High blood pressure
While your pulse is a measure of your heart health, your blood pressure tells you about the health of your arteries. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is often considered to be a ‘normal’ part of ageing, but just because something’s common, doesn’t mean it’s normal. High blood pressure makes you more susceptible to heart disease, strokes and kidney disease. Blood pressure of 150 over 100 or more is classified as high.
A normal reading is 120/80, but 140/90 or less is deemed as raised, but acceptable. There is no reason you shouldn’t have a blood pressure of 120/80 when you’re 80 if you take good care of your arteries. It’s important to remember that high blood pressure is a symptom of a problem, not the problem.
The problem is that your arteries are too constricted or ‘furred up’ to properly relax when your heart pumps the blood through. And narrower arteries make you age faster as you have a reduced oxygen supply to tissues, so the heart works harder, which raises your blood pressure even more, exposing arterial walls to damage, which triggers further hardening or furring up, and the problem gets worse still.
Think of your arteries as an amazingly complex system of garden hoses, coming off a single pump – your heart. Every time your heart beats, it’s sending oxygen and nutrient-rich blood gushing around your body via your arteries to nourish each of your trillions of cells. These gushes of blood, forced through the arteries with every heartbeat, exert pressure on the walls of your arteries, and this pressure can damage the delicate cells lining your arteries.
To reduce the pressure and ensure smooth blood flow, rather than in spurts, the arterial walls are flexible, and are surrounded by smooth muscle that is able to expand and contact in response to the pressure being exerted on the arterial walls by the pumped blood. Over time, many peoples’ arteries become gradually harder and narrower, a process called ‘arteriosclerosis’ (or sometimes ‘atherosclerosis’). Arteriosclerosis is a major recognized cause of dementia in the elderly (see Alzheimer’s).
The kidneys, liver and other organs suffer reduced blood flow too and so cannot perform effectively in de-toxing the body. Lumps of thickened matter in the artery wall called ‘plaques’ build up and reduce the diameter of the vessels that the blood flows through. We now know why this occurs, and it all starts with damage to the arterial wall. This can occur due to abrasion (from high blood pressure), viral or bacterial infection, or high homocysteine levels (a toxic amino acid formed as a by product of the metabolism of proteins), or free radical damage.
Once the damage is done, the body tries to repair the area, causing scar tissue and this is made worse by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL – ‘bad cholesterol’), that can pass into the walls of the artery where it is oxidised by free radicals into dangerous rancid forms. This in turn is gobbled up by macrophages (part of your immune system), which become engorged ‘foam cells’.
The whole area attracts more and more oxidised cholesterol, more immune responses, more inflammation, and inevitably the arteries grow stiffer and narrower. So now we can understand why LDL cholesterol is bad for us and why levels of unoxidised cholesterol never was the real problem. Total cholesterol, so often touted as the cause of heart and arterial disease, is less a risk marker than high homocysteine levels.
Homocysteine, now thought to be one of the key agents involved in damaging the arterial walls, is a damaging compound produced in the body that’s normally recycled or broken down by vitamins B6, B12 and folic acid, nutrients often deficient in overly refined foods.
A University of Washington study showed that high homocysteine levels doubled the risk of arterial disease in young women and B vitamins help reduce homocysteine levels (see Helpful Hints below to find out how to get these levels tested). Another key cause of raised blood pressure is a lack of the mineral magnesium. Remember those muscles around the arteries that enable the walls to contract and relax?
Magnesium is needed for muscles to relax after they’ve contracted (muscle cramps or eye ticks are a symptom of magnesium deficiency) and research has shown that arteries are considerably narrower in those who are deficient in magnesium. In Japan, paramedics inject magnesium directly into the heart of heart attack victims to relax the muscle and the blocked arteries supplying it. Many heart attacks and strokes are now thought to be due to arterial spasms blocking blood supply to the heart or brain, rather than a clot.
Stress and excessive exercise are known to deplete magnesium that may be deficient in your diet already if you don’t eat enough dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains and seeds. This may explain why fit, apparently healthy people sometimes die suddenly of a heart attack or stroke. A dangerous side effect of arteriosclerosis is an increased tendency toward (and greater dangers from) blood clotting.
Turbulence in the blood caused by rough areas in the normally very smooth arterial walls can increase clotting. Also the plaques can break off and travel along the artery until they get stuck in a narrower blood vessel, commonly known as ‘thrombosis’. If these clots reach an area sufficiently narrowed by arterial plaques, they can block the vessel completely and starve the tissues ‘down stream’ of blood, oxygen and nutrients. If this happens in the vessels supplying the heart or brain, a heart attack or stroke can occur.
But there is plenty you can do to help yourself. 85% of all cases of high blood pressure can be treated without drugs if the person is willing to change their lifestyle and diet. For example in societies where salt is virtually absent, hypertension is equally absent. Too much caffeine, alcohol and smoking when combined with high blood pressure greatly increases your chances of suffering heart disease or stroke. Stress is a major factor in high blood pressure, because adrenaline is released into the blood stream and increases your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. In short, your arteries are literally a lifeline to a longer life. So if longevity’s your goal, you need to look after your arteries – from today onwards.
Foods To Avoid
Salt. There is a clear link between the use of sodium based salt and high blood pressure because sodium causes more water to be retained by your kidneys, so keep the sodium level in your diet low. More water means more blood volume, and therefore higher blood pressure. There are plenty of magnesium and potassium based salts, such as Solo Salt, available from health shops. Use sparingly on the food that’s on your plate.
Reduce stimulants. Blood pressure has been shown to drop as much as 20 points when all caffeine is eliminated, because caffeine causes arteries to constrict. Some decaffeinated drinks contain formaldehyde, so look for decaffeinated drinks and coffee that has been decaffeinated using the more natural water method.
Sugar is also a problem as sugar coverts into fat in the body if not used up during exercise and be aware that many low fat foods are high in sugar. Always check the labels.
Replace refined grains, for example white bread, pasta and rice, with whole grains such as brown rice, breads and pastas, to increase your intake of the B vitamins: B6, B12 and folic acid, which are involved in breaking down homocysteine.
If you have eliminated all of the above and still have a tendency towards high blood pressure, it might be worth consulting a nutritionist who can check for food intolerances, particularly if you are a migraine sufferer.
Green vegetables, fresh fruit, unprocessed and unsalted nuts, seafood, soya, roast potatoes, butterbeans, currants, dried figs, apricots, almonds, black treacle and sunflower seeds are all rich in minerals such as magnesium and potassium.
Try Solo instead of table salt, which is potassium and not sodium-based. Potassium can help lower blood pressure because it balances sodium. Two bananas a day (rich in potassium) have been shown to help lower blood pressure.
Another useful salt is organic Herb Seasoning Salt by Bioforce. Made from organic sea salt, dried celery, leeks, cress, parsley, kelp, garlic and basil. Sold globally in health stores and supermarkets.<*>www.bioforce.co.uk,n<*>.
If you are not a fan of eating fresh fruit and vegetables, at least drink a couple of glasses of freshly made fruit or vegetable juices, you miss out on the fibre but still get much of the nutrient content.
Try switching to a more vegetarian based diet as the more fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils you eat, the greater your potassium intake and, generally speaking, the lower your sodium intake. And vegetarians tend to have much lower blood pressure.
Eat more garlic, onions, broccoli (which are antioxidant, anti-viral and anti-bacterial) and celery (which is diuretic).
Use unrefined organic virgin olive, walnut, pumpkin, flax or sunflower oils for your salad dressings and eat oily fish 3 times a week (see under Fats For Anti-Ageing).
As high levels of toxic metals such as lead can contribute to high blood pressure, buy a good quality water filter. The fibre in apples (pectin) and seaweed (alginates) helps to detoxify metals from the body.
Natural source vitamin E helps to thin blood naturally, therefore eat more soya beans, wheat germ, alfalfa sprouts, dark green vegetables, Hazel nuts, almonds and avocados.
If you are taking blood pressure medication tell your doctor about any supplements you are taking, as in time your prescription drugs may be able to be reduced, and these supplements help to lower blood pressure naturally and you don’t want your blood pressure to go too low.
Take 500mg of magnesium with 500mg of calcium daily. Both of these minerals have been shown to lower blood pressure.
Essential fats thin the blood (to protect you from clots) and reduce inflammation (in your arterial walls). Take a 1gram fish oil daily or 1gram of linseed oil, both omega-3 fats .
Take garlic 900mg a day. When used long-term garlic can help gently lower blood pressure and thin the blood.
Hawthorne, either as tincture or as tablets, is a gentle way of bringing blood pressure back down to normal. 1-3mls of tincture or 1-2grams of the tablets.
Begin taking 100iu of natural source, full spectrum vitamin E and gradually increase to 500iu a day. Vitamin E thins the blood, protecting you from clotting, and is also a powerful antioxidant that protects fats (such as cholesterol) from free radical damage.
Include a high strength multi-vitamin/mineral in your programme, as the B vitamins help to support your nerves, controlling muscle contraction and improving your tolerance to stress.
If your homocysteine level is high, take an extra 10-50mg of vitamin B6, 400 mcg of folic acid plus 10mg of B12.
High blood pressure can occur in pregnancy – which needs medical attention.
Toxic metals in the body are also linked to high blood pressure. So if you have tried all the dietary guidelines, have levels checked.
Cigarettes, plus the chemicals in cigarette smoke, damage your arteries and make the blood more likely to clot, raising your risk of developing heart disease.
Reduce stress. Try to find a method of relaxation that you enjoy whether it’s meditation, T’ai Chi, yoga, exercising, walking or swimming.
Have a regular aromatherapy massage using relaxing essential oils such as rosewood, ylang ylang, clary, sage and marjoram.
Get a pet. Researchers from the State University of New York have shown how having a pet can protect against the effects of stress better than drugs designed to lower blood pressure.
Exercise is vital for reducing blood pressure. With your doctor’s permission start walking briskly for 30 minutes daily. People who are overweight and don’t get much exercise are much more likely to suffer high blood pressure.
Have a nutrition consultant conduct a hair mineral analysis for you. This inexpensive test (around £40-50) determines your level of calcium, magnesium and other important minerals, identifies any raised heavy metals in your system, plus gives you an indication of your glucose tolerance, adrenal and thyroid functions. For further information call Sarah Stelling of ARL (UK) on 01313 127454, or write to ARL (UK), 44 Park Crescent, Edinburgh EH4 7RP.
Have your doctor obtain an ordinary cardiac risk blood profile. This will check your total cholesterol, HDL (good cholesterol), LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. There is no doubt statistically that raised triglycerides put you in the high-risk category, though this does not mean triglycerides are necessarily to blame. If you’re prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs get a second opinion. Cholesterol is made in the body naturally, and as explained above, oxidised cholesterol is the problem. So increase your intake of antioxidants and eat more fibre, to support you body’s own method of reducing cholesterol (via the bowels).
Additionally, have your homocysteine levels checked. As I explained above, it is a far better indicator of risk than cholesterol levels. It’s not tested routinely and you will need to ask for the test. It should be below 8; above 10 is poor; above 12 is definitely dangerous. But the good news is that homocysteine can be brought down by supplementing just 3 vitamins: B6, B12 and folic acid. If yours is high, you need higher levels of these vitamins than you can get in your diet alone (see useful remedies above). Also see the HOMOCYSTEINE help sheet under H in this section.
There is now an easy test to discover your plasma homocysteine levels. Made by York Laboratories and backed by The British Cardiac Patients Association – it’s a simple pin prick method that can be done by post. For details call York Labs on 0800 074 6185 or log on to: <*>www.yorktest.com,n<*>.
If you need to check for food intolerances, see either a kinesiologist or take a more scientifically accepted blood test from York Test Laboratories, call 01904 410410.
Many men who suffer arteriosclerosis have low levels of testosterone.
Patrick Holford’s Say No to Heart Disease is an excellent book explaining the causes of arterial damage and what you can do to prevent or correct high blood pressure. £5.99, Piatkus.