Using Functional Medicine to treat High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
The term hypertension is used when blood pressure readings are above the healthy range for a few weeks or more.
Blood pressure readings include two numbers:
· The larger number is called the systolic pressure. This measures how hard the heart is pumping blood around the body. It goes up when the heart is pumping harder or faster than normal.
· The smaller number is the diastolic pressure. This measures the pressure in the blood vessels between heart pumps. It is affected by resistance in the blood vessels. It increases when the blood vessels constrict or become narrower due to fatty deposits.
A healthy blood pressure is 120/80. If blood pressure readings are consistently 140 over 90, or higher, this puts extra strain on the heart and blood vessels. This increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure is also linked to kidney problems and some forms of dementia.
High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms. The only way to detect it is to have your blood pressure measured. Many different things can affect your blood pressure through the day so a single high reading does not necessarily mean you have high blood pressure. A number of readings are needed to see if your blood pressure stays high over time.
There is no single cause for high blood pressure, instead there are many different factors that can contribute. These include:
· Genetics – high blood pressure can run in families. In addition people from African-Caribbean and South Asian communities are at greater risk of high blood pressure than people of other ethnicities.
· Age – as we age our blood vessels gradually change in structure. They become stiffer and less pliable. This is often accompanied by a build-up of fatty deposits which cause the blood vessels to become narrower. Together these contribute to a rise in blood pressure. The rate at which these changes happen is very much influenced by diet and lifestyle choices
· Poor diet – eating too much salt, saturated fat and sugar can all contribute to high blood pressure. Not eating enough fruit and vegetables is also a risk factor.
· Smoking – smoking raises heart rate, constricts blood vessels. It also accelerates the build up of fatty deposit in the arteries and the hardening of blood vessel walls.
· Drinking alcohol – drinking alcohol regularly can lead to blood pressure increases over time. In addition most alcoholic drinks contain a lots of calories and can contribute to increasing body weight
· Being overweight – being overweight, especially if the excess weight is located around the waist greatly increases the risk of hypertension and accelerates the formation of fatty deposits in the arteries.
· Stress – when faced with a stressful situation, our bodies react by releasing adrenaline and cortisol into the blood. These hormones prepare the body for the “fight or flight” by making the heart beat faster and constricting blood vessels. This temporarily raises blood pressure. Stress doesn’t lead to consistently high blood pressure but it can cause blood pressure spikes. Stress can also make us more likely to adopt other habits that are bad for our blood pressure such as eating too much salt, not eating enough vegetables and drinking too much alcohol.
Medically high blood pressure is treated with a range of different medications. But many of these have side effects and none of them address the underlying causes of high blood pressure. Research shows diet and lifestyle changes can be very effective in lowering high blood pressure.
Instead of treating symptoms, the functional medicine approach to high blood pressure addresses the actual causes for lasting health.
A full protocol will include:
· Practical advice and support to help you adjust your diet and lifestyle to support healthier blood pressure levels.
· Analysis of your metabolic health and a personalised diet plan to help you achieve your ideal body weight and reduce your cardiovascular risk factors.
· Support to manage stress
Assessment and correction of nutrient imbalances that contribute to high blood pressure.