A Natural Approach to Treating HypertensiBy Felicia Briones-Colman, MD
High blood pressure affects approximately 25% of the adult American population, with two million new cases being diagnosed each year. It is one of the leading causes of disability or death due to heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
There are two types of hypertension: essential (primary) and secondary hypertension. Primary hypertension is elevated blood pressure without a known cause and accounts for up to 90% of the cases of hypertension. Genetics are usually a contributing factor, but there is epidemiological evidence that hypertension exists almost entirely in developed countries. Data suggests nutritional factors, inactivity, obesity, stress and alcohol consumption may be the cause of what we label as essential hypertension.
Nutritional factors can significantly affect blood pressure. It is well documented that a diet low in potassium and high in sodium is associated with hypertension. In addition, vegetarians have lower blood pressure and a lower incidence of hypertension. Likely, these differences are due to a higher intake of potassium, complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, fiber, calcium, magnesium and vitamin C, less saturated fat, cholesterol and refined carbohydrates. Therefore it is imperative that all hypertensives, and those at risk for hypertension, should have a full nutritional evaluation, including laboratory studies measuring various vitamins, electrolytes, fatty acids and other nutritional markers.
A research study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine compared hypertensive individuals on a diet of monounsaturated fat (MUFA) given in the form of olive oil versus a diet of polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) given in the form of sunflower oil. The group on the MUFA had lower blood pressure and a decreased need for blood pressure medications. It is unknown how olive oil reduces blood pressure, but it may be its antioxidant polyphenol content is responsible.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil or flax seed oil have also been shown to reduce blood pressure in double blind studies. The omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) dilates arteries and thus lowers blood pressure. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids can prevent primary or secondary coronary heart disease, lower total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL. They also increase HDL, the good type of cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements should be a part of any treatment for hypertension. The dosage depends on the specific dietary intake of the individual and the results of serum blood tests.
Amino acids are the building blocks for the production of proteins in our body. Optimal levels of various amino acids are important to achieving normal blood pressure. The amino acid L-arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide which dilates blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. A study comparing an L-arginine supplemented diet with a control diet resulted in a lowering of blood pressure in the treatment group. Kidney function and fasting blood sugar also improved in the subjects who received supplementation.
Taurine, a sulfur-containing amino acid, also has anti-hypertensive effects. In a study published in the medical journal Circulation, taurine supplementation was found to decrease systolic blood pressure an average of 9 mm Hg and the diastolic pressure an average of 4 mm Hg. Taurine supplementation resulted in a significant decrease in plasma epinephrine. Individuals with hypertension tend to have higher epinephrine compared to people with normal blood pressure. Research shows taurine relaxes blood vessels by enhancing endorphin production, resulting in lowered blood pressure.
Individuals who need additional blood pressure lowering should consider the addition of botanical therapies. The botanical Arjuna Bark, from a deciduous tree found in India has been used for over three centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. Several studies have shown it significantly reduces systolic blood pressure. It also improves heart function and has no profound adverse effects even with long-term use.
Yarrow, a flower native to Asia and Europe is another very old medicinal plant. In a six month trial of blood pressure control in hypertensive subjects, yarrow was found to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure an average of 14 mm Hg. It also lowered triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol. Like Arjuna Bark there are very few side effects associated with yarrow but, as with all medications, it should be used under the direction of a physician educated in botanical medicine.
This is just a snapshot of what alternative medicine has to offer in the management of hypertension. With an increasing number of Americans being diagnosed with hypertension and conventional medicine failing to effectively control the problem, alternative therapies offer hope.
For further information on this subject call Dr. Briones direcly at (951) 514-9395 or contact her at Simply Wellness at (951) 304-9430.