As blood circulates the body, it presses against the walls of the blood vessels putting varying degrees of pressure on them. We call it blood pressure, and our blood pressure is indicated in a pair of numbers: systolic and diastolic. When the heart pumps, pressure in the arteries temporarily increases, and we get the systolic number. This reading shows the blood pressure at its highest. When the heart relaxes between the beats pressure in the arteries temporarily decreases, and we get the diastolic number which shows us the pressure at its lowest.
According to the statistics, more than 60 million people in the United States affected by hypertension – high blood pressure (140/90 or higher). Since high blood pressure doesn’t have symptoms unless it’s advanced and already made damage to the body, many might just don’t know about the danger their body faces. One of the most important things someone can do – have the blood pressure checked during regular doctor visits.
The level of our blood pressure affects our health. People with normal blood pressure are at the lowest danger of developing heart disease and stroke problems. The higher your numbers go – the greater risk you are facing to develop cardiovascular and other diseases.
Understanding blood pressure measurements
Systolic blood pressure
Diastolic blood pressure
Less than 120
Less than 80
Stage 1 hypertension
Stage 2 hypertension
Blood pressure usually goes up and down during the day depending on your stress level or physical exertion. That’s why doctors usually take the average of several measurements to determine the average blood pressure. Sometimes, there is so called “white coat hypertension” takes place. It happens when somebody’s blood pressure rises up from the anxiety of being in the doctor’s office. In this case, doctors recommend checking your blood pressure at home while relaxed and unstressed.
Damage to the body that might be done by the hypertension:
- Heart damage. Since the heart has to work harder to pump the blood against higher than normal pressure, the muscular wall of the heart grows thicker, but unlike the muscles in your arms the thicker muscle in your heart doesn’t mean it’s stronger. On the contrary, it gets wicker after few years of high blood pressure which might lead to the heart failure.
- Atherosclerosis. High blood pressure damages the inner lining of the arteries making little cracks in it. These cracks are likely to build up with fat which can block the arteries after awhile, and interfere with the ability of the blood to carry oxygen and nutrients to the muscles they serve.
- Kidney damage. Arteries supplying different organs of the body narrow as the result of high blood pressure starving the organs of the oxygen and nutrients. When blood supply to the kidneys is reduced, the hormone rennin is produced which affects the body in a way that the arterioles clamp down farther which leads to even higher blood pressure.
- Stroke. Atherosclerosis which affects the arteries supplying brain might limit the blood flow to the brain and starve a part of it of the oxygen and nutrients it needs. High pressure also weakens the blood vessels and might rupture them in the brain causing a brain hemorrhage.
The majority of high blood pressure cases (95%) have no known explanation. Nevertheless, there are risk factors identified: cigarette smoking, obesity, stress, drug abuse, excessive use of stimulants like coffee and tea, high sodium intake. Primary high blood pressure may run in families, and also might be affected by a race. Black Afro-Americans are at the greater risk of developing high blood pressure than Hispanics. For some unknown reason women are at slightly greater risk than men are.
5% of high blood pressure sufferers have as called secondary high blood pressure which means their elevated numbers are the result of their underlying medical condition.
Diet plays a big role in preventing hypertension, as well as helping treating it without using drugs for people who didn’t developed Stages 1 and 2 hypertension:
- Limit your salt intake. Experts recommend not more than 2,400 mg of sodium each day for healthy people. For individuals with hypertension it’s better to exclude salt completely from their diet. Stop adding salt while preparing food, avoid salty foods and snacks. Check the labels carefully while buying food and look for the terms “sodium”, “soda”, “salt”, or the symbol “Na” on the label to find hidden salt. Avoid monosodium glutamate, baking soda, canned vegetables (unless they are sodium and salt free), commercially prepared food, diet soft drinks, meat tenderizers, softened water, soy souse, over-the-counter medications containing ibuprofen, any pickles.
- Eat more vegetables and fruits, such as apples, asparagus, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, cantaloupe, eggplant, prunes, raisins, squash, and sweet potatoes. Such diet contains lots of fiber, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, and all of them protect against high blood pressure.
- Eat high-fiber products and take supplemental fiber. Oat bran is very rich on fiber. Grains like brown rice, buckwheat, millet are a good choice.
- Drink fresh juices like beet, carrot, celery, currant, cranberry, citrus, parsley, spinach, watermelon.
- Avoid animal fat. This means cutting back on margarine, butter, as well as on meat products. Meat intake should be strongly restricted. If you can’t avoid meat choose only lean cuts (preferably skinless turkey and chicken), or white fish, and switch to low-fat cooking methods like broiling. Switch to low-fat dairies. Avoid processed meats.
- Eat potassium and magnesium reach food like apricots, figs, dates, bananas, grapefruits, kiwi, melon, raisins, pineapples, mango, baked potatoes with skin, broccoli, low-fat yogurt, baked beans. Potassium helps maintain the body’s balance of salt and fluids thus helping normalize blood pressure.
- Eat calcium-rich food. Some studies linked calcium deficiency to hypertension. Have two-three servings of low-fat milk products a day.
- Take enough of essential fatty acids to improve circulation of blood and to lower blood pressure. You can find them in flaxseed oil, black currant seed oil, olive oil, primrose oil.
- Limit your intake of alcohol and caffeine. There is some evidence showing that one alcoholic drink a day may reduce your blood pressure, but drinking more than two alcoholic beverages a day raises your chances to develop hypertension.
- Fasting from three to five days a month can be beneficial for high blood pressure. Fast on live juices diluting them with water (1 part of the water for 3 parts of the juice), distilled water (at least ten 8-ounce glasses a day) and up to 2 cups of herbal tea a day. The best juice is lemon juice (juice of 1 lemon to a cup of warm water). Green juices made from green leafy vegetables are great detoxifiers. To prepare for the fast eat only raw vegetables and fruits for two days. Follow the fast by two days of eating raw vegetables and fruits as well.
Other lifestyle changes can be recommended to people in order to prevent hypertension or help treat it:
- Loose weight. The bigger you are, the harder your heart has to work to supply all your body needs with blood. Being even slightly overweight is a contributing factor to hypertension especially if you have an apple-shaped body carrying extra pounds around your waist line. Loosing extra pounds has a great effect on the blood pressure even if you didn’t reach your best weight.
- Exercise. Aerobic exercise (jogging, biking, brisk walking) from three to five times a day for 30 minutes can reduce the blood pressure. There is a theory that aerobic exercise widens arterioles in the body reducing their resistance to a blood flow. Don’t overstretch yourself, especially in hot and humid weather.
- Sleep well.
- As much as possible avoid stress.
- Certain colors may be beneficial for high blood pressure some research says. Blue, green, and violet tend to relax the body and thus lower blood pressure, while red and yellow might rise it up. Music can reduce the stress also.
- Check your blood pressure with the doctor. If you have stages 1 or 2 of hypertension you need to take medications to lower your blood pressure along with the diet and lifestyle changes.