Every time the human heart beats, it pumps blood to the whole body through the arteries. The force exerted by the heart as it pumps the blood into the arteries creates pressure within, which is called blood pressure. A certain level of pressure is necessary to keep the blood pumping through the body. Sometimes the pressure becomes too high, due to the narrowing down of the capillaries, throughout the body. When the capillaries are narrow, it puts more pressure on the heart to pump blood through the blood vessels. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to pump. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition in which the arteries have persistently high blood pressure.
High blood pressure, where the systolic blood pressure is greater than 140 mmHg, and diastolic blood pressure is greater than 90 mmHg affects millions of people throughout the world. The normal level for blood pressure is below 120/80, where 120 represents the systolic measurement (This gives the pressure of the contraction of the heart as it pushes the blood through the body. It indicates the activity of the heart). 80 represents the diastolic measurement (This is the pressure present in the arteries when the heart is relaxed. This shows the condition of the blood vessels.) A raised diastolic pressure is considered more serious than the raised systolic pressure. Blood pressure between 120/80 and 139/89 is called prehypertension, and blood pressure of 140/90 or above is considered hypertension.
Causes of Hypertension
Though no one really knows the exact cause of hypertension, there are several factors that have been associated with it. The most important causes of hypertension are stress and bad life choices like smoking, alcohol, and lack of physical activity. Other causes may be obesity, diabetes, high levels of salt intake, vitamin D deficiency, insufficient potassium, calcium, and magnesium in the diet, age factor, a family history of hypertension, and medical problems like chronic kidney disease, thyroid problems, and tumors.
Symptoms of Hypertension
Most times, people with mild hypertension, do not exhibit any symptoms of the condition. About one-third of the people with hypertension do not know that they have it, and this can last for years. High blood pressure has certain symptoms like severe headaches, pain in the arms and shoulder region, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, problems with vision, chest pains, breathing problems, irregular heartbeat, palpitations, frequent urination, blood in the urine, and lack of sleep.
Treating Hypertension Naturally
Hypertension must be treated immediately to reduce the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. High blood pressure can be treated medically (which really only addresses the problem and not the cause), and by changing the way you live and eat. Lifestyle changes include losing weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, reducing salt intake, exercising regularly, and not consuming alcohol.
Diet plays an important role in curing hypertension. Doctors recommend eating a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains. A vegetarian diet is better than a nonvegetarian one. Fresh fruits, grains, and vegetables not only help to get rid of toxins from the body but by being low in sodium and high in potassium, helps to bring down blood pressure. Staying away from refined foods, colas, coffee, tea, salt, a low fibre diet, and alcohol also helps.
The kidneys automatically balance the amount of sodium stored in the body. When the sodium in the body is high, the kidneys excrete the excess sodium in the urine. Sometimes, the kidneys are not able to eliminate enough sodium, and the sodium starts to build up in the blood. Since sodium holds water, the blood volume increases, as a result of which the heart has to work harder and this increases pressure in the arteries. Eliminating salty snacks like pickles and chips, and not adding salt at the table to food goes a long way in controlling blood pressure. Some people are more sensitive to sodium and hence retain it more easily, leading to fluid retention and increased blood pressure. If this becomes chronic, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, or kidney disease.
There is evidence that refined sugar (sucrose) is a risk factor and plays a role in hypertension. Dr. Ahrens from the University of Maryland has done human and animal studies and believes that sugar is as bad for hypertension as salt. His work shows that sucrose in the diet lowers the amount of sodium excreted from the body. In a review of all studies done on the ‘effects of sucrose ingestion on blood pressure’ funded by the American Heart Association, the conclusion was that, “evaluations to date suggest that sucrose ingestion may elevate blood pressure”.
Potassium-rich foods have been found to be beneficial in reducing blood pressure. Research shows that reduced intake of potassium leads to sodium retention in the tissues, leading to high blood pressure over a period of time. Increasing the intake of dietary potassium and reducing sodium intake simultaneously, helps bring down blood pressure significantly in hypertensive individuals. Rich sources of potassium are bananas, coconut water, raisins, nuts, milk and buttermilk, pulses and legumes, lotus stem, apricots, avocados, dried figs, potatoes, and citrus fruits. Research says that you don’t have to take supplements to increase your potassium levels. The same can be achieved by increasing the consumption of food high in potassium. This is likely to have the same effect on blood pressure as a potassium supplement.
Vitamin P, more correctly called flavonoids or bioflavonoids, are very important for human health. These flavonoids are found in a number of foods and herbs, ranging from red peppers to green tea. Some of the best sources of vitamin P include black currants, licorice, citrus fruits, beans, and garlic. Bioflavonoids are important due to their ability to increase the strength of the capillaries (blood vessels) and to regulate their permeability. They are essential for the proper absorption and use of vitamin C as they prevent vitamin C from being destroyed in the body by oxidation. Quercetin, one of the flavonoids present in fruits and vegetables, has been shown to induce a progressive, reduction in blood pressure in animal studies.
The anti-oxidant qualities of Vitamin C may help with lowering blood pressure in hypertensive people. Low intake of Vitamin C has been associated with hypertension in some studies. The Indian Gooseberry (amla) is an excellent source of vitamin C. Recent studies found that higher blood levels of vitamin C correlated with lower systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
Low intake of calcium-rich foods is associated with hypertension. Studies have shown that introduction of low-fat dairy products to diets in hypertensive patients can reduce systolic and diastolic BP. This may be because sodium causes water retention, and calcium acts as a diuretic, helping to excrete water and sodium through the kidneys, thus reducing BP. Some calcium-rich foods are low-fat milk and milk products, chickpeas, tofu, and leafy green vegetables.
A research team from the University of London wrote in the journal ‘Hypertension’ that, a cup of beetroot juice each day can reduce blood pressure in hypertensive patients. The researchers started off by examining the impact of nitrate consumption on laboratory rats and then confirmed their findings with 15 human volunteers, who had hypertension. The foods that are high in nitrates are beetroot, fennel, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, and carrots. Increasing the intake of vegetables with a high dietary nitrate content, such as green leafy vegetables or beetroot, can improve cardiovascular health.
Exercise plays an important role in curing hypertension. Walking is an excellent form of exercise. It helps to relieve tension, builds up muscles, and aids in the circulation of blood. Exercises like swimming, jogging, and cycling are also good.
Yoga and Meditation
Research has found that mind-body therapies like yoga and meditation, have favourable effects on systolic and diastolic blood pressure. They significantly reduced systolic blood pressure (SBP) by a mean of 11.52 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) by 6.83 mm Hg. Of all mind-body therapies analyzed, yoga demonstrated results of the greatest magnitude.
Natural cures and remedies for Hypertension
- Two cloves of garlic taken every morning helps lower blood pressure. Research shows that garlic can reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure by as much as 7% or 8%. It also lowers blood pressure in people with normal blood pressure (More on the health benefits of Garlic). Researchers, from the University of Adelaide in South Australia, found that garlic reduced systolic blood pressure by 4.6mm Hg, on average, while an analysis limited to people with high blood pressure showed garlic reduced systolic blood pressure by 8.4mm Hg, and diastolic blood pressure by 7.3mm Hg. The higher a person’s blood pressure was at the beginning of the study, the more it was reduced by taking garlic. Garlic for blood pressure
- In a first of its kind study on humans, Florida State University Assistant Professor, Arturo Figueroa and Professor Bahram H. Arjmandi found that when six grams of the amino acids L-citrulline/L-arginine from watermelon extract were administered daily for six weeks, there was improved arterial function and consequently lowered aortic blood pressure in all nine of their prehypertensive subjects Watermelon is the richest edible natural source of L-citrulline, which is closely related to L-arginine, the amino acid required for the formation of nitric oxide essential to the regulation of vascular tone and healthy blood pressure. Watermelon for hypertension
- Amla is a very rich natural source of Vitamin C. Pure Amla juice can be consumed daily for prevention of hypertension. A tbsp of Amla Juice mixed with honey can be taken in the morning with a glass of water.
- Lemon juice is an excellent source of Vitamin P, found in the peel as well as the juice, which prevents the fragility of capillaries and helps absorb Vitamin C effectively.
- For hypertension associated with pregnancy, grind one measure each of fennel, cumin seeds, and a small lump of crystallised sugar. Have a tsp of this mixture every morning and night after meals.
- Mix a tsp of powdered cumin seeds with a tsp of fresh ginger juice and a tsp of honey. Have this mixture once a day.
- Have a glass of fresh orange or grapefruit juice or half a glass of raw vegetable juice made with carrots and spinach. These are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C and potassium and are beneficial to maintain normal blood pressure.
- Onions have prostaglandin A, a hormone like substance that can lower blood pressure. Add a medium sliced onion to a cup of curd. Roast a clove of garlic slightly and chop finely. Add this to the curd along with a pinch of turmeric powder. This is a very effective home remedy for lowering blood pressure.