High blood pressure is typically a silent disease, producing few or no symptoms while increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, vision problems and kidney disease. There are two basic types of high blood pressure, also known as hypertension: primary (essential) and secondary. Secondary hypertension has an identifiable cause such as kidney disease, adrenal tumors or drugs, although this type is relatively rare compared to the much more prevalent primary hypertension. Primary hypertension is considered to have no identifiable cause. However, from a naturopathic perspective most people with primary hypertension do have an identifiable cause – diet and lifestyle.
All of the following are known risk factors for high blood pressure. Addressing these factors can lower blood pressure in many people.
Reduce salt: Too much salt in the diet causes the body to retain water, which raises blood pressure. About one-third of people with hypertension are salt sensitive and will see a reduction in blood pressure when they reduce their salt intake. Salt (or sodium) is found in most processed foods, especially soups, sauces, cheese and chips – all nutrition labels indicate sodium amounts. People with high blood pressure should limit their daily intake of sodium to less than 1500 mg per day (the average American consumes 3300-4200 mg daily).
Reduce alcohol: While alcohol in moderation,may lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, alcohol in excess can raise blood pressure. In general, men should limit alcohol to two drinks per day or less and women to one per day or less. Those with high blood pressure may benefit from further reductions.
Quit tobacco: In addition to raising blood pressure, tobacco raises the risk of heart attack and stroke in other ways, including by increasing the risk of forming blood clots. For help with tobacco cessation, call the Quitline at 1-877-YES-QUIT.
Increase physical activity: In addition to raising blood pressure, lack of physical activity tends to cause weight gain and inflammation, both of which are risk factors for heart attack and stroke. The minimum guideline for physical activity is 30 minutes daily of moderate intensity exercise. Optimal is 45-60 minutes per day.
Increase fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are high in potassium and fiber, both of which lower blood pressure.Countless studies have found that those with the highest intake of fruits and vegetables are at the lowest risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, most cancer, and many other chronic diseases. The minimum intake is 5 servings per day, while optimum intake is 8-10 servings per day.
Decrease sugar and flour: High glycemic foods such as sugar and flour can increase blood pressure, in addition to raising cholesterol, weight and inflammation. All of these are risks for heart attack and stroke. Those who have high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol or are overweight are especially likely to benefit from this. Added sugars such as dessert, soda and maple syrup should be eliminated and all grains should be whole grains and consumption limited to once daily.
Lose weight: Being overweight tends to increase blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation, all of which are risk factors for heart attack and stroke. Physical activity, avoiding sugar and flour and eating lots of fruits and vegetables are great ways to promote weight loss.
Decrease caffeine: Studies on the impact of caffeine on blood pressure are mixed. Some people with high blood pressure may benefit from reducing caffeine intake.
Avoid food allergens: In some people, food allergies may contribute to high blood pressure. Blood allergy testing or the N.E.A.T. technique, which is usually available through most naturopathic physicians, is an easy way to determine if you have food allergies.