What’s the best way to lower blood pressure?
Recently, one of our online supporters, Mike Curtis from www.TheAwkwardScrew.com, sent in a question regarding high blood pressure.
First, I want to thank Mike Curtis from The Awkward Screw podcast. He has an amazing show with a very interesting storyline. I do recommend you support his show and listen to some of his recent episodes.
In the United States alone, over 75 million people have high blood pressure. That represents about half of the adult population. This problem is becoming more and more common.
To understand high blood pressure, we need to start with the basics: What exactly is blood pressure? How can blood have pressure? Does the pressure stay constant?
When we talk about blood in the body, there are liquid parts and solid parts. The liquid parts are made up of plasma, which is mostly water. The solid parts are red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
We have to remember that liquids cannot be compressed and this is a physics law. Blood pressure is actually measuring the physics of the blood circulation in our own body.
When doctors measure blood pressure, they report 2 values called the systolic and diastolic pressures.
The systolic is the high blood pressure that you can measure because that’s when the heart is actively contracting and pushing out blood to the rest of the body.
The diastolic is the lowest blood pressure you can measure and that occurs in between heartbeats.
For example, if blood pressure is reported as 150/90, the systolic is the top number which is 150. The diastolic is the bottom number which is 90.
If we look at a car, the systolic is the tire pressure when you hit a pothole. It’s going to increase the pressure temporarily. The diastolic is the pressure of the tire when it’s parked in your driveway. There is still pressure there, but it’s lower than the systolic.
Every few years, there are new guidelines that come out for blood pressure management. These include identifying what number will be the cut off for high blood pressure, what medications are most effective, and any new research about diseases related to blood pressure problems.
The most recent blood pressure guidelines tell us that a number of 140/90 is considered hypertension or high blood pressure. Any number between 120-139 systolic is considered borderline high blood pressure. Any number that is less than 120 is considered normal.
We have to remember that blood pressure changes every second. From one minute to the next, you can have a dramatic change in the systolic or the diastolic blood pressure. The first step that people should do is actually check the blood pressure at different times throughout the day. Check your blood pressure at the pharmacy. Check your blood pressure at home with a simple monitor. Check it at work. Check it first thing in the morning. Check your blood pressure in the clinic. Keep a log on your iPhone or in a notebook and you’ll notice when your blood pressure is higher and when it’s normal.
Now that we know the definitions of high blood pressure from a medical standpoint, we can start to answer the question that Mike Curtis presented us.
Before anyone starts A blood pressure medicine, doctors always try to maximize lifestyle modifications because lifestyle modifications have no side effects.
Now it sounds like Mike is trying to avoid diet and exercise. Medically speaking, we still recommend exercise on a daily basis to help promote normal blood pressure. About 30 minutes a day of walking, running, or any type of cardiovascular exercise is perfect. This should not be too difficult to work into our normal routine for most adults, even if they have a busy schedule.
Diet is always tricky. The definition of a diet is a pattern of eating. When we counsel our patients about diets, we have to be very specific. We don’t tell people just go on a diet and your blood pressure will get normal again.
The first thing that I tell people is to look at the salt. The most common cause of high blood pressure due to dietary issues is sodium chloride. Sodium is an important part of the diet. It helps us maintain our normal homeostasis and metabolism. However, in the American diet, we get up to 10 times too much sodium on a daily basis.
Remember, there are liquid parts of blood, mostly water. When you eat sodium from a bag of potato chips or fried chicken, naturally you’re going to drink a large amount of water because you’ll be thirsty. That sodium and water combination raises your blood pressure almost immediately.
One easy method to improve blood pressure is to reduce sodium intake. You can’t eliminate it completely. You still need some sodium in the diet. However, switching from sodium to potassium in the diet will actually help to control blood pressure and keep it more normalized. Many people are actually deficient in potassium, but an overdose of sodium. Products like Mrs. Dash and other salt substitutes taste good and are better for you.
Another cause of high blood pressure is related to blood sugar. These are simple sugars that we eat and drink in excess. For example, a standard Coca-Cola bottle has about 40 g of sugar. Think of 1 gram as about a teaspoon. Realistically, it’s not possible for one person to eat 40 teaspoons of sugar in one sitting. However, when you diluted it in a bottle, you could drink 3 or 4 bottles and not even know how much sugar you just consumed. High sugar in the blood also attracts water, which again raises the blood pressure.
So again an easy way to reduce the blood pressure without an extreme diet is to simply reduce the amount of sugar you consume on a daily basis. Avoiding sodas are a great first step.
One part of the process of managing blood pressure that often gets overlooked includes proper sleeping habits. Sleep is necessary for the regeneration of the body and appropriate healing. People who don’t get enough sleep, who work odd hours, those who have to wake up frequently at night, and those who just can’t seem to feel rested will always have higher blood pressure.
This is due to an increase in cortisol, which is a stress hormone that’s released when you have insomnia. Small adjustments to the sleep make a huge amount of difference. For example, going to bed one hour earlier at night will allow you to go into the deeper REM sleep, which will allow your body to regenerate by reducing the amount of cortisol and automatically lowering your blood pressure. Sleeping better over a few weeks actually helps you to lose weight naturally, which has a double effect of lowering blood pressure.
Caffeine is also linked with high blood pressure. There are different types of caffeine, for example in tea or coffee. If people only have a small amount of these beverages on occasion, that’s likely not going to cause a major issue with the blood pressure.
However, people who drink monster drinks and red bulls will have substantial increases in their blood pressure because the caffeine amounts are basically at overdose levels. People should not use monster drinks or energy drinks or any red bulls based on all the data that I’ve seen in the medical literature.
Another aspect that is hard to pinpoint is what everyone calls stress. Stress means different things to different people. Basically, stress is the feeling of being overwhelmed constantly. These people are often involved in multiple activities, on social media, having issues at work, and conflicts in the home.
There’s no easy way to manage stress, but not managing stress will definitely cause higher blood pressure. People should learn some simple meditation techniques including deep breathing, yoga, and prayer. You don’t have to be religious to participate in these activities. Simply clearing your mind and sitting quietly for brief periods of time has been shown to lower blood pressure.
There are some people who will use supplements over the counter to help with blood circulation, which in turn can help the blood pressure as well. These include dark chocolate, garlic, fish oil, and magnesium. I would recommend you check with your doctor before using any of these methods.
Hopefully, this gives you some basics about high blood pressure. Always check with your doctor regularly so you know if these methods are helping. Sometimes they won’t and in those, you will need to be on prescription medications to reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke, and blood clots due to high blood pressure.
I want to thank Mike Curtis again from The Awkward Screw podcast for this question.
Be sure to visit his page on www.TheAwkwardScrew.com
Send me your questions and I will answer them on our next episode. I hope this provides a starting point for managing your own blood pressure. If you have some ideas that I missed, please send them to me on social media and I will share them with my followers.
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