a boatload of sodium. Food companies do this to, logically, increase the value of their products. We get hooked on the flavor. Of all the flavors (sweet, sour, etc.,) it is the hardest to live without. How do you fight it to lower your blood pressure?
You will need…
-the power of will
In short, slowly add less and less to your cooking. And of course, read the labels on the food you buy carefully. Remember the number 2,300 for daily intake of sodium-any higher than that, and it’s a no-go. You’ll find yourself turning to home cooked meals, where you can control the amount of salt added, instead of processed foods. Stick with it, and you will find if you go back to an excess amount of salt after adjusting your taste buds to less, you will be close to repulsed at the flavor.
Intensive research has shown that the more salt you eat, the more you need. If you eat less salt, you only need to add less to your food or have less in your food, to be satisfied with a smaller amount. We are not born liking salt. A baby will get joy from a droplet of sugar water, but there is no taste, no craving, for salt until 6 months of age. When studied children were fed salty foods, versus children who ate more fruits and vegetables, a craving was created in the former group where none existed before. These cravings can shape you’re eating habits for years. Soups, chips, crackers, pizza, sauces, fries, etc. etc., it’s easy for even the young generations to get hooked on salt at an early age. Keep your wits about you!
2. Sip Some Hibiscus
Cultures across the world have used hibiscus to naturally manage blood pressure, but it wasn’t until the past decade that studies were actually conducted that showed there was more to the remedy than just folklore. First, hibiscus acts as a diuretic, which draws sodium from the bloodstream, thus decreasing the pressure on the arterial walls. Even more interesting is how it can mimic angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. ACE inhibitors are a common group of pharmaceutical drugs used to treat high blood pressure. They work by hampering the angiotensin-converting enzyme, which plays a crucial role in the renin-angiotensin system- a hormone system that regulates blood pressure and fluid balance. As a result of this inhibition, blood vessels relax and blood volume is lowered, decreasing blood pressure. While certainly not as potent as those ACE drugs prescribed, it can still be surprisingly effective.
You will need…
-1-2 teaspoon of dried hibiscus
-1 cup of fresh, piping hot water
-Honey, lemon, or 1-2 cinnamon sticks (optional)
Bring water to a boil and add the hibiscus and cinnamon sticks (if using them) and allow it to steep for 5 minutes. Add honey or lemon to taste, and drink 2-3 times daily. This also makes a lovely iced tea for those sticky hot summer days.
3. Drink Coconut Water
Coconut water is found inside the shell of green, unripe coconuts that retains its natural benefits in organic and raw form. It contains potassium and magnesium, both of which relate to regular muscle function, and of course, the heart is a big giant muscle. While there have been some limited studies on the effect of coconut water on hypertension, many people report anecdotally that it has helped lower blood pressure. In studies, it seemed to particularly affect systolic blood pressure, or the force that takes place when the heart pumps blood away from it. If you don’t have a problem with coconut water, it may prove to be a solid remedy for you.
You will need…
-8 ounces of fresh, organic coconut water
Drink 8 ounces 1-2 times daily. Morning is ideal if you drink it once a day, while morning and night works well if you opt to drink it twice a day.
4. Fabulous Fish Oil
Of course this is on here! You may roll your eyes because you’ve seen it everywhere, but fish oil and its bountiful omega-3 fatty acids are a beautiful thing when it comes to your heart. While studies have been wishy-washy on whether or not it actually reduces the risk of heart attacks or strokes, it has been viewed as successful when it comes to lowering blood pressure, while also reducing triglycerides and increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Heart transplant patients have been given fish oil to reduce the risk of hypertension following a transplant.
You will need…
-High quality fish oil
I prefer liquid fish oil taken in orange juice to the pills which can have some…unpleasant side effects. Take the amount appropriate for you as indicated on the back of the bottle.
5. Heart Healthy Hawthorn
Hawthorn is a staple herb when it comes to heart health as it is rich in flavonoids, namely, oligomeric procyandins (OPC’s) and quercetin. Flavonoids are touted as having many benefits, but one of the most intensely studied conditions that it affects is various forms of heart disease. This includes arrhythmia, palpitations, improve the function of capillaries, regulate glucose metabolism and, of course, reduce arterial blood pressure and the risk of hypertension. There are several different mechanical actions that flavonoids can take on the blood, but pertaining to hypertension the most important may be the widening of the blood vessels, which ultimately reduces the pressure of the blood. You can enjoy hawthorn in the form of a tea or in the form of “balls”, which is what is given below. The recipe also calls for cinnamon and ginger, which are great for helping circulation flow smoothly. It was the herbalist Rosemary Gladstar who taught me how to make these wonderful herbal balls, and while I’ve tweaked the recipe some, I’ll forever be grateful to her for tuning me into this wonderful way of enjoying herbal medicine!
You will need…
-4 tablespoons of powdered hawthorn berry
-1/2-1 tablespoons of cinnamon powder
-Cocoa or carob powder
Place the cinnamon and hawthorn powder in a bowl and mix the two together. Add just enough honey and water to make a paste. Thicken the mixture with cocoa powder or carob powder until it has formed a dough that you can cleanly roll into small balls no bigger than your index fingernail. Place them on a cookie sheet and dry in an oven at a very low temperature (not more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit) until dry. Store indefinitely in a glass jar out of direct sunlight and in a cool place.
Along with diet, exercise should really be number one on this list. Nothing can replace what exercise does for the body, and in a society where we are becoming increasingly sedentary, it can take a bit more effort to get out and get moving-but it’s worth it, especially if you have high blood pressure. The heart is a muscle, and it will grow stronger with exercise. It becomes easier to pump blood and takes less effort, keeping your heart in better condition and lowering how much force it exerts on your arteries, thus lowering blood pressure. Exercise is, in many cases, all that you need to get your blood pressure back on track. The top number in a blood pressure reading indicates systolic blood pressure, which is created by the heart pumping blood away from it. Exercise can lower this reading by an average of 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury (a unit of pressure), which is easily as much as some prescription blood pressure medications. A pleasant side effect of exercise is weight loss, which also does your heart and arteries a great favor.
You will need…
Try and get in at 30 minutes of exercise a day. You don’t have to run marathon-even simple chores like scrubbing the floors are good. Anything that gets your heart rate up and increases your rate of respiration. Make this a habit. You only get the benefits of exercise as long as you exercise.
7. Go For Garlic
Garlic is one of those home remedy staples. It is rich in beneficial constituents that address a wide range of ailments, once of which happens to be hypertension. There is just one little catch though. Allicin, the organosulphur-sulfur containing- compound responsible for several of garlic’s health benefits, doesn’t fare as well in the human body when garlic is eaten raw. Allicin is relatively unstable, and is typically deactivated when it comes in contact with a substance with a pH lower than 3, such as our stomach acid. However, when taken in tablet form, there is a guaranteed allicin yield that ensures you get the proper amount to have solid results when it comes to lowering blood pressure. Be sure when getting the tablets that there is a release of allicin in a significant, standardized amount-in several studies involved with blood pressure, 1.8 milligrams per dose lowered blood pressure by 10% within 12 weeks.
You will need…
-Good quality garlic tablets
Take as directed on the back of the bottle.
8. Melon in the Morning
Every morning, be faithful to watermelon. Often times watermelon as viewed as a strictly summer fruit, one for seed spitting contests and barbecues, but it can also help lower blood pressure. An organic compound called citrulline, an a-amino acid, was first isolated in 1914 from watermelon. Once ingested, the body can convert citrulline to the amino acid L-arginine, which is a precursor to nitric oxide. To translate, citrulline-found in watermelon- is converted into arginine-essentially a chemical building block-which leads to the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide talks to various cells and systems in your body that regulates, among other things, how hard your blood gets pumped through your entire body-also known as vascular systematic resistance. It will widen blood vessels, which lowers vascular resistance, which ultimately lowers blood pressure. Imagine trying to pump a certain volume of liquid through a small opening versus a wider opening. The wider opening will allow it to flow smoothly and easily-it’s the same with blood cells!
You will need…
-1-2 cups of fresh water melon
Every morning eat your melon on an empty stomach. If you have a home blood pressure device, monitor yourself and observe the changes.
A study done in December of 2009 published in the Indian Journal of Biochemistry & Biophysics gave a group of participants 1 teaspoon of cardamom powder daily for several weeks. The results showed a significant reduction in blood pressure. While further research is needed to pinpoint exactly why it seems to help, it has still proven itself a useful home remedy for high blood pressure. Combined with ginger and cinnamon, both warming spices that improve circulation, you can make a lovely tea to help your heart get healthy. Interestingly enough, black tea seems to improve blood pressure in some instances. This is most likely due to the heavy concentration of flavonoid, however if you have blood pressure that leans towards the more severe side of the scale; the caffeine may do more harm than good. This is particularly delightful warm, spicy, tea to have on chilly winter days (and when we’re tempted from eating healthier thanks to the holidays!)
You will need…
-1/2 cup of water
-2-3 teaspoons of honey (or to taste)
-1 teaspoon of cardamom pods
-1/2 teaspoon ginger powder OR 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
-1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
-1 ½ tablespoons black tea or 1 teabag
-1/2 cup milk
-Mortar and pestle
Crush the cardamom pods to release the oil-there’s no need to grind them finely. In a saucepan combine all the ingredients except for the honey. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 6-9 minutes until you get a rich caramel brown color. Stir in honey and then strain into a mug and enjoy! Drink 1-2 times daily.
Cat’s Claw (Uncaria tomentosa) is a woody climbing vine found in South and Central America, with its most notable use being in the Amazon rainforest. It is named after the thorns on the plant which are hooked, much like cats claws. It has been used as a traditional remedy in its native habitat for a long time, but test tube studies finally revealed evidence for promising benefits, one amongst them being lowering blood pressure. It does so by dilating the blood vessels (known as vasodilation) and therefore lowering the pressure by allowing blood to flow through more readily. It can also act as a mild diuretic, getting rid of unneeded salt and water in the body, which can again reduce hypertension. The tannins and flavonoid are most likely the main constituents that account for the herbs healing actions.
Here it is made into a flavorful decoction that will give you all of its benefits. A decoction is essentially a tea, but is simmered for much longer as it is made from the woody, tough, fibrous parts of the plant such as roots or (in this case) bark. There are two things to keep in mind when searching for your herb-first, make sure its scientific name matches the one above (there are several other plants known as cats claw) and secondly, make sure it is from an ecologically sustainable Cats Claw should be avoided by women who are pregnant.
You will need…
-1-2 tablespoons of dried herb
-1 ½-2 cups of cold water
-Honey or lemon to taste
Place the herb and water in a small saucepan over low heat and bring to a slow simmer. Cover, and let it simmer for 40-45 minutes. Add more water (or less) depending on how concentrated you want the tea to be. Strain, add honey or lemon if desired, and drink once daily.
Syrups are, hands down, one of my most favorite ways of incorporating the benefits of herbs and spices into daily life. While the word “syrup” may make you think of something sickly sweet and heavy-the opposite of what you want for heart health-that isn’t the case here. The “syrup” that you see on grocery store shelves may not be the best, but made at home it is a wonderful (delicious) way to give yourself a natural boost. And if we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes choking down bitter tea makes it hard to stay on track with a remedy. Blueberries are rich in the flavonoid quercetin, the benefits of which are explained in remedy number 5, as it is also found in hawthorn. You can mix in elderberries for an extra heart healthy kick as well-surprise, surprise they’re good for more than just warding off the cold and flu!
You will need…
-8 tablespoons of dried blueberries OR 4 tablespoons each of dried blueberries and elderberries.
-4 cups of water
-1 cup of honey
-A pot, strainer, and glass jar with an airtight lid
Add the dried berries to the water and bring to a simmer over low heat. Continue to simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain the solids out, pressing on them to extract any extra juices, and pour the liquid back into the pot. Stir in the honey, warming the mixture just to ensure the two blend together thoroughly. Here there are two different paths you can take. For thicker syrup, heat the honey and berry juice over medium-high heat for 20 minutes. If you’d rather not cook the syrup, and are ok with one that is slightly thinner, skip this step. Once mixed, bottle and label and store in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 weeks. Take 1 tablespoon twice daily.
Understanding Blood Pressure Reading
When the nurse wraps the cuff around your upper arm and then announces two seemingly random numbers, what’s going on? Two forces pump the blood through our bodies, the first being created by the heart contracts and pumps blood out into the arteries, and the second occurs when the heart rests between beats and the heart muscle is refilling with blood. These two forces are known as systole and diastole respectively, and are the numbers you see on a blood pressure reading. The systolic pressure is the top number (or the first one read) and is the higher number, and the second number is diastolic, and is the lower number. So the next time you get your blood pressure read, remember the first number is referring the force of blood being pumped away, and the second number is the heart at rest refilling with blood. The systolic number should be less than 120, while the diastolic number should be less than 80. Anything higher and you enter pre-hypertension and hypertension.