High blood pressure (hypertension as it is known medically) is thought to affect 1 in 3 adult Australians with this figure increases with age, reaching a peak of over 40% in adults 75 or older (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2018).
Blood pressure refers to the pressure your blood exerts on your arteries (a bit like water through a hose). You get two numbers in your blood pressure reading. The first (known as systolic) refers to the pressure when your heart is pumping and the second (known as diastolic) is the pressure when your heart is between pumps i.e. relaxed.
Do you know your blood pressure numbers? Have they changed in the last decade?
Often your blood pressure can be elevated without any tell-tale symptoms and unless you get it checked periodically high blood pressure may go undetected for many years. The problem with this is that high blood pressure increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure or kidney disease; all potentially nasty problems which would be good to avoid if possible. In some cases, high blood pressure may run in the family (possibly a genetic cause) but in most cases it is considered to be a disease of lifestyle.
Lifestyle factors which increase your risk of high blood pressure include:
- being above your healthy weight
- being sedentary or not getting much exercise
- stress, especially if poorly managed
- an unhealthy diet (particularly if high in salt, sugar, trans-fats or excess calories“)
- drinking too much alcohol
- poorly regulated blood sugar
The good news is these are all things you can potentially do something about (with help if necessary).
Simple measures you can implement to reduce your blood pressure include:
- Increase the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet and decrease the proportion of foods high in saturated or trans fat
- increase the amount of physical activity; this can be hard for some people but I believe any increase is a step in the right direction
- limit your alcohol intake (less than 2 standard drinks for men and one standard drink for women is the recommendation)
- incorporate some relaxation activity into your life or develop some stress management techniques
- work towards losing a little bit of weight (which may happen naturally by adopting the above points)
- quit smoking
How can naturopathic support help you manage your high blood pressure?
Sometimes you know that you should do these things but it is difficult to get going and there can be many hurdles to overcome. This is where I can help. I will work with you to identify a plan of attack that incorporates sustainable lifestyle changes and dietary suggestions. I can also prescribe nutritional supplements which are known to be helpful with stress, weight loss, sugar cravings etc as well as herbs and nutrients that are proven to work directly on reducing blood pressure.
Given the risks associated with high blood pressure, it’s a great idea to know your blood pressure and have it checked periodically. That way you can track whether it is sneaking up over time and nip it in the bud. I can do this as part of your consultations.
A word on Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is the term given to a cluster of health conditions which, when they occur simultaneously, increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease or stroke and if left unaddressed may, in the long term cause damage to your heart, kidneys, liver and arteries.
Generally speaking, someone would be considered to be at increased risk of metabolic syndrome if they have a waist circumference of more than 94cm for men or 80cm for women along with two or more of the following:
- Raised fasting glucose levels
- High blood pressure
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL cholesterol (i.e. the “good” cholesterol)
Is this you or someone you know?
It is estimated that up to one quarter of the Australian population might meet this criteria. If there is a family history of any of these factors then that is even more reason to do something about it now.
If you are wondering if you may have metabolic syndrome, it is a simple case of checking your waist measurement, having your blood pressure checked and checking your blood glucose and cholesterol markers.
The reason this cluster of symptoms is called metabolic syndrome is because they are largely a product of a poorly-working metabolism i.e. your body is not working the way it is supposed to. As you might guess, the factors that increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome are the same as those for high blood pressure. And similarly, the diet and lifestyle recommendations for high blood pressure will help reduce your markers for metabolic syndrome.
What if you are taking medicine for blood pressure, cholesterol or diabetes?
If you are currently taking pharmaceutical medicines for any of these conditions, it is important that your numbers are regularly monitored and I would encourage you to work with your GP and naturopath if you intend make changes to your diet or lifestyle. It is quite possible that your GP will need to reduce the dose of your medicine over time as your body responds to the dietary and lifestyle changes you make.