Hypertension, blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/80 mm Hg, affects almost one out of two Americans. It increases the risk for stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and premature death. Yet despite multiple drug therapies, hypertension is poorly treated. Many modifiable lifestyle factors contribute to elevated blood pressure: poor diet, inadequate physical activity, supra-physiologic intake of salt and stress. An integrative medicine approach (outlined below) for the diagnosis and treatment of hypertension leads to better control, mitigation of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and decreased drug use.
Nutrition. Eat a DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension - https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/) or Mediterranean style diet (http://www.mediterraneandiet.com/). This eating pattern is high in fresh vegetables and whole grains and low in processed foods, salt, sugar, and saturated and trans fats. Too much sugar causes increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol which increases blood pressure.
Physical Activity. Studies show that both aerobic exercise and resistance training are beneficial for the treatment of hypertension. You don’t need to run marathons or pump iron. Any increase in physical activity will help reduce blood pressure.
Relaxation. The stress response is a protective mechanism that gets the body ready to flee or fight. The body reacts to minor stressors as if they are major catastrophes. Too much stress causes an increase in blood pressure, damages blood vessel function over time, causes dangerous changes to the brain, and destroys mood. But the stress response can be decreased. Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique to reduce stress: Inhale through your nose to the count of 4; hold your breath for a count of 7; exhale through your mouth to the count of 8. Put a smile on your face: your brain will think you are relaxed even if you are not. The relaxation response will be activated, lowering your blood pressure.
Biofeedback. One device that is specifically approved for blood pressure reduction is RESPeRATE (http://www.resperate.com/shop-resperate). This is an easy to use breathing assisted device that uses a 2 tone melody that causes breathing to become slower and deeper. When used for 15 to 20 minutes most days of the week, BP can be reduced by up to 10 mm Hg!
Supplements. There are several supplements that reduce blood pressure: magnesium, ubiquinol, beet root juice, berberine and more. It is best to discuss these with your integrative practitioner to see what is best for you. Beware that taking too many supplements can cause dangerous interactions. And some supplements such as ephedra, licorice, ginseng, yohimbine, and kola nut can raise blood pressure.
Sleep. Like physical activity and good nutrition, sound sleep is necessary for health. Practice good sleep hygiene. Stop looking at TV and all devices at least an hour prior to going to bed. Develop relaxing night time rituals: meditate, practice breath work, pray, read relaxing material or write in a gratitude journal. Go to bed when you are sleepy and develop a regular bedtime schedule. If you suffer from excessive snoring, daytime sleepiness and insomnia, get help from a sleep specialist.
Avoid excessive alcohol. Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks daily for men or one daily for women can increase blood pressure.
Look at prescription and over the counter drugs. Tell your doctor everything you are taking. Oral contraceptives, steroids, ibuprofen and decongestants may increase blood pressure.
Antihypertensive Medications. Take medications as prescribed and never stop or reduce them without your doctor’s approval. Stopping a medication suddenly can cause a “rebound” where blood pressure rises to dangerous levels. Before taking your pill, invite a smile on your face and look at it with gratitude. This causes your brain to release hormones that recruit the relaxation response and will allow your medication to work better. Over time you may be able to reduce the amount of medication that you need.
To schedule an integrative medicine consultation and learn more about natural ways to decrease blood pressure, contact Dr. Vivian Kominos, 732.395.3059.