High blood pressure….it’s a condition that many people are all too familiar with. In fact, nearly half of the adult population has high blood pressure! And some people may not even know it because more often than not there are no obvious symptoms. That’s why high blood pressure/hypertension has earned the nickname “the silent killer.” And when high blood pressure goes undetected, the long term effects can lead to heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, vision loss and even sexual dysfunction. Wow….I did not know about that last one, did you? It makes sense though because if there is a problem with your circulation, it can affect ALL areas of the body!
What exactly is high blood pressure?
Let’s start with the basics. Simply put, blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against your artery walls. Your circulatory system then carries the blood throughout your body by way of your veins, capillaries and arteries. High blood pressure occurs when your blood pressure is higher than normal for an extended period of time. When you have high blood pressure, your heart has to work harder than normal to circulate the blood throughout your body but chances are you probably won’t feel it. Hence the name “the silent killer!”
How do you know if you have high blood pressure?
The only way to truly know is to be tested. If you’ve ever had a physical exam, then you’ve had your blood pressure checked. They wrap that little cuff around your upper arm and a machine pumps the cuff up until it feels like a vise grip around your arm. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it usually feels pretty tight on my little arms! The reading that you get consists of two numbers – systole and diastole. These are the two phases of the cardiac cycle.
Systole occurs when the heart contracts to pump blood out of the heart. The systolic pressure is the top number in the reading. Diastole occurs when the heart relaxes after contraction. The diastolic pressure is the bottom number. The American Heart Association has created five categories to distinguish between normal, elevated and the 3 levels of hypertension. Here is how they break it down:
Normal – Blood pressure numbers of less than 120/80 mm Hg.
Elevated – 120-129 mm Hg and less than 80 mm Hg
Hypertension Stage 1 – 130-139 mm Hg and 80-89 mm Hg
Hypertension Stage 2 – 140-149 over 90 or higher mm Hg
Hypertensive crisis – 180 over 120 mm Hg
If your blood pressure is normal, congratulations! You are doing a great job! If you have ventured into the elevated category, it’s time to make some lifestyle changes because you definitely have the potential to develop hypertension. When you enter stage 1 and stage 2 hypertension, your doctor may recommend medication along with some lifestyle changes. And, if your blood pressure rises over 180 for an extended period of time, you are in crisis mode and need to seek medical attention immediately. The consequences of high blood pressure in this range can lead to all sorts of bad things.
How can I prevent high blood pressure?
Ideally, we want to do whatever we can to stay within the normal range. Lifestyle changes that you can make include eating a well balanced diet, limiting alcohol, exercising regularly, stress management, and maintaining a healthy weight. These are all factors within your control so it is entirely possible to lower and manage your blood pressure without pharmaceutical drugs.
One of the easiest ways to control your blood pressure is with food. You have to eat so why not choose foods that naturally lower blood pressure? Below is a list of some of the top foods that contain essential nutrients specifically targeted for blood pressure.
1. Leafy greens – spinach, kale, bok choy, swiss chard, and beet greens contain potassium which is an important regulator of blood pressure. 1 cup of cooked spinach contains 839 mg. of potassium. Add them to your smoothie, salad or stir fry.
2. Bananas – another great source of potassium. One large banana contains 487 mg. of potassium. Eat them as a snack with nut butter or toss one into your morning smoothie.
3. Ginger – ginger expands the blood vessels which increases circulation and naturally lowers blood pressure. Ginger also contains potassium. Cook with ginger or try some ginger tea.
4. Garlic – garlic increases the nitric oxide in your cells. Nitric oxide helps to lower and regulate blood pressure. Everything tastes better with garlic so pile it on!!
5. Flaxseeds – flaxseeds contain Omega 3 fatty acids, fiber and lignans which have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system. Add a spoonful of ground flaxseed to your morning smoothie, oatmeal or sprinkle some on your salad.
6. Celery/celery seed – celery is naturally full of water therefore it provides hydration to the body. Dehydration is a trigger for high blood pressure. Celery seed can be consumed as a tea, in soups or sprinkled on food. Celery is great as a snack, added into a stir fry or as a refreshing juice. I drink a glass of celery juice every morning 😉
7. Pistachios – who doesn’t love pistachios?? One study found that eating pistachios helped to lower systolic blood pressure levels. Eat them raw, add them to a salad or make a pesto.
As you can see there is nothing crazy or exotic in this list. Most likely you are familiar with all of these foods. However, if this feels overwhelming, pick one or two of the foods and start adding them into your diet. Then next week add in another one. Keep the momentum going and before you know it, you will be eating all of these foods every day!
Incorporating these foods into your diet along with the lifestyle changes is an easy way to lower and maintain healthy blood pressure levels. Give it a try. It can feel so empowering to heal your body with good food. After all, that is what nature intended!!
I am here for you if you need support.