High Blood Pressure (hypertension)
High blood pressure (BP) significantly increases the risk of stroke and coronary (the arteries that supply oxygen to the heart muscle) heart disease, and promotes…
- aortic dissection (forcing apart of the layers of the wall of the aorta)
- heart failure
- left-ventricle hypertrophy (enlargement)
- peripheral vascular disease (of the blood vessels outside your heart & brain)
- renal (kidney) failure
- retinal damage
In many cases it's associated with the presence of metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, which is a cluster of symptoms (obesity, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance) that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
A family history of early premature cardiovascular disease (<55years for men & <65years for women) is a major risk factor, and if this is present it is advisable to get regular BP checks.
Many sufferers require drug treatment to achieve significant lowering of their BP, however smaller but important reductions may be achieved with lifestyle changes such as weight loss, physical activity & dietary modifications. This is particularly important for those in the 'high normal' range of 130-139mmHg systolic and/or 85-89mmHg diastolic, as it can result in a reduction back down to within the normal range of <130mmHg systolic & <85mmHg diastolic.
Dietary modifications can include addressing excess intake of energy (food), alcohol, sodium (salt), and caffeine, as well as incorporating foods associated with a lowering of BP into your diet.
Some complementary medicines have been known to result in an increase in BP, so it's important to discuss these with your GP and a university-qualified nutritionist - they are medically/scientifically trained to look at the 'big picture' and take your medical as well as your food/nutrition-related history into account. They know that even something as common as a vitamin is toxic in high doses!
Sometimes complementary medicines 'prescribed' to address one problem can lead to or exacerbate others. This can be through drug interactions or because they are not actually regulated the way conventional medicines are. According to the National Diabetes Services Scheme, some have "been found to contain an unexpected, and potentially dangerous, ingredient and the amounts of the active ingredient may not be consistent". They also emphasise the importance of understanding that "Complementary medicines may be ‘natural’ but that does not mean they are necessarily safe. Just like conventional medicine, they can have side effects or interact with other medications - conventional, complementary or alternative".
Examples of herbal supplements that can affect blood pressure or blood pressure medications:
- Arnica (Arnica montana)
- Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium)
- Ephedra (ma-huang)
- Ginkgo (Ginkgo bilboa)
- Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius and Panax ginseng)
- Guarana (Paullinia cupana)
- Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
- Senna (Cassia senna)
- St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention 2014, About High Blood Pressure, <https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/about.htm>
Diabetes Australia 2015, The National Diabetes Services Scheme, Complementary Medicines, <https://www.ndss.com.au/complementary-medicines>
Grossman, SC & Mattson-Porth, C 2014, Porth's Pathophysiology: Concepts of Altered Health States, 9th edn, Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia.
Mayo Clinic 2017, High Blood Pressure (hypertension), <http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/blood-pressure/art-20045245?pg=2>
National Heart Foundation of Australia 2017, Blood Pressure, <https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/know-your-risks/blood-pressure>
U.S Department of Health & Human Services 2016, National Institute of Health, Hypertension, <https://nccih.nih.gov/health/hypertension>.