Hypertension today is claiming lives around the world every single year and is classified as a silent killer. It’s no longer a condition where a medicine is all you need to manage it. Each of us must make an effort to work in parallel with the ongoing medicines. The biggest gap that exists today is the lack of awareness or motivation towards changing lifestyles to naturally manage blood pressure. This is necessary because with high blood pressure medication, also comes side effects like extreme fatigue, low libido, drowsiness, issues with your blood, etc. And these side effects pile up as we move from one medicine to another.
While there are some cases that need medications because of genetic reasons, or organ transplants, for the rest of us (in majority), we only need a change in our lifestyle. Its quite interesting to note that most cases of brain strokes or cardiac arrests are not because of high cholesterol, they are because of high blood pressure and inflammation. So, in reality cholesterol is not the culprit!
What happens when you have high blood pressure?
- There is inflammation in the endothelial cells that line up the walls of the arteries which further builds up the pressure, narrows and hardens the arteries and restricts blood supply to brain. Overtime, this could lead to stroke, paralysis or a cardiac arrest.
- It could lead to CKD (chronic kidney disease). While there are a handful of reasons that can lead to CKD, high B.P is one of them. This fact is not to scare you, but to motivate you to work towards prevention by understanding how it is co-related.
Kidneys act as a filter to filter out waste products and fluids. There is a blood vessel that supplies blood and nutrients to kidneys. When one has high blood pressure, chances are that the vessels get harder and harder resulting in lack of blood supply to the kidneys. Thus, kidney function is compromised.
- High blood pressure can complicate your existing diabetes. Diabetes and high blood pressure is the worst combination of disease to have. You may go on popping pills for diabetes, high blood pressure and other conditions, but it’s not solving the purpose. Its only putting more pressure on your kidneys.
- High blood pressure is the number one reason for erectile dysfunction and crashing libido. This may make your sex lives messed up and bring on a whole load off emotional stress and put you in a vicious cycle.
Unfortunately, some people need medications, but for everyone else who has the ability to make lifestyle changes, must work towards it. The good news is that there are several ways you can explore to hopefully reduce your blood pressure levels to an extent that your doctor decides to reduce your medicine dosage or eventually get you off a pill. Nature has given us some of the best things that hardly cost us any money and if used daily can prevent suffering, disease and expensive medical bills. These are:
- Exercise and Walks
Forget the gym for a moment. Even a 30-45 mins walk daily is good enough to prevent you from getting high blood pressure or initiate the healing process. Exercise is extremely important. A sedentary lifestyle makes you a candidate for high blood pressure and there is no way you can ever reduce your medications. A sedentary lifestyle is equated to smoking cigarettes because it is that harmful. You don’t have to go to any gym or buy a gym membership or sign up for a class. Make use of your legs, get up and walk! Activity also becomes important when you have high blood sugar levels.
- Check the quality and quantity of salt.
If you have homecooked food then its not a concern, but restaurant food is loaded with sodium. One needs to understand that restaurants today are just a business model to sell food. How does food sell? By making it tasty by adding more oil, salt and sugar. Even wondered why deep-fried chips taste so good? All processed food, chips, biscuits have more sodium than our body requires. These foods are designed to trick your taste buds and get you addicted. From our experience, we have noticed a drop-in peoples blood pressure by simply cutting don on their outside meals. From 10 meals a week, they came down to 1 meal a week. Do not go no-sodium too! Sodium is a super important mineral and a complete lack of it can also hurt your kidney. Prefer going low-sodium (and not low-sodium). You could move from Sodium Chloride to Potassium Chloride, which is pink salt. Our body can easily handle potassium, but not excess sodium.
- Excess tea/coffee.
Excess of tea/coffee (more than two cups in a day) can also aggravate high blood pressure. You do not need to give it up completely, but just consume in moderation.
- Hydrate well.
Even a 1% drop in hydration levels can become stressful for the body leading to a change in blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar levels, inflammation, everything.
- Impact of smoking and drinking
We all know the impact of smoking and excessive alcohol on high blood pressure levels. Yet there are people who continue to do this thinking that their doctor will handle their blood pressure. Yes, surely, they will, but think – just because you are on a pill and your blood pressure is in control, doesn’t mean you are healthy. It’s still means there is a problem with your heart and body.
- Potassium rich foods
Adding potassium rich foods also helps, and you don’t need a supplement to boost your K intake. You get it in simple foods like your green vegetables, nuts, seeds, potatoes, a glass of sattu. If your diet is balanced, you’re going to get sufficient potassium. However, individuals with high potassium levels (in case of CKD, for example) must be careful of adding more potassium into their system. This also means that when two or more conditions co-exists (for e.g.- high blood pressure and kidney disease), it can be so dangerous. Because here you are with high blood pressure and thinking of switching to potassium rich salt, but you also have a kidney problem so need to watch potassium intake. Then you get into a vicious cycle of medication and side effects of every single medication.
- Low calcium levels
We need the right amount of calcium to maintain the right pressure levels. So, if you have low calcium levels, you may want to get your blood pressure levels checked and increase your calcium intake through foods and supplements.
- Low magnesium levels
Most people who have low magnesium also suffer from blood pressure problems at the same time. So, if you have high blood pressure, you want to make sure your magnesium levels are really good. Magnesium is found in simple foods like – nuts, seeds, grains and lentils. So, if you are sticking to a natural wholesome balanced diet, you should automatically get the right amount of potassium and magnesium.
- Lack of sleep
There is enough of evidence from medical science talking about sleep deprivation and its connection with stress hormones and shooting up your blood pressure. You can pop all the pills in the world, but if you don’t sleep right at night, your blood pressure is going to rise more and more. Sleep is free. It’s a cycle of nature. It’s in-built in every cell of ours. If we sleep more, you can lower your blood pressure over time. Sleep is connected with stress. If you sleep better, you also gain the ability to manage your stress the next day.
- Emotional health
Another very, very highly contributing factor towards high blood pressure is poor emotional health. We’ve had patients in our office and we have checked their high blood pressure while we make them talk about a stressful event in their life. We noticed their systolic and diastolic shoot right up. 10 minutes later when we made them do six counts of deep breathing, their systolic and diastolic comes right back down. We don’t need more evidence to show us the connection between stress and high blood pressure. Meditation, working out, deep breathing, yoga, pranayama, engaging in hobbies, practicing acceptance and letting go for most of your problems, be it work, emotional relationships in your life are the magic drugs that will eventually get you off your high blood pressure pill or reduce your dosage to the minimum.
- Fasting – Intermittent and Dry Fasting
We have seen great results with people who have adopted intermittent fasting and dry fasting, of course in a controlled and supervised way. They have reported a drop in their blood pressure levels as well.
- Deep breathing
The most powerful tool besides sleep is deep breathing. You can test this right now. I could put a bet on it. Check your systolic and diastolic before and after 6-8 counts of deep breathing –the diaphragmatic deep belly breathing. You will notice your systolic and diastolic come down. When we deep breathe, we allow more oxygen in our body. This tricks the body to shift from a state of fight and flight to a state of rest and digest, i.e. from sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. The moment your body moves into the parasympathetic nervous system – blood sugar levels drop, cholesterol gets better, blood pressure drops. It is very difficult to have high blood pressure when the body is in a complete state of relaxation – which is why sleep, deep breathing and meditation become the most powerful drugs when it comes to managing your high blood pressure.
Now deep breathing this is something you can do anytime, anywhere. It’s funny how the things which are free in life are often taken for granted and not valued. People want to spend money. They want complication and believe that only things that cost money are going to heal them. But something as simple as deep breathing can be so healing. We’ve had clients worldwide, who have gone so deep into their Pranayama practice that they don’t even take a single pill for their high blood pressure anymore. Their doctors have put them off meds because they chose lifestyle.
How to do Diaphragmatic belly breathing: Sit cross legged with your spine erect and your head gently resting on top of your spine. Keeping an erect spine enables oxygen to flow in freely through your body. Now close your eyes. Keep one hand on your chest, one hand on your tummy. This shall help you understand the breathing practice in a better way if you are a beginner.
As you inhale, your tummy should basically rise. Think of it as a balloon and how it inflates when air gets in. As you exhale, the stomach goes in. Now think of it as a balloon and how it deflates as air moves out. Try this technique for six deep breaths. It doesn’t take you more than a minute and a half. You can do this five or ten times in a day. You can do it when you wake up, when you’re stressed, you just finished a stressful meeting, while getting on a flight, getting out of an argument, while preparing yourself for a meeting. You can be in the most stressful board meeting right now and still trick your system into the parasympathetic nervous system by deep breathing to keep your cortisol levels down and regulate your high blood pressure.
- Functional foods
- Beetroot juice – This works beautifully for high blood pressure. Beets are rich in Nitric Oxide which helps dilate blood vessels thereby allowing blood to flow through freely and reducing blood pressure.
- Dark chocolate – Rich in flavonoids, dark chocolate that’s > 70% also reduced blood pressure. However, its important to consume it in moderation.
- Moringa in the form of the drumsticks or leaf is excellent for high blood pressure.
- Others – Basil, flaxseeds, ginger, garlic, onion, celery, cardamom (elaichi), cinnamon. But know that these foods will bring down your blood pressure levels just for a bit. You still need to heal from inside. Use these foods while you make other lifestyle changes.
- Tea – Both green tea and oolong tea are great they will reduce your pressure just for a bit. Similarly, hibiscus tea works well. It’s also caffeine free, but this doesn’t mean you go on drinking cup after cup without changing your lifestyle.
There is no evidence in each of these things healing your blood pressure, but remember, the only evidence is you doing it yourself and watching your systolic and diastolic falling.
If you have high blood pressure, you should work really, really hard to bring that down naturally. If you have anxiety, don’t say it’s my nature. Instead take the charge and fix it. Over and above everything discussed above – you also need SELF-DISCIPLINE. There are thousands of people who eventually get off their medications and thousands of people who don’t. What’s the difference between them? Most of them tried. They made lifestyle changes and have achieved their health goals. The other people are still complaining, blaming, believing that the pill is going to take care of their lives and heal them. So, all you need is self-discipline and an attitude change.
I am not here to tell you get off your medication or jump off your medication. If you have high blood pressure, you’re better being on a medication so it doesn’t create more damage. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels or hypertension can create more damage to the rest of your body. However, use the medicine as a crutch and work with your doctors to make lifestyle changes so that he/she can monitor your blood pressure levels and eventually get you off your meds.