Blood pressure fluctuates all the time, hour-by-hour, and day-by-day, and there has been extensive over-diagnosis and unnecessary treatment of millions of people because of this. In fact, it’s not uncommon for blood pressure to rise simply in response to a doctor’s visit! This is called the “white coat syndrome” and I’ve seen it repeatedly.
On the other hand, bona fide hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a well-known risk factor for heart attack. Twenty percent or more of North American women between the ages of forty-five and sixty-four have mild to severe high blood pressure. Since current statistics show that 1 in 2 women will eventually die from heart disease (either a heart attack caused by coronary artery disease, or a stroke,) it makes sense to know what your blood pressure is and how you can take control of it.
What is High Blood Pressure and Are You At Risk?
High blood pressure occurs when your arteries cannot dilate properly to accommodate changes in blood flow being pumped from your heart. It generally takes many years to develop, and usually you will not have any symptoms. In fact, most people discover they have high blood pressure when they go for a medical check-up.
Many factors are believed to contribute to hypertension. These include:
- Diet too high in saturated fat, salt, alcohol or caffeine
- Age, gender, ethnicity, and family history
- Underlying disease or condition (obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, pregnancy, kidney disease or hyperthyroidism)
- Medications (antidepressants, NSAIDs and decongestants)
- Lack of exercise
- Stress (including unconscious fear and panic from childhood trauma)
- Lead poisoning
- Head injuries
- Illicit drugs (cocaine and amphetamines)
Many of these causes are temporary and curable.
What Should Your Numbers Be?
For years doctors have been uncertain what the optimal blood pressure goal should be. For patients with high blood pressure, the goal has been to lower systolic (top number) pressure to about 140-150 for people over 60 years old. The new 2015 blood pressure guidelines support this more relaxed threshold calling for treatment to lower blood pressure to 150/90 mm Hg for people over age 60, and to 140/90 for adults younger than 60. Yet, a newer study called Sprint, which was supposed to end in 2017, has been concluded early with findings that suggest a systolic pressure below 120 reduces risks for heart attack and strokes by up to 1/3 and risk of death by up to ¼.
I have seen many studies over the years and it’s very hard to prove a benefit in lowering systolic blood pressure below 130 for someone over 60 years of age. In fact, while a systolic pressure that is naturally 120 may be good for some, it is quite another matter to artificially drag someone’s blood pressure down this low with blood pressure medications.
Attempting to reach a target this low would mean giving many people more and more medications. And, in order to see a benefit you would likely have to treat hundreds of people to prevent just one heart attack or stroke! This is known as the number needed to treat, or NNT. The accepted NNT for use of a statin drug is 104. This means that for every 104 people who take a statin, only 1 person has a heart attack prevented! Please read that AGAIN. 104 people are put at risk of adverse effects caused by statin drugs to save 1 person! In fact, as many as 1 in 10 people are harmed by statins. Now consider the potential risk of harm to hundreds by aiming for a questionably low blood pressure target. It is quite substantial, especially when you consider that many of the people who would be harmed are the frail elderly who are at risk for falls, and others who are already taking an array of drugs for chronic conditions, which could potentially interact.
How To Lower High Blood Pressure Without Medication
In my experience, many adults are taking more blood pressure medication than they need. Here are some very simple and effective ways you can lower your blood pressure without medication:
- Get Regular Exercise. Simply getting out for a brisk walk every day can help to lower your blood pressure. Other forms of exercise that can help include yoga, biking, gardening and dancing. Move your body in a way that is enjoyable to you for 30 minutes each day. Note that exercise can increase the effectiveness of blood pressure medications, so if you are taking one, be sure to check with your doctor. You may need to reduce you medication over time or even stop it!
- Use Biofeedback. Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that has a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system. This can produce the long-term benefit of lowing blood pressure to a healthy range. Methods include cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation therapy, guided imagery and psychological education.
- Improve Your Diet. Follow the insulin-normalizing diet I recommend. You can expect substantial improvements in your lipid profile, your blood sugar, and your blood pressure within two to four weeks.
- Lose Weight. Even in very overweight women, losing only ten to twenty pounds will often lower blood pressure significantly.
- Get Enough Sleep. Sleeping fewer than seven or eight hours or getting poor quality sleep can increase blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic.) This makes sense. Physiologically, anything that increases inflammation or contributes to chronic inflammation is going to negatively affect your cardiovascular system. Sleep is the body’s most effective way of digesting excess stress hormones. If you don’t get enough sleep, your stress hormones stay elevated and this increases inflammation throughout your body. This causes your arteries to narrow and even constrict, which results in higher blood pressure.
- Meditate. Specifically, Transcendental Mediation has been proven to bring about a unique neurophysiological state that leads to a drop in blood pressure. That said, any style of meditation that you practice regularly can help to lower stress hormones leading to lower blood pressure.
Release Suppressed Emotions and Heal Hypertension
There is no question that factors such as obesity, salt intake, and a sedentary lifestyle are associated with hypertension. And so is stress – but, not in the way you would expect. According to Samuel J. Mann, M.D., author of Healing Hypertension: A Revolutionary New Approach, hypertension is associated with what we don’t feel. In other words, our old, unhealed or repressed traumas are a major cause for hypertension. To deal with hypertension at its core (or anything else for that matter), it is necessary to bring those hidden emotions to consciousness, and to deal with them directly.
My friend and colleague Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., the founder of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in Manhattan, shared her personal experience healing from episodes of extremely high blood pressure—as high as 220/120 – despite her healthy lifestyle. She tried medications and also worked with a number of holistic practitioners such as her chiropractor, homeopath, and acupuncturist, which helped a little, but it wasn’t enough. After reading Dr. Mann’s book and seeing him, she began to look at what hidden emotions she could be harboring. After uncovering a traumatic event during her childhood in World War II Hungary, and releasing the emotions associated with the memories, her blood pressure returned to normal (137/82) within one hour!
No matter what your blood pressure is, when you don’t feel your emotions fully and let them flow through you, they will have a negative effect on your health. The more you truly care for yourself and allow yourself to feel your emotions, including the difficult ones, the better your health will be. And, positive emotions open your blood vessels, optimizing blood flow and lowering blood pressure! So it makes sense that when you fuel your heart and life with the energy of full emotional expression, and full partnership, and you heed your desire for more pleasure, then you will lessen your risk for hypertension, heart attack, stroke, and even dementia.
If all of the above measures fail, then it’s advisable to see your doctor to discuss your options. You may need to use blood pressure-lowering medication for a time. Also, be sure to get your lipid profile and blood pressure checked again every three to six months.