Best Bets Healthy for Blood Pressure

Stress reduction, herbs and dietary changes can help with hypertension.

| January/February 2006

High blood pressure (hypertension) is known as “the silent killer.” It causes no symptoms, but it’s a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease, con-gestive heart failure, kidney damage, glaucoma and Alzheimer’s disease. Blood pressure-related diseases account for 39 percent of U.S. deaths. Hypertension also is a rising national epidemic. In 1990, 25 percent of American adults had it. By 2000, the figure was 29 percent. Doctors are quick to treat hypertension with drugs, but natural approaches often are just as effective.

How High Is High?

Imagine for a moment that blood is water, the heart is a pump and blood vessels are a system of garden hoses. Just as water presses against the inside of a hose, blood pushes on your blood vessels, exerting blood pressure. When the heart beats, pressure increases. That’s “systolic” pressure, the first number in a blood pressure reading. Between heartbeats, pressure drops to “diastolic” pressure, the second number in a blood pressure reading.

“Normal” blood pressure is 120/80 (millimeters of mercury). But that number can be misleading, as blood pressure varies throughout the day. When you wake, it’s usually low. It rises during the day. And when you run to catch a bus, it spikes sharply, then returns to normal. A classification of high blood pressure means persistently elevated readings.

Until recently, physicians diagnosed blood pressure as “high” if, over a month, it was consistently above 140/90. But recently, researchers have discovered that even what was once considered “high-normal,” from 130/85 to 139/89, increases the risk of blood pressure-related health conditions. If you want to live to a ripe old age, keep your blood pressure as close to 120/80 as possible. The suggestions in this article will show you how.

First Things First

• Don’t smoke. If you smoke, there are many excellent reasons to quit. Blood pressure control is one of them. Smoking constricts the blood vessels, which increases blood pressure.

• Limit alcohol. A little alcohol — up to two drinks a day for men and one for women — reduces heart attack risk by raising HDL, also known as “good” cholesterol. But if you drink more, you risk developing high blood pressure.

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