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Knowing your blood pressure is vital information as high blood pressure puts a strain on your arteries and heart, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, kidney disease and other problems. It is often called the “silent killer” as it can be damaging our bodies for many years before symptoms develop, by which time an irreversible damage has often occurred.
Most people do not realize that high blood pressure is a result of interaction between our genes, diet and environment. It can be a result of nutrient deficiencies, including those nutrients necessary to produce nitric oxide in our arteries, inflammation and/or oxidative stress, and we have large control over those processes through our diet and lifestyle.
Normal blood pressure is equal to or less than 120/80. A reading of 120 to 130/80 is called elevated blood pressure, and blood pressure above 130/80 is considered high.
Based on those criteria, over 40 percent of American adults are suffering from hypertension. But is that really the case?
Sometimes appointments are rushed and blood pressure is measured incorrectly, with potentially harmful consequences. Pay attention next time you see your health care provider and do not be afraid to speak up if you suspect that the proper protocol was not followed.
Blood pressure should be measured in a quiet and warm setting, after five minutes of rest, with both feet on the ground and back support. You should also be reminded not to have any caffeine, alcohol, tobacco or exercise within 30 to 60 minutes of your appointment and use the bathroom first if you feel that your bladder is full.
The blood pressure cuff must be the correct size - too small a cuff can falsely elevate the reading. Your arm needs to be completely relaxed and supported by a chair or a counter so the cuff is at the level of your heart.
Remain silent when your blood pressure is being taken. Repeat the measurement a minute or two later and average the two numbers, or do a third reading if the first two numbers are more than 10 points apart.
Our blood pressure fluctuates during the 24-hour cycle of day and night - our circadian rhythm. It is usually the highest in the morning, upon awakening, and should go down, or dip, by 10 to 20 percent at night. A non-dipping blood pressure signals a higher risk of cardiovascular problems. In fact, it may be even worse than having a high blood pressure during the day with proper nocturnal dipping. But how do you know if you are a “dipper” or a “non-dipper”?
You can find out by using a 24-hour blood pressure monitor. As you go about your day taking care of business as usual, the monitor takes automatic readings every 30 minutes or so, even when you sleep. The same device should be used to confirm white coat hypertension – a situation when some people with normal blood pressure have high readings only in the doctor’s office (which can be intimidating) but not at home, and thus should not be treated. On the contrary, the monitor can also detect masked hypertension, when people have normal readings in the doctor’s office (perhaps as they feel relaxed because they are in good hands), but live with high blood pressure at home. It is estimated that masked hypertension can occur in up to 20 percent of untreated people and can truly be “the silent killer”. Despite being invaluable, 24-hour blood pressure monitoring is not widely used and not always covered by insurance.
What about preventing high blood pressure in the first place? I recommend enjoying primarily a plant-based diet rich in fiber, colorful polyphenols, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, healthy oils such as extra virgin oil, sustainably and organically harvested fish, handful of nuts, a few stalks of celery, leafy greens, berries, a couple cloves of garlic, mushrooms, beets, a small piece of dark chocolate, tomato soup (rich in lycopene) or miso soup with a little bit of seaweed. It’s important to avoid sugar and excessive salt, minimize alcohol and potentially caffeine (this depends on our genetics), maintain optimal weight, exercise at least 150 to 300 minutes per week, sleep seven to eight hours per night, identify and treat sleep apnea early as it can lead to high blood pressure through the frequent “jolts of stress” the body produces when we can’t breathe properly, spend time in nature, have a daily routine to manage stress and stay socially connected. There are many supplements that can help with high blood pressure, and may help you reduce the need for medications, but those should be used only under guidance of an experienced practitioner.
About the Author
Tereza Hubkova, MD
Tereza Hubkova, MD, is a Board-certified integrative medicine physician focused on one goal: Your good health. For more than 20 years, she’s studied many different healing tools — from nutritional medicine to the principles of Chinese medicine and much more. She uses that knowledge and experience to guide her patients along a path to whole health and healing.