What does it mean to have high blood pressure and why do we develop high blood pressure in the first place? High blood pressure is discussed in a lot of circumstances and may also come up in conversations with your own doctor. It is also one of the many benefits I usually point out when it comes to advantages from the different vegetables that I highlight. Let me lay out what high blood pressure means, how it may affect us and some easy – functional – strategies how to reduce and/or control high blood pressure. This post is more of a “back to the basics” one – but a good one at that 😉.
What Does Having High Blood Pressure Mean?
High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is a condition that affects the arteries. If you have high blood pressure, it basically means that the force with which the blood pushes against the arteries is too high. The heart also has to pump a lot harder to move blood in your body around. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg; e.g. 130/80 mm Hg).
As you can see, blood pressure is written into two numbers. The first one represents the blood pressure when the heart is beating and contracting. The second one represents the pressure when the heart rests between beats.
The American Heart Association divides blood pressure levels into four different categories:
- Normal – 120/80 mm Hg or lower
- Elevated – 120 to 129 with the bottom number not being over 80 mm HG
- Stage 1 Hypertension – 130 to 139 with the bottom number being between 80 and 89 mm HG
- Stage 2 Hypertension – the top number is 140 or higher with the bottom number being 90 mm HG
- Anyone over 180 / 120 mm HG is considered to have a hypertensive crisis and should receive immediate emergency care
Why Do We Develop High Blood Pressure?
So why do we develop high blood pressure in the first place? Usually, the root cause is insulin resistance. Our diets are stock full of highly processed foods, which cause a lot of stress on our bodies, spike blood sugar levels, cause inflammation, and trigger said insulin resistance in the process. In addition, our lifestyles – lack of sleep and exercise, stress, alcohol, and smoking can cause further harm to our bodies. In some cases, environmental toxins may also play a role for the individual.
Here is the slightly “big” problem. Having high blood pressure can lead to a series of health difficulties. Amongst others, it can increase your risk of e.g. heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, dementia, to name a few. You likely will not notice that your blood pressure levels are high or elevated. Most of the time it goes fairly unnoticed (unless you develop a serious medical health condition). There is the chance that you may experience headaches, shortness of breath, and more frequent nosebleeds, though.
In our modern world, most people deal with high blood pressure
When I say “you are not alone”, you are – literally – not alone. Two thirds of the living population between 30 and 79 deal with high blood pressure. But only 46% of those actually do not know that they have high blood pressure and only 42% get treatment. Only about 1 in 5 adults has their blood pressure under control.
How Can We Treat High Blood Pressure?
As I described above, high blood pressure is really a “disease” of our modern day life. The good news is that there are several factors that can be done in order to reduce hypertension. The even better news is that – just as hypertension is largely caused by lifestyle factors – you can also reverse it through some changes in your lifestyle factors.
If you go to your (regular) doctor there is a chance they may prescribe medication for you. Whereas I am not opposed to medication (and there is a chance that you may have to revert to this if the lifestyle factors do not fully “fix” your blood pressure problem), it may come with some side effects and it actually does not address the root cause in this instance. But, it is one of the options how high blood pressure can be treated, so I wanted to mention it.
Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Unfortunately, I bang on a lot about this point, but mainly because it is so essential to our wellbeing. If you reduce the amount of inflammation in your body and fuel your body with real, plant-based foods it will counteract a lot of the inflammation you are currently experiencing. I have written an entire post on inflammation and what to consume as part of an anti-inflammatory diet. You can also further reduce inflammation in your body and reduce insulin resistance by learning how to balance your blood sugar levels. The less blood sugar spikes, the less inflammation in your body, the more you will feel like you are completely thriving in life.
A lot of doctor’s recommend to cut salt when you are having high blood pressure. If you are eating a whole food, unprocessed diet that contains plenty of veggies and fruits, adding salt to your meals will not be the trigger for high blood pressure (unless you belong to a small sub-set of people that are salt-sensitive). Most of the salt is actually in processed foods. Mainly, because salt is a great “taste carrier” that is both cheap and prolongs food’s shelf life at the same time.
Potassium, found in plenty of plant based foods, helps to maintain lower blood pressure levels. You can find potassium in beans, lentils, winter squash, spinach, broccoli, beet greens, banana, and avocado (amongst others). If you are starting to eat an Anti-Inflammatory diet, you should automatically also increase your potassium levels, which in turn, will maintain the right balance between potassium and sodium (salt).
I am an advocate for a whole food diet. I love plants and it is my sole mission with everything that I do on the blog to make whole food taste utterly divine and delicious. But, if you are already on a diet that involves mainly whole foods supplements may further support your goal of reducing blood pressure. Omega 3, magnesium, and the B-Vitamins may well support you here. Particularly magnesium has shown in several studies to be able to reduce blood pressure levels significantly. Please always consult with your doctor before starting a supplement regime.
If you are having high blood pressure, hydration is really important. Water makes up a lot of our bodies. So adding more liquid to your body is never a bad idea and the best thing you can do for your heart. On the contrary, alcohol and caffeine act as stimulants and will likely increase your blood pressure levels.
Exercise is an effective way to reduce blood pressure levels. It is also excellent at reducing inflammation levels in the body – so you are getting a “two for one” option here 😉. Exercise will first make your blood pressure levels rise, but once you stop exercising they will lead to consistently lower levels. Exercise also helps with my next point…
Stress significantly drives up blood pressure levels. It will also make you produce more of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, which trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Do more things that activate your parasympathetic nervous system and put you into a relaxed state. This can include walking in nature (an immediate calmer, because we have been primed to connect nature with calm through our ancestors), yoga, breath work, and meditation.
Last but not least, one of my favorite past-times – sleeping. Sleep, really, is the current that ties all the other ones together. If you are well rested your digestion is easier, your hormones are balanced and can work properly. You are feeling less stressed, you will likely crave healthier foods. Your body can repair itself during the sleeping phase. The list is endless. Do not skimp out on sleep. It is mighty important. I have written an entire series on why sleep is important.
The Take Away From This Post
I hope this “back to the basics” post has detailed for you what high blood pressure is, how it can manifest itself, and what some of the options are you can take in order to reduce it. I think the great news is that high blood pressure can be a very treatable condition if you change a few lifestyle hacks that are completely in your control!