Hypertension or high blood pressure occurs when systolic pressure is equal to or above 140 mm Hg and diastolic pressure is equal to or above 90 mm Hg (Copstead & Banasik, 2013). It is a serious condition that warrants attention, not only because it is estimated that 25% of the world’s population suffers from it, but also because it increases the risk for other diseases and conditions, such as heart attack and stroke (Copstead & Banasik, 2013; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Often, the cause of hypertension is not known. In these cases, it is considered primary hypertension. When there is an identifiable cause it is considered secondary hypertension (Copstead & Banasik, 2013).
Stages of Hypertension
The stages of hypertension are identified by blood pressure measurements. Normal blood pressure occurs when systolic pressure is 120 mm Hg and diastolic pressure is 80 mm Hg (Copstead & Banasik, 2013). When systolic pressure is between 120 and 139 mm Hg or diastolic pressure is between 80 and 89 mm Hg the condition is called prehypertension. This is considered the early stage of hypertension, and intervention is necessary in order for the condition not to progress to hypertension (Copstead & Banasik, 2013).
Hypertension can be divided into two stages. Stage 1 occurs when systolic pressure is between 140 and 159 mm Hg and diastolic pressure is between 90 and 99 mm Hg. Stage 2 occurs when systolic pressure is equal to or above 160 mm Hg and diastolic pressure is equal to or above 100 mm Hg (Copstead & Banasik, 2013).
Hypertension is often asymptomatic, and requires blood pressure readings in order to be identified. However, hypertension can cause nose bleeding, headaches, a red or flushed face, dizziness, fatigue, nervousness, insomnia, blurred vision, fluid retention, and shortness of breath (Copstead & Banasik, 2013; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Causes of Hypertension
The causes of hypertension are varied. Primary hypertension can be caused by hereditary factors or genetic predisposition; a diet that involves high consumption of salt, saturated fat, and cholesterol, or a deficiency in consumption of potassium, calcium, and magnesium; obesity; older age (more likely to appear after age 40); diabetes mellitus; impaired kidney function; arteriosclerosis; general toxemia; glandular disturbances; excessive consumption of stimulants such as tea, coffee, or others; stressful events; and/or smoking. Secondary hypertension causes are more easily identifiable, as this condition is linked to an identifiable condition such as obstructed renal arteries, kidney disease, kidney malfunction, narrowed arteries, and endocrine disorders (hyperthyroidism, Cushing’s syndrome, and others) (Copstead & Banasik, 2013; Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Natural Treatment of Hypertension
Prehypertension and stage 1 hypertension are more easily treated with natural lifestyle changes, but stage 2 hypertension may require drug treatment in addition to lifestyle changes. Hypertension can also be managed through intake of drugs that reverse the effect of certain hormones or elements that typically increase blood pressure, such as aldosterone, ADH, angiotensin II, or calcium (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Lifestyle changes include changes in diet to consume more fiber, flavonoids, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, and essential fatty acids, and less sodium, sugar, saturated and animal fats, cholesterol, alcohol and caffeine; and increase in daily exercise (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013). Even 20 minutes of walking per day can make an impact. Increasing consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables is also important, as is losing weight, and not smoking. Foods that are recommended for those with hypertension include celery, garlic, onions, nuts, seeds, salmon, mackerel, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, broccoli, citrus fruits, berries, cherries, and grapes (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Managing stress is an integral part of the treatment support. Stress management can take varied paths, given that stress can have multiple causative and compounding factors. Nonetheless, focusing on relaxation could be an effective means of reducing stress. It is advisable to engage in relaxation techniques and mind body practices, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and breathing techniques. Breathing exercises that encourage diaphragmatic breathing can also help manage stress (Pizzorno & Murray, 2013).
Herbal supplements also provide natural support options for those with hypertension. Ginkgo biloba extract has been used effectively within Traditional Chinese Medicine to reduce blood pressure in those with primary hypertension (Xiong et al., 2014). Six clinical trials conducted in China indicated that supplementation with ginkgo biloba extract significantly reduced blood pressure, and helped patients bring blood pressure to within normal range (Xiong et al., 2014). Doses of the extract were not included, although in some cases there were adverse effects including abdominal discomfort, loss of appetite, dizziness, and slight edema in the lower limbs (Xiong et al., 2014).
Vitamin C and Vitamin E
Vitamin C and Vitamin E are also natural support options that have been found to support the treatment of primary hypertension (González, Valls, Brito, & Rodrigo, 2014). Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that is involved in the pathophysiology of hypertension. Oral administration of Vitamin C for best absorption in the body was recommended at 60 to 100mg daily, but no higher than 400 mg. In clinical trials, supplementation of Vitamin C was not consistently effective in reducing blood pressure, although it did work in some cases (González et al., 2014). It is best recommended to consume Vitamin C through natural sources, such as kiwis, bell peppers, and Brussels sprouts.
Vitamin E is also a powerful antioxidant, and it has been shown to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Again, supplementation of Vitamin E was not consistent in reducing blood pressure in trials. But, a combined therapy of Vitamin C and Vitamin E did reduce blood pressure in short-term clinical trials (González et al., 2014). Vitamin E can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, avocado, and peanuts.
Additional support include consumption of herbs such as barberry, black cohosh, buckwheat, cayenne, garlic, onion, peppermint, and valerian, amongst others. Bran tea is also recommended for lowering blood pressure, as well as diuretic herbs including dandelion, cleavers, and parsley.
Copstead, L. E. & Banasik, J. (2013). Pathophysiology (5th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Saunders.
González, J., Valls, N., Brito, R. & Rodrigo, R. (2014). Essential hypertension and oxidative stress: new insights. World Journal of Cardiology, 6(6), 353-366. doi:10.4330/wjc.v6.i6.353
Pizzorno, J. E. & Murray, M. T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.
Xiong, X. J., Liu, W., Yang, X. C., Feng, B., Zhang, Y. Q., Li, S. J., Li, X. K., & Wang, J. (2014). Ginkgo biloba extract for essential hypertension: a systemic review. Phytomedicine, 51650, 1-6. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.phymed.2014.04.024