High Blood Pressure  

I have worked with a great many people who have high blood pressure and, whilst no two people are exactly the same, there are several approaches that I have consistently seen to be of much help and it is that experience which is primarily what I want to share in this article.

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

What causes high blood pressure?

Less than 10% of the people who get high blood pressure have it as a result of some medically identifiable issue such as some kind of kidney problem or hormonal imbalance. They are said to have 'secondary hypertension'

That leaves the other 90+% of people who get high blood pressure with what is called primary hypertension; also called 'essential hypertension which simply means that the high blood pressure is seen as the problem in itself, not as the secondary result of some other problem. Of course there still has to be a reason, or a combination of reasons, that a person is getting high blood pressure but we have to speak in general terms about what those reasons may be and we have to be open to the possibility that there may be more than just one reason. The most common causes of primary hypertension include:


Many people with high blood pressure will report that one or more of their immediate ancestors had heart disease or were also known to suffer from high blood pressure. It is likely that our genes can influence our chances in this regard and where genes seem to especially affect the tendency to primary hypertension is in how people respond to certain kinds of foods -- more about this below in the section called 'check yourself for the metabolic syndrome' here.

Sedentary Lifestyle

For some people it is their level of activity and how fit they are that seems to be the main factor that determines whether their blood pressure is good or bad however note that this is a very individual matter. I have seen how some of my patients only need to exercise to quite a moderate level to show major improvements in their blood pressure, others clearly need to do a lot more to make any kind of difference and yet others will show no change from any amount of exercise or can even show worsening readings if they try to do too much! More on this potentially tricky area below in the section called 'experiment with your fitness' here.



The evidence for diet being a key driver for high blood pressure is very strong. However the theories from the mid-20th century that fat and salt were the main culprits behind our booming heart disease statistics have become increasingly discredited. In fact a low salt diet seems to increase the risk of heart disease (more info here). Cholesterol lowering drugs and a veritable war on fat has long been the mainstay of the conventional approach however the science does not add up (further info on the cholesterol controversy here).

The diet that does directly contribute towards primary hypertension is the excess consumption of sugars and refined carbohydrates. It has long been seen that populations of people who live off the grid of modern civilisation have extremely low rates of high blood pressure but when they adopt a typical Western diet and lifestyle they rapidly develop all the diseases of modern civilisation, i.e. diabetes, heart disease and... high blood pressure.

Given that the typical hunter-gatherer culture ate fat at every opportunity but did not show evidence of hardening and narrowing of the arteries it was always an unlikely prospect that this was the point of difference that caused such rapid decline. What they didn't have were refined grains and sugars. These are the true 'foods of civilisation' and these are the foods that cause the body to convert the excess energy of the unnecessary sugars into the kinds of fats that do damage and narrow the blood vessel walls.

If a person with high blood pressure also tends towards carrying excess weight in their middle (the so called 'apple shape') then in practice I will look very closely to see if they have other signs of the metabolic syndrome. This is an extremely common condition (one in four people has it) and for those for whom the main driver of their primary blood pressure is diet this is the core issue that needs to be confronted, and cured. I talk about this a little more further below in the section called 'check yourself for the metabolic syndrome' here.

Cueva de las Manos (Cave of the Hands) Hunger-Gatherer society, Argentina circa 10,000BC


Stress & Tension

There is something else that radically changes when large groups of people who never used to have high blood pressure leave behind their old way of living and adapt to life in the modern world; people tend to get tenser and more anxious when they move from the old world to the new.

It's probably hard for us to understand this because we just see it as normal, no big deal, but if you go and spend some time in Nature and then come back into the city you will instantly see what I mean. Our society literally rushes and for some of us that just creates too much tension than is good for us.

Most people who work in medicine would probably agree with me that stress and tension are major causes of high blood pressure for many people but how can you know for sure? I've found a simple way to put this to the test for myself in my own work. I take the patient's blood pressure, leave the cuff on and then get them to do a simple breathing and relaxation exercise that only takes a couple of minutes but is still very effective. If their blood pressure only drops 5 or 10 points then I will be thinking that this is probably not the key issue or the main driver but when their blood pressure drops 20, 30, or sometimes even as much as 40 points (it happens!) then I know this is at least one of the main causes of the problem. I talk more about how to approach this in the section starting with 'check yourself for white-coat hypertension' here.


What can we do to cure high blood pressure?

I use that word 'cure' deliberately. There is such a strong conviction in conventional medicine that once you have high blood pressure then it's incurable, there for life, and it must always be treated with drugs or there will be a dire outcome! I challenge that way of thinking, people are not born with high blood pressure but rather, for one or more of the reasons described above, they go on to develop it. Yes of course the problems we are talking aboout that cause high blood pressure take time and effort to address but I have now seen many times how those people who are ready to do that work can eventually get their blood pressure back to normal, without any medication...

Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn leaves & berries)


Start with Hawthorn

Regardless of why you have high blood pressure start with taking a daily dose of Hawthorn! It is unusual for me to be able to make such a universal recommendation but I say this because
a) Hawthorn is an extremely safe herb that can be taken by any person, no matter what other medications they may be on or what other health conditions they may have
b) Whilst Hawthorn may have a modest effect on lowering your blood pressure its real benefit will be to both strengthen and protect your heart and so make sure you have the time you need to make whatever changes are necessary to treat the cause or causes of this potentially dangerous problem. Especially if you will take Hawthorn for some time then you may want to learn a lot more about it in which case read the detailed article on it here.


Experiment with fitness

I mentioned earlier that some of my patients only need to exercise to quite a moderate level to show major improvements in their blood pressure, others clearly need to do a lot more to make any kind of difference and yet others will show no change from any amount of exercise or can even show worsening readings if they try to do too much! I say this because you should not automatically assume that exercise will help but that I highly recommend you be open to conducting an experiment.

If you are already fit and active but still have high blood pressure then this is unlikely to be an issue but if you know that you are unfit then I suggest starting into a fitness program and doing some self monitoring with a home blood pressure machine to see what kind of difference it is making after a few weeks. People really have to find the kind of program that suits them in order to sustain it and it is an observable fact that different people respond better to different kind of exercises. In this regard it may be highly beneficial for you to work out which constitution you are and then read the section on exercise under the corresponding article. I introduce this subject further at the bottom of the page here.


Check yourself for the Metabolic Syndrome

~ Are you carrying too much weight around your middle?
~ Do your cholesterol levels show low levels of the good cholesterols and high levels of the bad?
~ Have you ever had a blood test that has shown mildly elevated liver enzymes?
~ Do you have any family history of diabetes?

If you answer yes to one or more of the above then you should definitely consider the possibility that you have the metabolic syndrome, a leading cause of high blood pressure in a great many people. Curing the metabolic syndrome is tough because it involves a radical change in diet away from processed foods and carbohydrates. It is not a go-hungry diet, rather it is one that restricts certain foods in favour of others. The sign you have made the dietary change in the right way is that you will feel like you are eating like a king or queen! If this is the area where you need to direct your attention then I recommend you carefully study the detailed article on the metabolic syndrome here.


Check yourself for the white coat syndrome?

Stress is clearly another huge cause and driver to high blood pressure and this is never so obvious than in the phenomenon known as 'white-coat hypertension', in essence this is a condition whereby the blood pressure shoots up as soon as a clinician (i.e. the 'white-coat') starts the process of examining their blood pressure.

I think I am a pretty friendly guy with my patients and I certainly don't have a white coat but I've seen myself how people can react to this process. Even as you are getting the cuff on their arm they start to get visibly agitated and begin to shallow-breathe. If I see any sign of this then I will typically lend one of our blood pressure machines to the patient for them to test themselves at home over a week or two to get some more true readings and many turn out to have much less of a problem than anyone realised.

Whether it is the stress of being tested or some other more ongoing life-stress it can be categorically stated for a fact that, for many people, the main cause to their chronic high blood pressure is simply an excess of nervous tension. In such cases the best place to start is with some of our great herbal allies that are entirely safe and, if used correctly, highly effective too...


Experiment with herbs

I mentioned earlier under Hawthorn about finding a good herbalist to help get the right supplies, dosages etc. and again the advice on how to do that is linked here. If you think that stress and tension are the main cause or at least a key driver to your own high blood pressure then I urge you to let Nature take the first step because you will get some potent help from our old herbal allies that will do you no harm and will make a world of difference if used correctly and consistently. The following are by no means a complete list of the options but they are some of my own favourites and ones that I have consistently seen to help

Motherwort relieves tension in the heart and blood vessels
Valerian deeply relaxes the physical body and nerves
Skullcap calms an overactive mind, helps achieve deep sleep
Cramp Bark relieves tension and cramp in the muscles

Herbs are very flexible and user-friendly. You could take any one or a combination of the above remedies or something else entirely so long as it had a long tradition of successful use in cultures that deeply developed their herbal lore. Once you have some solid support from Nature to help you better deal with stress and to be gradually unwinding your tension then the second thing to do is actually practice some relaxation yourself and at this point I need to mention that the worst people at doing any kind of relaxing are the ones who need to do it the most! This is all a big subject in itself and, rather than try to oversimplify it I would rather direct you to the article on the site that goes into it all in the most depth. It is the page on anxiety and tension and, even if you don't especially relate to the word anxiety, if you can appreciate the fact that tension is to the body what anxiety is to the mind you will see why I say that the approach that works for one will always work for the other; you can find it here.

Viburnum opulus (Cramp bark)


Drugs -- yes or no?

I talk about the thorny subject of drugs near the end here because I have met far too many people who are on blood pressure drugs to have any doubts about how compelling the system can be towards them staying on them. I take high blood pressure very seriously and, if my patient is still consistently getting numbers over 100 in the bottom figure, then I will be the first to urge them to go on to (or get back on to) pharmaceutical drugs. Fortunately, I have seen that the majority of people can be seen to get their blood pressure levels within good or acceptable limits without drugs - though this isn't always the fastest or the easiest process!

Hypertension is called the 'silent killer' because people don't listen to it. The main thing I want to say on this subject is that you really must get a home-use blood-pressure machine so you can self-monitor and by doing this, assuming you do try going off medications or without drugs, you can keep yourself safe. Readings over 100 on the bottom figure is bad. Above 110 is really bad. Above 120 on the bottom number is downright dangerous -- take drugs, get it down. The top figure is not so critical but numbers that are consistently over 160 are certainly a worry. People can get a lot higher than that and make it okay for many years before they run into trouble, but why take that chance...

Something you need to know about high blood pressure is that it takes heck of a long time to hurt you. In fact we all of us get our blood pressure raised every time we work up a sweat or do anything that requires strenuous effort. Occasional high blood pressure is not a problem; constant high blood pressure is. Again this is why you need to be able to see it on a daily basis if required, not to wait for a doctor's appointment for a spot-test.

The answer to the question of drugs - yes or no - is, so long as your levels are not consistently too bad then hang in there, keep working with the herbs, diet, exercise, stress-management or whatever you are doing because there is an excellent chance that things will improve with time and the numbers will come down so long as you are working on one or more of the root causes of the problem.


Constitutional Health Note

It may be of great benefit to learn about your constitution to help know about what kinds of food, herbs, exercises etc. will best help you in general as well as your heart and blood pressure health. Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences and to demonstrate how it works if you are a hot and dry constitution (an Eagle) then you can certainly be prone to high blood pressure as you age and using plenty of Hawthorn and the stress-relieving herbs will be especially likely to help you. if you a cool and dry constitution (an Elephant/Butterfly) then you are less likely to develop high blood pressure than others but if you do then, as discussed in the article linked on anxiety, doing things that you know relax you will be likely to give you the most benefit. If you are a hot and damp person (a Tiger) then you are also rather prone to high blood pressure and must carefully review all the above potential causes as it is probable that more than one of them is involved. I see that Tigers are the ones who are the most likely to get on to blood pressure drugs but there is a real concern about toxicity over time with this and they are people who may need to do some major dietary or lifestyle change (especially re the metabolic syndrome) if they will truly turn their problem around. Lastly if you are a cool and damp constitution (a Bear) then you are also somewhat less prone to high blood pressure but if it is happening then you will likely need to look carefully at both your diet and exercise to find and treat the cause. There is a brief introduction to this subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd