Having our blood pressure checked (whether this is performed by a healthcare practitioner or you are monitoring your readings at home) is something most of us are familiar with. And we know that it is not great to suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure. Continuously high blood pressure puts stress on our blood vessels and can potentially cause damage to our vital organs such as our brain and kidneys, and it increases our risk of having a stroke. So it goes without saying that is a good idea to be aware of your unique blood pressure levels, as well as keeping an eye out for the symptoms of high blood pressure.
What is Normal - And What Is Not
High blood pressure can be a bit different to other health conditions in that it does not always appear with noticeable symptoms – you may feel fine, and be blissfully unaware that your pressure is high until you have a routine check. Symptoms, if you do experience them, can include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision or palpitations
You’ve probably noticed that when your blood pressure is being assessed, that your result consists of two numbers, one over the other. And here’s what they mean. The first, or top number is known as your ‘systolic’ blood pressure and this refers to the force with which your heart is pumping blood out in order for it to make its way around your entire body. The harder it is having to push, the higher your systolic level will be. The second, or bottom number is called your ‘diastolic’ blood pressure and this number reflects the pressure that remains in your blood vessels in between beats of your heart. The more flexible (and therefore healthy) your vessels are, the better able they are to spring back. Thus, the combination of these two numbers gives us both an idea about how hard your heart is having to work, and the kind of shape your blood vessels are in.
Normal pressure is between 115/75 and 129/84
High-Normal is between 130/85 and 139/89
High blood pressure is above 140/90
While it can be worrying to have a higher reading (particularly if it was unexpected!), keep in mind that your blood pressure can change according to what you have going on. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, have been exercising, or have recently enjoyed a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, your blood pressure result may not be entirely accurate. With this in mind, it is a good idea to take a few measurements over a period of time, when you are in a relaxed state, in order to get a proper feel for what is normal for you.
A False Sense of Security…
The trouble, as with many of the chronic health conditions that are around these days, is that our healthcare system treats hypertension as a disease in itself – yet this is not the best way of looking at things. High blood pressure is actually a signal that something is not quite right within the body, and a chance for us to pay attention before things get too serious. It is your body’s attempt to respond to a trigger such as inflammation, oxidative stress (excessive production of, or exposure to, damaging molecules), unhappy kidneys, imbalanced thyroid function or problems with blood sugar regulation. This essentially means that treatments to reduce blood pressure, while mostly effective at bringing levels down in the short term, are missing the mark and treating only the symptoms of the condition, not the cause – and this can mean that at the end of the day you really are not getting an accurate snapshot of the health of your blood vessels. Therefore, treating the underlying cause should ALWAYS be part of any blood pressure management.
The Right Foods For The Job
There are some beneficial changes you can make to feed your body the right kinds of foods for healthier blood pressure.
- Eat foods with a low glycaemic index (GI): Foods that are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, and that keep your blood sugar levels steady are best for helping protect the heart and blood vessels. Base your meals and snacks around fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, and lean protein such as chicken or fish. Too much salt can increase blood pressure, so it is a good idea to keep this to a minimum by using fresh herbs or spices for flavour, and avoiding packaged foods as much as possible.
- Include foods that support gut health. There is emerging evidence that the gut bacterial balance plays a role in how well our bodies are able to regulate our blood pressure.1 It makes good sense to ensure that your gut is functioning well and you are keeping your collection of gut bacteria (your microbiome) healthy with plenty of prebiotic foods. You’ll also get plenty of benefit for your overall health as well!
Natural Medicine Options
One of my favourite things about natural medicines are that they are not only very safe, but they also tend to have other beneficial effects on the body. Here are a few of my favourites when I’m working with patients who have high blood pressure:
- Magnesium is my go-to for many health issues, including blood pressure.2 Not only does it encourage the blood vessels to relax (so that they allow blood to flow through more easily), magnesium also helps the body deal with blood sugar in a healthier way (remember that blood sugar problems can be one of the contributing factors). Magnesium has the added bonus of helping you feel calmer and less stressed.
- B vitamins such as folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 are known to help reduce levels of homocysteine, a compound in the body that is linked to blood pressure issues and poor cardiovascular health.3, 4 B vitamins can be helpful for improving energy, so you get a bonus benefit.
- High-Strength fish oils are good for blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as being protective of the heart.5 They assist with controlling inflammation within the body and are also great support for low moods and depression.
Do YOU Need Help For Your Blood Pressure?
Taking a holistic approach to managing your blood pressure can be both invaluable and rewarding, and there are further options that I use in the clinic that I have not covered here. If you need help to improve your health and manage your blood pressure, it’s never too late!