Hypertension: Symptoms, Causes and Natural Support Strategies
Hypertension and poorly controlled blood pressure damages the kidneys and vascular networks resulting in heart attacks, stroke, & kidney failure. Over 1000 deaths are attributed to high blood pressure every day in the US. It is estimated that blood pressure issues account for over 40 million doctor visits each year (1). Lifestyle induced oxidative stress is a major culprit in this process. In this article, you will learn natural support strategies for hypertension.
Researchers have recently focused on oxidative stress as a major causative factor in the majority of hypertensive issues. Scientists have noted an imbalance in the production and elimination of reactive oxygen species (ROS) which damage vascular tissue (2, 3).
Low-grade, chronic inflammation is systemic and can last for months or years. This inflammatory state is associated with a wide range of health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
What causes inflammation of this nature are things that place an excessive stress load on the body. This can include physical, emotional, and chemical stress. As a result, inflammatory mediators are produced throughout the body and can overwhelm the immune system.
The ongoing inflammatory stimulus results in more white blood cell recruitment, increased inflammation, and changes to cells. White blood cells will eventually attack internal organs or other tissues and cells. This inflammatory response continues until the factor that causes inflammation is addressed.
When inflammation impacts the internal lining of the blood vessels, called the endothelial layer, it causes scaring and hardening of the blood vessels. This damage to the blood vessels limits their ability to dialate and causes the pressure inside the vessels to increase. In addition, the inflammation impacts the kidneys and causes a reduced blood flow through the urinary system, which increases blood pressure in the body.
The Oxidative Switch:
When oxidative stress is elevated it can cause the angiotensinogen glycoprotein to convert to angiotensin. The hormone angiotensin causes sodium retention and vascular constriction. This “oxidative switch” floods the system with angiotensin and dramatically affects blood pressure balance (6).
Professor Aiwu Zhou and colleagues at the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research have studied specific nutrients and their ability to prevent this oxidative switch (7, 8, 9). They have highlighted a few specific anti-oxidant compounds that inhibit the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE). These compounds acted on the Nrf2 pathway to power up the antioxidant capacity of the body.
There are many medications designed as `ACE inhibitors` to affect this same pathway. These medications are great at lowering blood pressure. However, these medications never address the oxidative stress and therefore never get to the true underlying cause of the problem.
Best Defense Against the Oxidative Switch:
The best defense against the oxidative switch begins with an anti-inflammatory diet. This begins with a diet rich in phytonutrient dense vegetables, healthy fat and clean protein sources. Non-starchy vegetables, herbs, & teas are great sources of anti-oxidants and have very low carbohydrate content.
Healthy fat sources include coconut products, avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, & purified omega-3 fish oil supplements. Healthy protein includes wild-caught fish, grass-fed red meat and free range chicken, turkey and eggs.
Support Glutathione Levels:
A very useful superfood is non-denatured whey protein from cows and goats that grazed on organic grass alone. These whey peptides boost cellular glutathione stores. Glutathione is our bodies’ most potent defense against oxidative stress (10).
Research has demonstrated that a diet rich in high quality whey protein acts as a potent ACE inhibitor. Additional studies has shown that these whey peptides provide a second metabolic pathway for blood pressure control (11, 12). As they fight oxidative stress they inhibit the release of other vessel constricting components such as endothelin-1.
Unfortunately, I also see many of my clients have food sensitivities to dairy protein such as whey. For supplemental forms, look for reduced glutathione, acetylated glutathione and liposomal forms of glutathione. Additionally, precursers like N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) help the body to produce glutathione. Discuss dosages with your health care practitioner.
Berries and Fruit Extracts Role:
Certain berries and fruit extracts also contain powerful anti-hypertensive effects. Grapes contain the polyphenol resveratrol that protects the blood vessel walls and improves the way these cells respond to metabolic shifts that affect blood pressure (13, 14).
This nutrient appears to also reduce salt sensitive cases of hypertension. Resveratrol along with the anthocyanins found in berries also act to fight against the potent inflammatory factors caused by glycolysis.
Pomegranate extract is rich in some of nature’s most powerful polyphenols. This has been demonstrated to act as a natural ACE inhibitor. Pomegranate has also been shown effective in blocking inflammatory damage induced by angiotensin in key tissues involved in blood pressure control (15, 16).
This nutrient also improves the activity of endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS). The presence of eNOS results in greater dilation of the blood vessel and less stress on the vascular wall.
Best Action Steps For Healthy Circulation:
Here are the best action steps to get started with on your journey to improve circulation. It is important to note that these strategies are not at this time FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure hypertension and should not be confused as such. You should always consult with your physician before stopping or changing medications or taking on new health strategies.
Additionally, you should be working with a functional health practitioner to help guide you through these strategies. This is not an exhaustive list and there are other natural therapeutic strategies that I and functional health practitioners will utilize to help individuals with high blood pressure.
Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Ketogenic Diet:
It is important to follow an anti-inflammatory diet where you take out grains and sugars, processed vegetable oils and processed meat. Instead focus your meals on healthy fats such as olives, olive oil, avocados, grass-fed butter, pasture-raised eggs, coconut oil and nuts and seeds.
Include organic, pasture-raised animal products and lots of non-starchy vegetables and herbs. Getting into a state of nutritional ketosis will dramatically reduce inflammation in the blood vessels and can have a very positive impact on blood pressure levels. Here is a helpful article to put this into action.
Intermittent fasting is a way of eating that cycles between not-eating (fasting) and eating (feasting) within a period of time. It is a great way to reduce inflammation, increase autophagy, reduce insulin resistance, improve cellular repair, and reduce the risk of disease. One of the most popular intermittent fasting methods is the 16:8 approach, which includes a 16-hour fast (including your overnight sleep) and an 8-hour eating window with 2 or 3 meals.
However, there are several other intermittent fasting methods you can try depending on your personal health, fasting experience, and schedule. To learn more about how intermittent fasting may benefit your heart health, read this article
Find ways to reduce stressful activities and enjoy more peace and calm. Being under a state of chronic stress increases inflammation and pressure in your blood vessels. I recommend that you reduce stressors from your life as much as possible. Turn off the news, and only look at it once a day or a few times a week for a specific period. Reduce your social media use and time on the internet.
Avoid people and situations that bring you down. Surround yourself with loving and uplifting people. Engage in uplifting and relaxation-promoting activities. Read, try some arts and crafts, play cards or board games, sing, and dance.
Spend time in nature and do some grounding walking barefoot on grass. Practice daily gratitude and try positive affirmations. Practice self-love and laugh with friends and family. Meditate, pray, journal, and try daily breathwork. Be grateful and smile more.
Improve Your Sleep:
Prioritizing good sleep is just as important as reducing your stress levels. Develop a regular schedule going to bed and getting up at the same time every day to support your circadian rhythms.
Sleeping a high quality 8-9 hours each night is key to healing and improving blood flow. Do your best to get to bed early as every hour of sleep before midnight is equivalent to 3 hours of regenerative sleep after 12pm. I recommend aiming to be in bed by 10pm each night if possible.
Avoid electronics, sugar, caffeine, heavy foods, and stress close to the bed. Engage in relaxing activities, including stretching, relaxing baths, meditation, and prayer. Make sure that you have a supporting bed, pillow, and bedding, and sleep in a dark calming room
5) Include Magnesium and B Vitamin Rich Foods:
Magnesium helps to relax blood vessel walls. The best magnesium rich foods include dark green leafy veggies, grass-fed dairy, raw cacao and pumpkin seeds. You can also do Epsom salt baths to boost your magnesium levels.
It is also a good idea if you have hypertension to take a high quality magnesium supplement and B complex supplement. Look for magnesium L-threonate which is the best form of magnesium for crossing the blood brain barrier.
When it comes to B vitamins, it is best to look for one with pre-activated forms such as methyl-folate, methyl-cobalamin (B12), Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate form of B6, and Riboflavin-5-phosphate form of vitamin B2. The methyl groups are in the active form and will be better utilized by the body.
Focus on Deep Breathing:
Improving your posture, seeing a high quality chiropractor and optimizing your breathing patterns is highly recommended. Taking time to slow down your breathing and take long-deep breaths for a few minutes every hour will help reduce the sympathetic, fight or flight part of the nervous system.
The better we breathe, the better we will heal and the more blood flow and oxygen we will get into the tissues and the better our mitochondria will function. Follow these tips here to improve your breathing patterns.
Ground Your Body:
In our society we are surrounded by toxic electromagnetic frequency’s (EMF’s). These EMF’s increase stress within our body and alter neurotransmitter function.
By going outside daily and walking barefoot on grass, dirt or sand you absorb natural EMF’s from the ground that balance your electrical rhythms. Follow the steps in this article here.
Regular Movement & Exercise
Regular movement and exercise are essential for your circulation, blood pressure and overall health. Regular movement may help to reduce your risk of plaque formation and clogged arteries. I recommend that you exercise at least 20 minutes, 5 times a week. This could be something as simple as taking a walk each day.
If you are healthy and able too, I recommend getting a mix of cardiovascular exercises, such as trampoline workouts, running, swimming, biking, or aerobics classes, and strength and resistance training, such as weight lifting, bodyweight workouts, TRX, or cross-fit. High-intensity interval training is a great mix of both worlds. Add some low impact workouts, such as yoga or pilates. Stay active throughout the day by stretching, walking, and taking the stairs.
Consume Trace Mineral Rich Foods:
Potassium helps to lower blood pressure naturally. The best potassium rich foods include lemons & limes, avocados, dark green leafy veggies such as spinach and mushrooms. Here is a helpful article on potassium and the best food sources of this nutrient.
The idea that we need to lower sodium levels is not inherently true. Insulin acts to retain sodium in the body and that results in an increase in blood pressure. When we have insulin resistance or if we are eating a high carbohydrate diet, extra sodium will be retained and it will raise our blood pressure.
However, if we are eating a low-carb diet and have good insulin sensitivity, we will excrete more sodium and will actually need more sodium and trace minerals. A ketogenic diet and the practice of intermittent fasting lowers your overall insulin levels and increases your need for sodium.
I recommend getting your sodium from real foods like celery, green leafy veggies, organic meat products, seaweed and seafood. In addition, you can add a good quality salt such as Celtic, Himalayan or Redmond’s real salt.
Supplement With Omega 3’s:
The long-chain omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA help to reduce vascular inflammation and improve the elasticity of the blood vessels and stabilize blood pressure. They are also critical for stabilizing blood sugar, lowering triglycerides and improving lipoprotein characteristics (26). Consume grass-fed meat, grass-fed butter, wild-caught fish and spirulina to get it in your diet.
Plant based omega 3’s such as flax oil only contain the small chain omega 3 called ALA and do not have any DHA. It is very hard for our body to convert ALA into DHA so it is best to get a high quality fish or krill oil that is rich in EPA and DHA. You want to find a brand that is molecularly distilled to take out any heavy metals and other unwanted contaminants.
Be sure to discuss with your physician before using as fish oils have a blood thinning affect and can be contraindicated if you are on blood thinning medications.
Optimize Vitamin D Levels
Vitamin D is critical for your overall health and deficiency may contribute to serious health issues. Research has shown that vitamin D deficiency may increase your risk of cardiovascular problems including hypertension. Now that spring is here and summer is coming, spend plenty of time outside to get some sunshine.
Make sure to protect yourself by not staying out mid-day when the sun is the strongest. Eat vitamin D-rich foods including oysters, yogurt, liver, egg yolk, and spinach. However, the sun and food alone are not enough to meet all your vitamin D needs.
I recommend supplementing with a high quality vitamin D3 supplement to get your levels between 50-100 ng/mL. Vitamin D has been shown to improve immune and circulatory health (27). Remember, this supplement is not at this time FDA approved to prevent, mitigate, treat or cure heart disease and it should not be confused as such.
Improve Your Mitochondria:
The mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of every cell. When someone has a neurodegenerative disorder it is a clinical sign that they have dysfunctional activity going on in the mitochondria.
Support your mitochondria with clinical doses of CoQ10, L-carnitine, N-acetyl cysteine, creatine monohydrate, B vitamins, magnesium, alpha lipoic acid and D-ribose. You can find mitochondrial support supplements that have most if not all of these key nutrients.
Power up Your Nrf2 Pathway:
Nrf2 (NF-E2-related factor 2) is a transcription factor in humans encoded by a specific gene that regulates the expression of a set of antioxidant and detoxifying genes. This pathway is activated under times of oxidative stress to enhance the expression of a multitude of antioxidant and phase II liver detoxification enzymes that restore homeostasis to the ox/redox cycles in the body (41, 42, 43).
The Nrf2 pathway has been researched to be a key player in the development or prevention of neurodegeneration and autoimmune activity. Adding in clinical dosages of resveratrol, curcumin, quercetin, sulfuraphane and Green tea (EGCG) can be extraordinarily beneficial for driving up the Nrf2 Pathway.
Final Thoughts on Hypertension
Your arteries are major blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your head to toe. Hypertension is a result of chronic inflammation that damages the kidneys and the blood vessel walls and causes a lack of elasticity, which may decrease or block blood flow, and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and even death. Follow my natural support strategies to improve your circulation and cardiovascular health.
If you want to work with a functional health coach, I recommend this article with tips on how to find a great coach. At my clinic, we offer long-distance functional health coaching programs. For further support with your heart health and other goals, just reach out—our fantastic coaches are here to support your journey.