3 Simple Steps to a Healthy Blood Pressure
About one in three adults in the US has high blood pressure.
Why should you care?
Pull up a chair, because what I’m about to tell you could save your life.
High blood pressure—or, technically, hypertension—is one of those conditions that flies beneath the perceptual radar. You can easily be walking around with it and have no idea you have it. In fact, fully 1/3 of the roughly 68 million people who have high blood pressure are completely clueless about what’s going on in their arteries.
Sadly, for some people, the first “symptom” of high blood pressure is a heart attack.
High blood pressure is a major—repeat, major—risk factor for heart disease, but it’s also a major risk factor for congestive heart failure, stroke, and kidney disease. And it was listed as a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 347,000 Americans in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available.
So what exactly is high blood pressure, and, more importantly, what can we do about it?
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure readings are expressed as two numbers (separated by a slash) as in 120/80 (normal), or 160/100 (high!) That’s because blood pressure is highest when the heart beats, thrusting blood out into the arteries, and lowest when the heart relaxes. The upper number (systolic pressure) represents the “thrust”, the lower number (diastolic pressure) represents the “rest”.
When blood pressure increases the heart starts pumping blood with more force, pushing the blood vessels outward in response to the sheer power of it. Imagine a garden hose hooked up to a fully opened fire hydrant. The garden hose would look like it’s about to burst!
In response to this distending, the blood vessels build up more muscle wrapping around them (more layers of rubber on the garden hose) which now makes the vessels more rigid. This in turn requires even more pressure to get the blood through them, which means—not surprisingly—your blood pressure goes even higher.
If blood pressure is increased, the heart muscles pay the price. Since blood is being pumped out with more force, it slams back with more force as well. And the area that takes the brunt of this returning blood under high force is the left ventricle. The muscle there begins to enlarge—a condition known as left ventricle hypertrophy—and that sets the heart up for irregularities.
Just as the Pacific Ocean pounding against the rocks on the shore over and over again leads to little nicks in the rock, your blood pounding against the artery walls over time leads to little “nicks” or injuries in the arteries which in turn leads to inflammation and ultimately—if not corrected—heart disease.
What Makes Blood Pressure Go Up?
The answer to that question is a very long list, but here are some of the top causes:
- Caffeine. According to Mark Houston, MD, author of What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Hypertension, about 60 percent of the population has a genetic abnormality that slows the metabolism of caffeine in the liver, leading to an increased risk of elevated blood pressure.
- Stress. Need I say more? Stress hormones flood your body with hormones that increase your heart rate
- Low levels of vitamins C, D and E in the blood. These nutrients help reduce damage to the vascular walls through oxidation
- High levels of iron. While iron is a necessary mineral, it can build up in the system where it can cause all sorts of problems including fatigue, muscle weakness and pain.
- Low blood levels of magnesium. Magnesium relaxes the blood vessel walls making it easier for them to dilate (open), which in turn lowers blood pressure.
- Low blood levels of Coenzyme Q10. Low blood levels of CoQ10 have been consistently associated with high blood pressure in research studies.
- Smoking. The nicotine in tobacco decreases oxygen to the heart, damages the cells in the blood vessels and raises blood pressure
- Obesity. Additional fat in the body needs nutrients and oxygen which increases the workload of the heart, which now has to pump more blood to all that fat tissue. More blood pumped means higher pressure on the artery walls
- High intake of sodium. Though, surprisingly, the impact of this varies greatly from person to person, with “salt sensitive” folks being the most vulnerable.
“Elevated blood pressure is linked to problems in the arteries and kidneys, alterations in the way the body handles blood sugar and fats, changes in the structure and function of the heart, and much much more”, says Dr. Houston.
What to do, what to do?
How to Support Healthy Blood Pressure…
As with most things in health, the answer is threefold: Lifestyle, food, and supplements.
Lowering stress is at the top of the list of lifestyle changes. Books have been written about this, so I won’t try to tackle it here, but the executive summary is this: do some deep breathing. Meditate if you can. Take walks. Go outdoors. Play with an animal. Volunteer. Take some time for yourself. Take a bath. Relax. Make love. Anything that reduces stress is good. You know what works for you—just do it.
Food is an important part of the equation as well. The key nutrients to pay attention to are potassium and magnesium.
Potassium is found in abundance throughout the fruit and vegetable community. Swiss chard, for example, has a whopping 961 mg of potassium and 150 mg of magnesium per cup, while spinach offers 839 mg of potassium and 150 mg of magnesium. Bananas, dried apricots and avocados are also potassium heavyweights. And dark chocolate contains cocoa flavanols which have been associated with lower blood pressure in a number of studies.
Several supplements are important in helping to support healthy blood pressure.
We’ve sorted through the thousands of supplements that are available and are thrilled to recommend the cream of the crop to you below.
Magnesium is a “relaxer”. And that’s exactly what it does to the vascular walls. Constricted blood vessels force blood pressure to go higher, and damaged vessels—ironically—can’t dilate very well, creating a vicious cycle of damage. Magnesium helps the vascular walls to relax and dilate, which is essential for healthy blood pressure.
When magnesium is depleted the amount of calcium in your cells (intracellular calcium) rises. That’s not good. Calcification in the arteries is a huge risk factor for heart disease. Calcium in the bones and teeth—great. Calcium in the arteries—not so much.
Robert Atkins, MD referred to magnesium as a “natural calcium channel blocker”. And magnesium also inhibits the tendency of platelets in the blood to clump together which can eventually lead to clots.
Even though it’s great to eat lots of magnesium containing foods, reliable surveys indicate that at least 72% of Americans don’t get even the paltry amount in the recommended daily allowances.
So to support healthy magnesium levels, we recommend Designs for Health’s Magnesium Malate Chelate Capsules.
Chelation increases the availability of nutrients in the body. Chelated magnesium is more easily digested and processed. And chelated magnesium is better tolerated than non-bound magnesium salts. Designs for Health partnered with Albion, the world leader and innovator in mineral amino acid chelate nutrition, to produce this first-rate magnesium supplement. It consistently gets 5 star reviews from consumers.
CoQ10 has the ability to reduce blood pressure. A recent meta-analysis of CoQ10 in the treatment of high blood pressure reviewed 12 different clinical trials, and found that across the board, patients who received CoQ10 supplementation had significant reductions in blood pressure compared to control subjects who didn’t supplement. It’s no wonder at all that several studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between severity of heart disease and severity of CoQ10 deficiency.
CoQ10 is also a powerful antioxidant.
We recommend UBQH by Integrative Therapeutics, for two reasons.
- It provides CoQ10 in the ubiquinol form, the most active form of CoQ10, and the one thought to be best absorbed.
- It provides a meaningful dose of 100 mg per capsule.
Designs for Health’s HTN Complex
This elegant “combo” formula contains a smartly designed array of nutrients that each help support healthy blood pressure in overlapping ways.
- Vitamin B6
- Folates (as NatureFolate blend)
- Hawthorne Extract
- Lipoic Acid
- Pomegranate Extract
Some of the ingredients—like hawthorne and taurine—act as diuretics. Some—like pomegranate extract—have been shown to be associated with lower blood pressure possibly by acting as ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors. Two of the ingredients—B6 and folic acid—help reduce blood levels of a nasty inflammatory compound called homocysteine, (a reduction in homocysteine has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure).
And hawthorne, magnesium, potassium, taurine and the flavonoids from pomegranate extract all work together as vasodilators, meaning they help relax the blood vessels allowing them to open more.
All in all, this is a high quality “combination” product that should be considered as part of an overall supplement program for supporting healthy blood pressure.
Taken individually or together, these three supplements…
- Magnesium Malate Chelate Capsules by Designs for Health
- UBQH by Integrative Therapeutics
- HTN Complex by Designs for Health
…are an excellent way to support healthy blood pressure.
PDR for Nutritional Supplements, 2nd edition, pp152
F.L. Rosenfeldt et al., “Coenzyme Q10 in the Treatment of Hypertension: A Meta-Analysis of the Clinical Trials,” Abstract, Journal of Human Hypertension 21, no. 4 (2007): 297–306, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17287847.
Sheldon Hendler, PDR for Nutritional Supplements, 2nd ed. (Montvale, New Jersey: PDR Network, 2008), 152.