Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a condition of the cardiovascular system where the pressure level within the blood vessels of the body run too high, either because the heart contracts too forcefully or because the blood vessels are too stiff to stretch and accommodate the increase in pressure during a normal contraction.
This forces water and other molecules inside the blood vessel out through the vessel wall into the surrounding tissue where they do not belong and ultimately leads to damage of the vessel wall and the organ through which it flows.
Hypotension, or low blood pressure, on the other hand, is where the pressure within the blood vessels is too low, due to a heart contraction that is too weak or blood vessels that are too floppy or stretchy. There isn’t enough pressure to get fresh blood with life-giving oxygen and nutrients to all the corners of the body efficiently.
Diets high in sugar increase your risk for hypertension by spiking insulin and causing inflammation inside your blood vessels.
These conditions are on the either end of a spectrum, with a healthy blood pressure fluctuating within a range in the middle. The adrenals, brain, heart and kidneys determine when you move up or down within this range. They increase the pressure when you need to get more oxygen or food in your cells or toxins and inflammatory molecules out, for example during physical activity or when you are under stress, and decrease the pressure when you can relax and redirect resources to healing and repair, for example during sleep. This adaptability allows you to function optimally within a variety of different environments and circumstances throughout the day.
When your ability to move up and down the spectrum becomes impaired, you get stuck in either the hypertension or hypotension extremes. Factors that lead to this include:
- Age – risk increases over 45
- Poor diet – salt, caffeine, fructose and alcohol all increase your risk
- Inadequate exercise – sitting is as big a risk for hypertension and heart disease as smoking
- Excess stress – not only the big kind, but the smaller, more frequent variety too
- Smoking – smokers and those around them, breathing in second-hand smoke, are equally at risk
- Vitamin D deficiency – sunscreens block your ability to absorb enough vitamin D from the sun and increase your risk
- Other health issues – being overweight or having other diseases like diabetes, hypercholesterolaemia or sleep apnoea increase your risk
- Genetics – ethnicity (Black African) and family genetics both increase risk. NB: a positive family history of hypertension is not a guarantee that you will develop the condition. Instead think of it as having a lower level of tolerance to any of the above risk factors.
From the list above, it is quite obvious what you need to do to prevent high blood pressure. There are, however, additional interventions you can add to the above if you already have high blood pressure and need to correct it:
- Olive leaf extract has been shown to reduce blood pressure at appropriate doses, especially when a fresh leaf extract is used.
- Make sure your mineral intake is balanced – table salt is all sodium and chloride and sends your body completely out of sync. There are hundreds of other minerals your body requires for balance. Pay particular attention to your calcium, magnesium and potassium levels with your diet and supplement plan.
- Vitamins C, D and E have all been shown to independently reduce blood pressure via different pathways. Don’t go overboard and supplement all three – adapt your diet to include sources like fresh fruit and healthy nuts and seeds, and spend quality time in the sun.
- Access the different pathways your body has to regulate itself by engaging with activities such as acupressure or acupuncture, meditation, yoga or tai chi. These work directly and indirectly on the adrenals, brain, heart and kidneys to restore balance within the body.
A diagnosis of hypertension is a call for you to pay attention to the little things in life that add up. Be conscious and consistent in the changes you adopt and your body’s inner healer will meet you half-way.