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Hypertension

Overview

Hypertension is more commonly known as high blood pressure. Hypertension is diagnosed when the average systolic blood pressure (the first number) is over 140, or the diastolic blood pressure (the second number) is over 90. Hypertension is a concern because it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, two of the three leading causes of death among Americans. Hypertension affects 25% of all American adults, and 50% of American adults over the age of 65.

 

What Hypertension Does:

To understand what hypertension does, it helps to understand what ‘blood pressure’ actually measures. Every time your heart beats, the blood in your veins exerts pressure on the walls of your blood vessels. Blood pressure measures the force of the blood pressing against the walls of the arteries. The more pressure being exerted on the walls, the higher the chance of damaging them. Damage to the walls of the arteries can result in many complications.

 

If hypertension isn’t treated, it may result in:

  • Stroke

  • Heart disease

  • Heart attacks

  • Blindness due to retinal disorders and damage

  • Sexual dysfunction in both men and women

  • Kidney disorders

  • Dementia

  • Congestive heart failure

  • Memory impairment

 

Symptoms of Hypertension:

Because hypertension is often asymptomatic, many people have high blood pressure without even realizing it. The most common symptom of hypertension is mild headache, which is easy to attribute to other causes. Very occasionally, severe hypertension may have the following symptoms

  • Severe headache

  • Nausea

  • Confusion

  • Seizure

  • Visual disturbances

 

What Causes Hypertension:

There are two kinds of hypertension – essential hypertension and secondary hypertension. About 95% of all diagnosed cases of hypertension are essential hypertension. The cause of essential hypertension is uncertain, but scientists believe that it may be linked to one or more of the following:

  • Heredity – having one or more close relatives with hypertension is a heightened risk factor for the condition

  • A deficiency of nitric oxide in the blood

  • Insulin resistance

  • Obesity

 

Secondary hypertension is high blood pressure caused by a known condition. These conditions include:

  • Stress

  • Chronic sleep disorders

  • Chronic use of alcohol (about 10% of all cases of secondary hypertension)

  • Smoking

  • Heavy coffee drinking (5 or more cups a day)

  • Side effects of some medications including birth control pills, pseudoephedrine, hormones and steroids

 

In addition, doctors have defined a number of risk factors for high blood pressure. If you have one or more of these risk factors, you should have your blood pressure checked often.

  • Family history of hypertension

  • High salt intake

  • Obesity

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Race – African Americans are more at risk for hypertension than other races

 

Treatments for Hypertension:

Prevention is one of the most effective means of controlling hypertension. Doctors recommend the following strategies to help prevent hypertension:

  • Maintain a healthy weight

Weight is one of the strongest risk factors associated with hypertension. Keeping your weight at a healthy level is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure.

  • Cut down on salt use

Salt is implicated in heightened risk of developing hypertension. A low-salt diet may help prevent the condition.

  • Exercise regularly

Besides the benefit of helping with weight control, exercise seems to help lower blood pressure all on its own. Multiple research studies show that regular aerobic activity helps lower blood pressure even when not accompanied by weight loss.

  • Limit your use of alcohol

  • Quit smoking

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidant vitamins and minerals that have been proven to lower blood pressure. There are also studies that show that people with diets that include lots of fruits and vegetables are less at risk for hypertension.

For years, doctors have prescribed drugs to help lower blood pressure. Recent research, however, suggests that there are diet and nutritional changes you can make – besides lowering salt intake – that can lower blood pressure as effectively as prescription medication.

 

  • Antioxidants

Because researchers believe that the antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are helpful in treating hypertension, doctors recommend increasing your intake of vitamins C, A and E to help lower high blood pressure.

  • Calcium

The DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) recommends eating a diet rich in antioxidants and low-fat dairy products. Their research pointed out that the effectiveness of a high-fruit and vegetable diet was increased when calcium rich low-fat dairy products were introduced.

  • Coenzyme Q10

Several small studies suggest that coenzyme Q10 may help lower blood pressure. In one study, 51% of the participants were able to completely discontinue using prescription medication to control hypertension after six months supplementation with CO Q10. CO Q10 also has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, which are associated with hypertension.

  • Omega 3 Fatty acids

An omega 3 Fatty acid, EPA, found in fatty cold water fish has shown promise in reducing blood pressure in patients diagnosed with hypertension. In one study that included 935 participants, omega 3 fish oil supplements not only lowered blood pressure, but had a significant effect on cholesterol levels.

  • L-arginine

Because hypertension has been associated with low levels of nitric acid, researchers have studied the effects of L-arginine, a precursor to nitric acid. In one study, L-arginine significantly lowered the blood pressure of both those who ate a diet enriched with natural L-arginine and those who were given L-arginine supplements.

  • Olive leaf extract

In at least two different studies, olive leaf extract has shown the potential to lower high blood pressure in patients with hypertension. There is evidence that it relaxes arterial walls, as well as lowering cholesterol, a main contributor to hypertension.

  • Hawthorne berries

Hawthorne berries and leaves are widely used in Europe to treat hypertension and heart related ailments. They’re on the German government’s approved herbs list as treatment for hypertension

  • Ginkgo Biloba

Among its many other benefits, ginkgo biloba dilates blood vessels, relieving hypertension. Studies are preliminary but promising.

 

 

Researchers all agree that the best prevention and treatment for hypertension is lifestyle. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables coupled with moderate exercise can often lower high blood pressure without any need for medication. Traditional herbal treatments are gaining popularity with more and more doctors as evidence mounts that the phytonutrients in plants have a profound effect on hypertension, and many doctors now recommend increasing your intake of omega 3 fatty acids – particularly the EPA found in fish like salmon and tuna.

 

 

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