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High Blood Pressure: If You’ve Got It, You Can Beat It

Ever since I was about fifteen years old, I have been aware of hypertension. My maternal grandmother and great-grandmothers both died from aneurysms. Neither saw her sixty-fourth birthday; as a result, my mother never met her grandmother, and I never met mine. It’s a shame, because I have heard most of my life how similar I am to my grandmother.

Often called the silent killer, the symptoms of hypertension can easily be overlooked and mistaken for other problems. According to WebMD, symptoms can include:

  • Vision problems
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Pounding headache
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pounding in the ears, neck or chest
  • Fatigue or even confusion

Unless these happen simultaneously, it is easy to assume other things are to blame. Taken in aggregate, they can add up to a serious problem.  But here’s the bigger problem: the symptoms listed above usually occur when blood pressure has been very high for a long period of time and possible heart attack or stroke is already imminent.

By age fifteen I knew what killed each of my grandparents and myriad other relatives on both sides of the family. Perhaps it was a little too much information for your average adolescent—far too early on in life I began my obsession, believing that I, too, would one day die of a stroke. So obsessed was I that I actually used to tell people that I would die of a stroke and that it would surely happen before I was even able to retire. However, despite an obvious predisposition to hypertension – my mother’s side of the family is African American, which doubles the likelihood of an aneurysm over Caucasians – both my mother and I smoked cigarettes. Although I didn’t start until I was eighteen, my mother had been smoking since she was seventeen, and by the time I was eighteen, she had been smoking for fifty-one years. I don’t believe either of us knew then that smoking elevates blood pressure and increases the likelihood of stroke.

But a curious thing happened to me. When I was twenty-four, I went for a routine physical and was asked about my habits. By this time I was starting to have inkling of the dangers associated with smoking. I admitted that I smoked almost two packs of cigarettes a day. Although my blood pressure was still low back then, my doctor asked if I understood that adding together my race, family history, and the fact that I smoked, my chances of stroke or heart attack were astronomical? Believing this, I quit less than a week later (that was in 1992) on Christmas day, three days following my twenty-fifth birthday, and I haven’t smoked since. In a strange twist of fate (or perhaps just the confluence of the myriad risk factors rearing their ugly head), my mother died of an aneurysm less than six months later. She was sixty-one. Now that’s three generations, without skipping one, to have died of a stroke, and all by age sixty-three.

To this day, I am neurotic about testing my blood pressure, which I do at home regularly. Despite having replaced smoking with regular exercise and trading in the stress of corporate America for life on a farm in the middle of nowhere, it’s a fixation I am unlikely to shake any time soon.  And this is probably a good thing. Although worrying won’t do any of us any good, being mindful of how serious hypertension is can save your life. Here are some numbers that are a little startling.

So What Causes Hypertension?

I have just named three risk factors for high blood pressure. Family history is not a fun one. This means that despite many of your best efforts, including increased exercise, not smoking, and being hyper vigilant about what you eat, you may just have the propensity toward it. You probably don’t want to exacerbate things by adding risk factors to your plate. Like familial history, there is nothing you can do about your ethnicity. As Popeye says, “I yam what I yam;” however, you can beat the odds by decreasing the amount of fried foods and salt, substituting that hunkin’ slab of meat and potatoes for no more than four ounces of it and steamed vegetables, and adding exercise to your daily routine.

And I know this is easier said than done, but if you are smoking, please quit… now.

Not surprisingly there are many others. Some of them are likely going to get the “well duh” response from you, but while all of us get it on an intellectual level, many of us are guilty of allowing one or more these risk factors from becoming part of our every day lives.

  • Overweight
  • Stress
  • Excess alcohol
  • Some medications
  • Too much sodium
  • Certain foods
  • Certain health conditions

Being Overweight

Honestly, nothing good can come from being overweight. Putting excess strain on your bones, organs, heart, and blood circulation is never a healthy thing. I think we all know – yes, even me – that the quicker we shed some pounds, many complaints will subside.

Stress

That’s a four-letter word, isn’t it? We all have it to some degree or another. Even if you have been successful at giving up working for someone else in favor of owning a farm and living off grid, few people are truly immune to stress. All we can do is minimize our reactions to what stresses us out. Money issues, the knucklehead who cut you off on the highway, family drama, the current administration, overdue taxes, the alphabet soup of government agencies whose mission it is to annoy us—you name it, there’s always going to be something that irks us. Stop, breathe, and although you might think it sounds silly, just let it go. Meditate, pray, go to the edge of your property and have a good screaming session: whatever you need to release your stress and not internalize your feelings, do it.

Excess Alcohol

Indeed this one might seem a little contradictory to what you have from heard your doctor or read about wine and beer. This is a case of, “If some is good, more is not better.” Two glasses of wine or beer a day is excellent for blood circulation. It calms the nerves, helps the blood flow, and is highly recommended – in small quantities.  Habitually drinking more than two glasses of day is not great on both blood circulation and, of course, your liver.

Some Medications and Supplements

Unfortunately, some medications can elevate blood pressure. If you have ever needed to take steroids for bronchitis or walking pneumonia, you may have felt that intense anger creeping up in you and couldn’t for the life of you figure out what was happening. Apart from affecting your mood, nearly all steroids – even those in asthma inhalers – raise blood pressure.

The following are known to elevate blood pressure:

  • Ephedra—for asthma and inflammation of lungs
  • Ginseng – frequently used to boost the immune system and treat diabetes
  • Licorice root – a natural cough suppressant and an additive in many natural cough medicines; additionally, many swear by its affects on lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

You Are What You Eat

Sodium (salt) can definitely elevate blood pressure. This is a tough one because salt tastes so good! There are ways to get the flavor without putting yourself at risk. Using herbs and spices in your cooking may not be a complete substitute for salt, but they can add excitement without the risk. Recommendations vary, but to be on the safe side, especially if you have one or more risk factors to hypertension, decreasing your sodium intake to no more than 1500 mg a day could stave off a stroke.

As mentioned earlier, many of us love meat with a passion, despite it not always being easy on the body to process it. This is especially true of beef and lamb. If you have high blood pressure, you might want to minimize your intake of meat, especially red meat. Lean cuts of poultry, although not generally thought of as exciting, decrease the risk of cardiovascular incidents. Vegetables, in particular the green leafy ones, are easier to digest and don’t elevate blood pressure.

Fried Foods

Depending upon where you live, it’s just a part of the culture, isn’t it? I know! Chicken tastes better deep fried than it does baked, and vegetables do have their appeal when they are fried rather than steamed. While it may not be easy to give up the frying addiction completely, why not minimize it to just a couple of times a month? All that oil is not doing your blood circulation any favors.

Some Types of Migraines and Hypertension

Are you a migraine sufferer? If so, you are hardly alone. It is estimated that more than 25 percent of women and 8 percent of men are plagued by these painful and often-debilitating headaches. Indeed, sufferers experience a range of symptoms, including photophobia, nausea, irritability, congestion, eye redness, heart palpitations, and auras. Although it’s not completely clear what causes migraines (the triggers are known, but it is unknown are why some people exposed to these triggers get migraines and others don’t), migraines do tend to run in families. It’s rare that only one member suffers from migraines, and while she might be minimizing her headaches, chances are if you have them, so does your mother.

Although many things can be triggers for migraines, these are some of the triggers sufferers report:

  • Stress
  • Sudden flashes of light
  • Dehydration
  • Menstruation
  • Menopause
  • Allergies to sulfites and monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Aspartame
  • Not enough caffeine
  • Too much caffeine
  • Changes in barometric pressure

You’re probably wondering right now, why the sudden segue from high blood pressure to migraines? It was a curiosity of mine, in all honesty. My great grandmother, grandmother, and mother all suffered from migraines, and as I indicated earlier, all died of strokes. Indeed, I suffer from migraines as well, and I began to wonder whether there was any correlation.

According to a study conducted by the University of Milano-Bicocca, at St. Gerardo Hospital in Milan, Italy, 2,973 patients were looked at to determine whether there is a migraine-hypertension comorbidity. To qualify for the study, participants must have suffered from migraines or high blood pressure or, of course, both.

What the researchers determined is the following:

  • 43 percent suffered from hypertension only
  • 40 percent experienced migraines only and had normal blood pressure (120/80 or lower)
  • 17 percent suffered from both hypertension and migraines
    • Of that 17 percent, who fit the comorbid profile, onset of comorbidity began around the age of 45
    • Had a familial history of both hypertension and migraines
    • Increased prevalence (4.4 percent) of cerebrovascular events

The conclusion reached was that the prevalence of comorbid hypertension and migraines is significant, and that for those with comorbidity, there is an increased likelihood of experiencing a stroke or heart attack.

This is, of course, not good news if you have both high blood pressure and you suffer from migraines.

There is Light at the End of the Tunnel

If you are among the 65 million Americans who have high blood pressure, have cut out the salt, either quit or never smoked, eat very healthfully, exercise regularly, and still can’t seem to make headway, there are things to consider. First of all, statins should be considered as a last result. Come on, we’re survivalists. We are prepping for the future, and we know that if it hits the fan, getting the prescription filled might be a problem at some point. It really is better to see if you can control it naturally. Here are some suggestions.

Hawthorn

Part of the rose family and found in many corners of the globe is a thorny shrub known as hawthorn. Although studies looking at the safety and efficacy of hawthorn for patients with heart disease are rather new and ongoing, using hawthorn to help prevent high blood pressure is nothing new. The earliest known people to start using hawthorn as a supplement for heart health are the ancient Chinese. In one study conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, forty patients whose ages ranged between fifty-three and eighty-six all presented with shortness of breath and other symptoms consistent with heart disease. Those who were given hawthorn flowers had a noticeable increase in their ability to exercise, and their blood pressures dropped significantly.  Another study tested patients using hawthorn in pill form (900 mg per day) versus low doses of captopril, which is a prescription heart disease drug. After two months, researchers found that the patients using hawthorn not only had better outcomes than those on captopril, but they were also able to reduce their dosage over time.

It is safe to eat the berries, leaves and the flowers of hawthorn, and if you have high cholesterol, hawthorn is equally safe and effective.

Potassium

Numerous studies – among them some conducted by St. George’s Medical School in London, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – have shown a link between potassium and blood pressure.

Diets with reduced sodium while high in potassium are perfect in preventing and decreasing hypertension. Potassium is naturally present in a myriad of the foods that we eat on a regular basis. The following is a short list of foods and herbs that are rich in potassium:

  • Prunes
  • Raisins
  • Dates
  • Apricots
  • Strawberries
  • Watermelon
  • Bananas
  • Cantaloupe
  • Citrus fruits
  • Spinach
  • Beets
  • Coriander
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Basil

Garlic and Onions

It is no longer a secret that both garlic and onions are excellent for combating both cholesterol and high blood pressure. Finding a culture who doesn’t use both in their cooking will be difficult and with good reason. Apart from their incredible health benefits, they enhance food’s flavoring. Among those who have known of its medicinal benefits for centuries are the Greeks, Tunisians, Chinese, French, and Spaniards, and the list goes on.

Mediterranean Diet

If battling high blood pressure is a big concern of yours, as it is for many, many Americans, you could also take a look at the diet of those living along the Mediterranean. While Americans tend toward the highest levels of hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease, those who have eaten a diet rich in whole grains, nuts, fish, lean cuts of meat (mostly poultry), olives, herbs, spices, vegetables, and red wine, with minimal amounts of red meat (all characteristics of the Mediterranean diet) have the lowest incidences of hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Always remember to consult with your doctor before starting any diet or healthcare regimen. Good health to you!

©2011 Off the Grid News

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