No doubt you know that high blood pressure is creating a global health crisis. But, until relatively recently, infectious diseases were a bigger annual killer.
Today, ‘non-communicable diseases’ have become more deadly, and most are associated with ‘modifiable causes’, including being overweight and obesity. Processed foods and a boatload of sugar in everything, fried foods and huge portions are overwhelming our ability to fight disease.
These ‘non-communicable diseases’ include cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic lung diseases. Speaking for the World Health Organization, Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan says, “One of the key risk factors for cardiovascular disease is hypertension — or raised blood pressure. Hypertension already affects one billion people worldwide, leading to heart attacks and strokes. Researchers have estimated that raised blood pressure currently kills nine million people every year.”
The WHO report notes that hypertension is more prevalent in low-and-middle-income countries, and often remains undiagnosed and untreated. But hypertension rates continue to grow unabated in North America, Australia, and other ‘rich’ countries of Europe. It is especially worrisome in formerly ‘poor nations’ China, India, and South Asia. Middle Eastern countries Qatar, the UAE, and Egypt suffer from exploding rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. The irony does not go unnoted when it comes to our increase in technology, seen around the world. With a decrease in hunger comes a increase in inactivity, a contributing cause for obesity, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports:
- Having high blood pressure puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States.
- One in three adults, about 75 million American adults (32%), have high blood pressure.
- About 1 in 3 American adults has pre-hypertension — blood pressure numbers that are higher than normal — but not yet in the high blood pressure range.
- Only about half (54%)of people with high blood pressure have their condition under control.
- High blood pressure was a primary or contributing cause of death for more than 410,000 Americans in 2014 — more than 1,100 deaths each day.
- High blood pressure costs the U.S. $48.6 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat high blood pressure, and missed days of work.
What happens if your blood pressure is out of control?
Heart: Uncontrolled hypertension damages and narrows arteries, potentially leading to a stroke. Coronary artery disease, enlarged left heart, and heart failure. Stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), and cognitive impairment leading to dementia.
Kidney scarring leads to inability to filter waste properly and kidney failure, leading to dialysis and/or transplant; scarring can lead to an aneurysm (a bulge in the wall of a blood vessel) which can rupture and cause internal bleeding.
Eyes: Hypertension damages the eye’s blood vessels (retinopathy), leads to fluid build-up, and nerve damage.
Sexual dysfunction is linked to hypertension: decreased blood flow means difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection; vaginal dryness means sexual displeasure in women.
Primary hypertension is linked to genetics, poor diet, inactivity, smoking tobacco, and obesity. Other reasons include family history and age. Diet details? Too much salt and alcohol, and too little potassium in your diet (found mostly in fresh fruits and vegetables.) Some medications and long-term stress contributes to hypertension. Some may not take their medications properly, or they may be taking other medications and supplements that render their medications less effective. Some may not be taking their medications at all.
Secondary hypertension can result from other medical conditions that affect your kidneys, arteries, heart or endocrine system, and can also occur during pregnancy.
Maybe there are other reasons for high blood pressure that have not been addressed?
If you’ve been trying to control your blood pressure but you’ve been unsuccessful, consider these suspects:
- Sleep apnea: also associated with obesity: studies show that sleep apnea may be the culprit that prevents improvement even when treated with three or four medications. Obesity is strongly correlated with sleep apnea. Better sleep is associated with weight loss and regular activity. Learn more here.
- Low vitamin D levels: although research isn’t conclusive, preliminary studies show an association between vitamin D deficiency and high blood pressure. But a large study showed that supplementing with vitamin D compared to placebo did not have a significant effect on high blood pressure — it is not recommended to take vitamin D in place of your treatment medications if you have high blood pressure.
Recommended dosage by Dr. Andrew Weil: Adults under 50 200 IU daily; over 50-70 400 IU, and over 70 600 IU daily: take D3 (cholecalciferol) instead of D2 (ergocalciferol). Sunlight causes our body to manufacture vitamin D in our skin, about 10 minutes sunlight exposure, two to three times weekly. Dietary sources include fortified foods, eggs, salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Read more here.
- Thyroid issues. Hypertension may be a missed complication of hyper or hypo (high or low) thyroid. Testing is recommended. Read more here.
- ‘White Coat Syndrome’: One thing that can definitely raise your blood pressure is YOU! Are you one of the 20% or more of patients who have “white coat syndrome” where your blood pressure surges when measured in a clinical setting like the doctor’s office? Read more here.
Throughout Latin America, despite an “upward trend” in general medical care and health, the rate of hypertension is noted along with growing rates of heart disease and diabetes.
In our adopted home of Cuenca, many expats have arrived bearing the burden of chronic hypertension. A CDC study found that about 70% of adults in the U.S. who are at least 65 years old suffer from high blood pressure but almost half of these do not have their condition under control. And of course, in the U.S., more than 70% of adults are overweight or obese.
But many are taking control! And that is a great thing, and it should be noted that with weight loss and activity you can lower your blood pressure naturally.
Eat right…on your way to a healthy weight. Enjoy a variety of vegetables and fruits, without added sodium. A deficiency of potassium is linked to hypertension — and Ecuador is just so rich in potassium-rich fresh greens and all kinds of produce, fruits, delicious fish, whole grains, nuts and seeds. These foods are the keys to a healthy life,. Learn more here.
If you’d like some helpful guidance, the DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a proven plan that can lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and improve insulin sensitivity. It’s a guide to healthy eating, not a “diet” (although many experts will refer to it as the “DASH Diet”). No matter, learn more about the plan here, and enjoy some delicious recipes here.
Besides weight, if you currently smoke, quit. Go easy on alcohol. Breathe … reduce stress with yoga and regular activity that you enjoy, even if it’s just walking. You can control some ‘modifiable risk factors’ and reduce your risk for hypertension naturally.
By the way, two numbers represent blood pressure. The higher (systolic) number shows the pressure while the heart is beating. The lower (diastolic) numbers shows the pressure when the heart is resting between beats.
According to Blood Pressure UK, ideally, we should all have a blood pressure below 120 over 80 (120/80). At this level, we have a much lower risk of heart disease or stroke. Read my previous column about what is considered “normal” blood pressure here.
American Heart Association. Sleep Apnea and Heart Disease, Stroke. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Sleep-Apnea-and-Heart-Disease-Stroke_UCM_441857_Article.jsp#.WKIPnRIrJyo
Andrew Weil, MD. Vitamin D. https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/vitamins/vitamin-d/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. High Blood Pressure Fact Sheet. https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_bloodpressure.htm
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Mayo Clinic. High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension’s effects on your body. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045868
University Health News. Unexpected symptoms of thyroid issues include high blood pressure. http://universityhealthnews.com/daily/heart-health/unexpected-symptoms-of-thyroid-issues-include-high-blood-pressure/
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Your Guide to lowering Blood Pressure. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/heart/hbp_low.pdf
World Health Organization. A global brief on HYPERTENSION. Silent killer, global public health crisis. http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/79059/1/WHO_DCO_WHD_2013.2_eng.pdf?ua=1
World’s Healthiest Foods. Potassium. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?dbid=90&tname=nutrient