I learned about high blood pressure, which is also called hypertension, at a surprisingly early age. My grandmother has had high blood pressure for as long as I can remember. I remember asking my parents about it at a young age, but I never really understood what it was. I grew up with two misconceptions.
First, I believed that high blood pressure didn’t seem that bad. Despite my parent’s concerns, it didn’t seem like my grandma’s blood pressure was affecting her much. She was thin, active, mentally sharp, and had a bubbly personality.
Second, I had the impression that you couldn’t really do anything to get rid of high blood pressure. I knew that grandma took medicine for it, but the medicine didn’t seem to do anything. If it was really working, why were my parents still discussing it?
As I grew up, I kept these (false) thoughts about hypertension with me. It just didn’t seem important. I’m sure my experience is not unique. Many of us still hold on to misconceptions about health stemming from misunderstandings and simply being misinformed. Today, let’s do our part to correct this.
The Truth about High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is known as the ‘silent killer’. It can cause damage to the body in many ways. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, aneurism, and kidney failure. If left uncontrolled, it can even cause blindness or heart failure. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that nearly 400,000 deaths are attributed to hypertension each year.
Worldwide, over thirty percent of adults have high blood pressure. The proportion of the population affected increases with age. This means older generations are affected particularly harshly. Once someone enters their 50s, they have about a 50% chance of having high blood pressure. Perhaps the saddest thing about this is that awareness is lacking. About half of the people who have high blood pressure don’t know that they have it. It truly is a silent killer.
That was the bad news, but don’t stop reading yet. There’s good news as well…great news actually. Hypertension is not only treatable, but it is preventable—and that’s not all. This can be accomplished through natural means. You don’t need to rely on drugs or expensive treatments; simple lifestyle changes can have substantial effects.
Here is a list of some things you can do:
Reduce your salt intake. Salt is the major source of sodium in our diets. (Remember, salt is called ‘sodium chloride’.) High sodium intakes are known to raise the blood pressure. By reducing your intake of salt, your blood pressure levels can start to drop after only a matter of days.
Right now, the average American is consuming about 3,400 mg of sodium per day. This is far more than we need. The CDC recommends that adults should consume no more than 2,300 mg a day. However, that recommendation drops to 1,500 if you are over the age of 50, are African American, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease (combined, these groups constitute 50% of the adults in the United States).
Reducing your salt intake is not as hard as most people think. In fact, I can give you one tip that, if followed, will drastically reduce your salt intake: stop eating processed foods. Processed foods, including a majority of meals served at restaurants, are sodium bombs—there is just no other way to describe it. A landmark study on the sources of sodium in the diet found that processed foods contributed to 77% of Americans’ daily sodium intake.
Avoiding processed foods is by far the most important thing you can do to lower your sodium intake. If you do eat something that’s processed, be sure to read the nutrition label carefully. Also, be aware that salt goes by many different names including: monosodium glutamate (MSG), disodium phosphate, baking soda, and a host of other names that begin with ‘sodium’ (e.g. sodium citrate).
Eat a balanced diet. One of the best things you could do to lower your blood pressure is eat a balanced diet, full of fresh fruits and vegetables. Besides lowering your salt intake, diets like this will keep your fat and cholesterol intakes low. Over time, fat (especially saturated fats and trans fats) and cholesterol will clog your arteries and raise your blood pressure.
Studies have shown that minerals such as potassium and magnesium help to lower blood pressure. What foods are high in potassium and magnesium? You guessed it; fruits and vegetables are great sources. In addition to this, eat whole grains instead of refined products. And you know what? Eating a handful of nuts every day will help too.
Be physically active. Exercise is an important factor in lowering blood pressure. You don’t need to sweat hours away at the gym or have impressive athletic ability. Simply go for a walk or light jog during your lunch break or after work. You’ll have time to contemplate your day or talk with family or friends. Incidentally, exercise (as well as diet) will help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, which is another factor in lowering blood pressure.
Also remember that even minor changes in our daily routines can have measurable results. Make choices that encourage you to move. Take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Choose a parking space that is far away from the store. (The walking won’t take you any longer than driving around looking for that perfect space anyway). Or simply walk over to a coworker instead of emailing them or shouting across the room.
Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco products are known to raise blood pressure in two ways. First, tobacco causes a temporary raise in blood pressure after using it. After a while, the blood pressure will drop again. However, because tobacco use is almost always habitual, it’s not likely to stay down for long. Secondly, tobacco also contains chemicals that damage the lining of your arteries. This damage can cause the arteries to narrow, which is another cause of high blood pressure. The CDC offers succinct advice to people seeking to ‘take control’ of their blood pressure: “If you smoke, quit as soon as possible.”
Alcohol is another substance that should be avoided. If you are seeking to lower your blood pressure, many health organizations, (including the WHO and the Mayo Clinic,) advise you to abstain from drinking. Over time, drinking too much has the potential to damage your heart (not to mention your liver). For women of any age, just one drink a day is enough to raise blood pressure levels. Besides this, alcohol has a high caloric content and can contribute to weight gain. As we mentioned earlier, this is another risk factor for high blood pressure.
Manage your stress. Have you ever been so stressed that you felt your head was going to explode? I recently fiddled around with my cell phone software and almost lost several years of data. Boy was that a high-stress experience. I can testify that I could really feel the pressure building up inside. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that high stress levels can raise the blood pressure quite dramatically. Although the increase is only temporary, for individuals who lead stressful lifestyles, this is cause for concern. Further complicating the problem is the fact than many people manage stress by comfort eating, smoking, or drinking. As discussed above, these things may only serve to raise the blood pressure even further.
This year, the World Health Organization is focusing on raising awareness about hypertension. What’s really cool is that they are advocating lifestyle changes, similar to those we detailed above. Why? Because pursuing a healthy lifestyle is the real solution to the problem (not only for high blood pressure, but for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer). Think about it, do we really want to put 1/3 of the world’s population on medication for their high blood pressure when it can be treated and prevented naturally? In addition, this is something that anyone can do regardless of nationality or socio-economic standing. Now, that’s great news!
If you’re looking for more information on reversing hypertension naturally, be sure to check out this excellent resource: Reversing Hypertension Naturally, with Dr. David DeRose.
 “CDC Data & Statistics | Feature: Americans Consume Too Much Sodium (Salt).”  “CDC – Salt Home – DHDSP.”  Mattes, R. D., and D. Donnelly. “Relative Contributions of Dietary Sodium Sources.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition 10, no. 4 (August 1, 1991): 383–393.  “CDC – High Blood Pressure Facts – DHDSP.”  Sheps, Sheldon G. “Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Your Blood Pressure?” Mayo Clinic.