Spring 2018 True Natural Health Magazine
By Roger French, NHS Health Director
Some time ago, I met a middle-aged man from Canberra – I’ll call him David – who had been to Hopewood Health Retreat for assistance with high blood pressure. His blood pressure had been 170/110 a year previously, which is very high, and his doctor put him on drugs to bring it down. The drugs reduced the pressure to 140/95, but this was still too high. David’s weight was 83 kg and his height was average.
After 10 days at Hopewood – sadly closed in June 2015 – this businessman’s blood pressure had dropped to 115/79, which was virtually ideal, and his weight had dropped to 76 kg. David was delighted to be off the drugs.
David’s program at Hopewood had been a diet of fresh fruit and vegetable juices and one meal a day of fresh vegetable salads and fruit. The entire 10 days were very relaxing, David exercised lightly under supervision and sunbathed for short periods when the winter sun was low-ish in the sky.
David’s blood pressure had fallen from a risky level with medication to a safe level without medication. His case is not rare. I have seen high blood pressure normalise consistently when these natural methods are employed.
We are told that blood pressure should be ‘one hundred plus your age’, but this is not the way it goes in ‘primitive’ peoples who don’t have our Western way of living. In the indigenous people of New Guinea who still live in their traditional way, blood pressure remains typically at 120/80, and if it does change with age, it declines slightly as the heart weakens. There are many people following Natural Health lifestyles whose blood pressure remains normal all their lives.
In 2014/15, close to 6 million Australians (34%) aged 18 years and over had high blood pressure according to the National Heart Foundation. Of these, more than two thirds (68%) had uncontrolled or unmanaged high blood pressure (not taking medication), representing 4 million adult Australians.
The 1999-2000 Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study indicated that around 3.7 million Australians over the age of 25 had high blood pressure or were on medication for the condition. This equates to 32% of men and 27% of women.
Data from a 2002-03 study show that high blood pressure is the most common problem managed by general practitioners in Australia, accounting for 6% of all the problems they manage.
‘Blood pressure’ is the pressure in the blood in arteries produced by the pumping of the heart. As the heart pumps and relaxes, the pressure rises and falls. This pumping is aided by the arteries which have muscular walls that contract and relax in unison with the heart, producing what we call our ‘pulse’.
The highest pressure in arterial blood is called the systolic pressure and the lowest is the diastolic pressure. Blood pressure is always given as the systolic pressure followed by the diastolic pressure, and is written, for example, as 120/80.
Normal blood pressure for an adult is in the range 110/70 and 120/80. The upper figure varies readily with physical and mental conditions at the time – physical activity, emotions, stimulants, allergies and so on. The diastolic pressure is relatively stable and is dependent more on the condition of the heart and arteries.
HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
In the normal case, readings of 140/90 and above are considered to be high blood pressure, technically hypertension. Mild hypertension, called ‘Stage 1’ is when readings are systolic 130 – 139 and diastolic 80 – 90.
However, the Australian Heart Foundation has produced charts giving a wide range of upper safe limits which vary depending on age, total cholesterol level, whether diabetes or not and whether a smoker or not. And there are separate charts for men and women. So in the medical view, there is no one answer, but a very wide range. The figures given in the previous paragraph are very rough guides.
Conditions or habits which are of particular concern with high blood pressure are smoking, diabetes, obesity, and sleep apnoea.
Consistently high pressure causes the heart to work extra hard and can damage the coronary arteries that supply the heart itself, the brain, the kidneys and the eyes. Hypertension is a major cause of stroke.
Primary or essential hypertension is to do with lifestyle and accounts for 90 – 95 percent of cases, while secondary hypertension is connected to an existing medical condition, such as heart failure or kidney disease, and accounts for 5 – 10 percent of cases. Pregnancy-induced hypertension can occur after about the 20th week of pregnancy and is more likely in women who are overweight or obese.
CAUSES OF HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
This is artery disease in which artery walls are swollen with plaque and the space in which blood flows is reduced. Plaque is a mixture of fat, cholesterol, protein, other substances and calcium at a later stage. The artery walls change from being Teflon smooth to being rough. Against this resistance, the heart has to pump harder to maintain flow and this means increased pressure in the arteries.
It works like this. If a cell, typically in the periphery of the body – feet, hands, skin, etc – is not getting enough oxygen, it asks the brain to arrange for it to receive more blood. The brain sends a message to the heart to pump harder, which it does, increasing the pressure in the system. But nothing else has changed, and after a year or two or three, the cell contacts the brain again asking for more oxygen. The brain directs the heart to pump harder still, and the situation is again temporarily resolved. But this time it doesn’t last as long, and after say six months, the cell is short of oxygen again. Now the heart cannot pump any harder because if it does, it will damage itself. Eventually, there will be chest pains called angina, for which a doctor would prescribe drugs. Meanwhile, the cell just has to get along the best it can, and may eventually suffer, leading to some form of malfunction in the relevant tissues.
Most people have atherosclerosis to some degree. For hypertension to result, the blockage usually needs to be quite advanced.
This is hardening of the arteries, meaning that they lose their flexibility and cannot assist the heart in pumping blood. The heart has to pump harder, pushing up blood pressure.
Arteriosclerosis is often said to be an inevitable part of the ageing process, yet people in countries like rural China, Africa, Brazil, Panama, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea don’t suffer increased blood pressure as they get older. In fact, hypertension seems to be virtually absent from such societies unless they are supplied with processed Western foods.
The major contributors to arteriosclerosis are smoking, high fat intake, high protein consumption and too much salt, along with the accompanying deficiencies of minerals and vitamins and oxidation of fat and cholesterol by toxic chemicals and radiation.
Excessive dietary fat
The high content of fat in the typical Australian diet causes blood corpuscles and platelets to stick together, increasing the viscosity of the blood and blocking the finest capillaries. The heart has to work harder against this resistance, raising blood pressure and straining itself in the process. It has been shown that blood pressure is directly related to blood viscosity.
High salt consumption
Because our kidneys are designed to recycle sodium, excessive sodium intake in the form of salt (sodium chloride) results in a build-up in the bloodstream. The blood has to retain more water to dilute the extra sodium, so there is an increase in blood volume, and the heart has to work harder to pump it around.
About 50 percent of the population are ‘sodium sensitive’, meaning that they appear to be unable to excrete excessive salt via the kidneys easily. Obese people and elderly people are more likely to be sodium sensitive.
The people of rural Kenya consuming their traditional diet were found by Dr Dennis Burkitt (the researcher who showed the world the importance of dietary fibre) to be free of hypertension. Their diet contained about one to three grams of sodium per day compared to 10 to15 grams in the typical Western diet. A key mineral that balances sodium is potassium, of which the Kenyans consumed five to eight grams compared to the typical intake by Westerners of one to two grams.
In other words, in the rural Kenyans the very important ratio of sodium-to-potassium was around 1:3, while for Westerners it was around 6:1, representing 18 times the reverse of the Kenyan ratio. Dr Burkitt found that if he changed the ratio in the Western diet to that of the Kenyans, hypertension in the Westerners disappeared.
As if any further evidence is necessary, a study of chimpanzees found that blood pressure could be elevated or normalised at will simply by feeding or withholding salt.
High levels of stress lead to increased secretion of the hormone aldosterone, which retains sodium, leading to increased blood pressure in the same way as does excessive salt. Classic examples are ongoing anxiety or frequent anger.
Each extra kilo of fatty tissue contains approximately three or more kilometres of blood capillaries, all of which have to be supplied with blood. The heart has to pump harder to push blood through all these extra blood vessels, raising blood pressure.
Obesity also raises insulin levels, and this pushes up the amount of sodium in the blood, further expanding blood volume, and hence increasing the pressure.
Allergies and sensitivities
Allergies and sensitivities can stimulate the heart, increasing blood pressure. In fact, one of the indications of allergy or sensitivity to a particular food or other substance is increased heart rate soon after ingestion. Allergy is a reaction to protein by the immune system, while sensitivity refers to all other abnormal reactions to foods or other substances. Many food additives can cause problems in this way.
Caffeine, alcohol and smoking are all associated with hypertension. Caffeine and nicotine can directly stimulate the heart rate. If the intake of caffeine or nicotine is virtually continuous, as in the case of chain smoking or regular coffee drinking, blood pressure can be constantly elevated.
Alcohol, which is a mind depressant and a stimulant for elimination, thickens the blood by causing red corpuscles to clump together and by elevating blood fats. Alcoholism accounts for about five percent of hypertension overall, and the proportion of alcoholics with blood pressure is between 30 and 60 percent. Women are more prone than men to alcohol-induced hypertension.
Numerous medications, both prescription and over-the-counter, are capable of causing hypertension. Common examples are medications for pain and inflammation, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and COX-2 inhibitors (includes Celebrax, Bextra and the banned Vioxx). Also the oral contraceptive pill.
When drugs have the side effect of hypertension, they are often overlooked as the cause. What is required is very careful diagnosis by the practitioner.
Medical drug interactions
When combined, certain drugs, medications, substances or toxins may react causing hypertension. The list of possible interactions is very long, and even then there are still other unknown possibilities.
When consulting a practitioner, always advise the practitioner of any medications or other treatments being used, including prescription or over-the-counter drugs and supplements, herbs or other natural remedies.
Illnesses that can result in high blood pressure
Many illnesses have raised blood pressure as an associated condition. Here are some of the more common ones:
- Kidney diseases – renal tumours and cysts, glomerulonephritis, chronic pyelonephritis, polycystic kidney, hypoplastic kidney, renal tuberculosis
- Adrenal gland tumours
- Cushing’s disease and syndrome
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Sleep apnoea
- Toxaemia of pregnancy
- Brain stem encephalitis
- Heavy metal poisoning, especially with lead and cadmium
Hypertension due to kidney disease deserves special mention because of its prominence. A common effect of kidney disease is retention of sodium which can raise blood pressure in the same way as salt. Another important cause is narrowing of the renal arteries supplying the kidneys, due typically to fibromuscular hyperplasia in younger adults or atherosclerosis in older adults. Reduced circulation causes the kidneys to secrete hormones and the adrenal glands to secrete aldosterone that constrict peripheral arteries, leading to high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is not inherited. Rather, it is a predisposition that can be inherited. The most significant thing that we can inherit is our parent’s lifestyle – which, fortunately, can be changed.
REDUCING HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE WITHOUT DRUGS
The whole aim of Natural Health and natural therapies is to prevent disease in the first place, and, if illness does arise, to remove the causes and facilitate self-healing. With self-healing there can be no help from drugs because only living tissue can heal. The big problem with drugs is that virtually all medications have side effects.
Drugs for hypertension include beta-blockers which slow heart rate and cause dilation of blood vessels, and calcium-channel blockers and ACE inhibitors which also dilate blood vessels. More commonly used today are a second generation of ACEs called Aπs. Diuretics are also often employed.
The Natural Health approach involves identifying the causes of hypertension and reducing those causes. In many cases, the causes will be obvious, but in other cases they may be elusive. Either way, it will be wise to consult a practitioner.
Once causes are identified, the necessary lifestyle changes may be obvious. The following is a brief account of how to deal with the most likely causes
Atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis
Essentially the diet needs to:
- be very low in fat (temporarily), with omega-3 fatty acids supplied by flax oil, chia seeds, etc.
- be devoid of rancid fat;
- contain adequate protein;
- be free of refined carbohydrates and free of concentrated sugars;
- be low-to-moderate in unrefined carbohydrates;
- contain just moderate quantities of fresh fruits;
- contain an abundance of fresh vegetables;
- include garlic and/or appropriate herbs.
- Physical activity – subject to approval by a practitioner – can make a valuable contribution to recovery.
A detailed explanation of how to prevent (and possibly reverse) artery disease is given in How a Man Lived in Three Centuries, available from the Natural Health Society.
Excessive dietary fat
By adopting Natural Health Dietary Guidelines, fat intake will be at a desirable level in the diet. However, some natural foods will need to be avoided temporarily because they are naturally high in fat – nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy products.
To obtain adequate protein without also getting plenty of fat, there are a few protein-rich foods which are very low in fat – lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and lima beans, and low-fat cottage and ricotta cheeses. Use only small quantities of cheese, and flavour protein dishes with herbs and spices if desired.
High salt consumption
Avoid salt or limit it to very small quantities, especially if sodium sensitive. Besides salt added to food at home, a far greater source is processed foods. If salt must be used, choose Himalayan rock salt or unrefined sea salt.
A balanced natural diet, based on plant foods, supplies an abundance of the mineral, potassium, that balances sodium and plays a critical role in offsetting the pressure-raising tendencies of sodium.
To limit sodium intake:
- Do not use salt in the home;
- Minimise use of processed foods and avoid salty snacks;
- Check food labels for sodium content;
- Limit the use of soya sauce, BBQ sauce and other condiments high in sodium.
If you have a job that involves a lot of pressure or anxiety, it may be necessary to take a holiday so that you can completely relax and restore your flattened battery. Energy levels and the ability to face hurdles without becoming stressed can be significantly recovered by a good break.
If anxiety or anger are ongoing, there are ways of dealing with them. A psychologist’s approach is detailed in How a Man Lived in Three Centuries.
Well-recognised techniques for reducing stress include meditation, formal courses, yoga, relaxation audio-tapes, physical exercise and the simple but invaluable philosophy – worry about the things that you can do something about – and do it – and forget all the rest. If you worry about other people’s problems all around the world, you won’t be helping them a bit, but will be doing yourself a lot of harm.
Losing excess weight usually brings a substantial reduction in high blood pressure. Even dropping one kilo normally causes a significant reduction.
Possible causes of obesity are:
- Overeating – though not always;
- Low metabolic rate – remedied by regular physical activity;
- Hypoglycaemia – go for low-GI foods;
- Hypothyroidism – see True Natural Health, Winter 2013, page 26;
- High oestrogen levels – particularly due to ‘The Pill’;
- Diabetes – see Natural Health and Vegetarian Life, Summer 2007-08, p. 26;
- Adrenal exhaustion – take that holiday;
- Allergies and sensitivities – see a practitioner for identification of causes;
- Emotional reasons.
Just 30 minutes of brisk walking daily or 20 – 30 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three or more times per week can be expected to lower both systolic and diastolic pressures by six to seven points. Regular exercise also helps with obesity and eases stress.
But first, check with a practitioner what level of exercise is safe for you.
Allergies and sensitivities
First identify the problem foods or other problem substances by use of a rotation diet or trial-and-error with any substance. It may be necessary to seek the assistance of an experienced practitioner. There are computerised methods of identification available from some practitioners.
If stimulant intake is high, reduce caffeine intake by minimising coffee, cola drinks, black tea, chocolate and any other sources.
If smoking is your habit, seek professional help. The Australian government’s Quitline number is 131 848.
Regarding alcohol, decreasing from one drink per day to one per week typically brings a reduction in systolic pressure by five points and diastolic pressure by three.
If there is an existing illness, and provided it is safe to do so, use lifestyle modifications instead of drugs. This overcomes the huge problems of misdiagnosis, drug side effects and drugs being ineffective. As we occasionally hear, the drug side effects can sometimes be worse than the original disease.
The orthodox medical treatment of prescribing blood-pressure-lowering medication is akin to ‘shooting the messenger’ – as naturopath, Robyn Chuter, has stated. The elevated pressure is simply a marker of malfunction in the system.
Studies have shown conclusively that a plant-based, wholefood, high-fibre, low-salt diet, with less than 15 percent of its calories as fat, and naturally high in potassium, is often enough to bring elevated blood pressure back to normal.
A comprehensive lifestyle management approach, incorporating diet, regular moderate physical activity and effective stress management, will usually bring the pressure down to a healthy level and keep it there – while also protecting you against degenerative illnesses in general.
Acknowledgement is given to naturopath, Robyn Chuter, for contributions to the above article. www.empowertotalhealth.com.au