High blood pressure (or hypertension) affects about one in three Americans, which is about the same number as are clinically obese. This isn't a coincidence, which is why seeking a healthy weight is the topmost lifestyle recommendation for people with high blood pressure.
The logic is fairly straightforward. Since having a bigger body results in a larger arterial space, the heart has to work harder in order to pump the blood. This causes the blood pressure to rise. Therefore, by shedding the excess weight, we can reduce the strain on the heart so it doesn't have to work so hard, and thus relieve the symptoms of hypertension.
Are we missing the point?
While all good and true, this explanation overlooks two essential risk factors common to both hypertension and obesity: inflammation and oxidative damage. When these two factors are not taken into account, standard recommendations like calorie restriction and exercise are incomplete, and may become risk factors of their own, through further induction of oxidative damage and inflammation.
We all know that, in order to lose weight, we should eat less food. But what often gets missed is that we should eat less processed food. Processed foods contain considerably less nutritional content than their whole food counterparts. Even those which are "enriched" or "fortified" are often still completely devoid of certain nutrients that would be found in whole foods.
Even more concerning isn't what is taken out of processed foods, but what is put into them. Thousands of chemicals have been approved for use in processed foods. While each of them has demonstrated a certain level of safety with respect to health risks, the cumulative effects of all these chemicals taken together over a lifetime hasn't been investigated. What we do know is hypertension and obesity rates have risen in the United States at a pace roughly equivalent to the increase in consumption of processed foods. Similar trends have been observed in other countries.
The Missing Elements: Minerals
There are six macrominerals needed in relatively large amounts for proper function of the body. However, only two of them are regularly found to be insufficient in the average American diet: magnesium and potassium. As there are most plentifully found in dark leafy greens and legumes, the relative dearth of these in the Standard American Diet is a likely culprit for these insufficiencies.
Supplementation with magnesium and potassium can be helpful in order to balance what is missing from the diet, but be forewarned -- to get it all from supplements generally requires about six capsules a day simply because we need so much of them. A back door way to get these minerals in supplement form is to take a buffered vitamin C powder, as the minerals are what provides the buffering system for vitamin C. This can be taken in plain water, juice or mixed into a smoothie.
Additional Supplements for Hypertension
There are a number of additional supplements that can be used to help lower blood pressure. However, which is the most appropriate depends upon the underlying issue which is being addressed. In addition, many supplements can interact with certain heart medications. For these reasons, it's generally advisable to consult with a professional trained in the proper use of dietary supplements before incorporating them into your daily routine.
Herbs like ginger and turmeric are powerful anti-inflammatories that can be employed to cool the fires of inflammation which often contribute to hypertension.
CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid are universal antioxidants that can offset the oxidative damage to blood vessels which may underlie the deposition of cholesterol in the arterial wall.
Passionflower and lemon balm have an overall relaxing effect on muscle tissue, including the heart. These herbs are often found in formulas designed for muscular pain relief and insomnia.
Parsley and dandelion leaf have a mild diuretic effect that can act as a natural "water pill." These can also be incorporated into the diet as foods.
Hypertension is a multifactorial disease -- some of the risk factors can be managed with a healthy diet, lifestyle and supplements. However, it's important to keep in mind that, since so many factors play into the development of high blood pressure, general recommendations can be difficult to make. In many cases, even seemingly "common sense" advice such as to lose weight can have negative consequences if not undertaken without a foundation of proper nutrition.
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