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Get an in-depth look at what blood pressure is, what it means to have high blood pressure, and how to lower blood pressure naturally using treatments that are safer and more effective than drugs.
By Alan Goldhamer, DC, and Doug Lisle, PhD • A version of this article was originally published on NakedFoodMagazine.com
High blood pressure, also known as “hypertension,” is the number one reason people visit their doctor in the United States. Each year, more than 100 million doctor visits are made for medical management of this condition.
High blood pressure is both a sign, as well as a causal factor, in heart attacks, strokes, and congestive heart failure, which makes it the leading associated cause of death and disability in westernized societies.
Medical doctors overwhelmingly recommend drug therapy for this condition, making blood pressure drugs the number one prescription medication in this country.
But is drug therapy the best approach? And, is it safe?
There are many popular medical myths about high blood pressure. For example, many physicians believe that high blood pressure is an “inevitable consequence of aging;” that the “only viable treatment option for high blood pressure patients is medication”; that high blood pressure patients must take their medications “for the rest of their lives”; and, worst of all, that high blood pressure medications are “safe and effective.”
What Is Blood Pressure?
Although high blood pressure does not cause any pain and cannot be detected without a special device, it is clearly a serious health problem worthy of your rapt attention.
But what is “blood pressure,” and what can cause it to become “high”?
If you have ever been in a hot tub with the “jets” on, you have observed a circulating system. When the pump is “on,” the water circulates from the hot tub, through pipes, into a pump, and then back to the hot tub. In this way, the water can be put through a filter to remove impurities and be re-utilized again and again. A hot tub with its pump “on” is a simple circulatory system. When the pump is “off,” the water stops circulating and stays wherever it is in the system.
Your circulatory system is very much like the hot tub’s. Your blood is like the water. Your heart is like the pump, and your blood vessels are like the pipes. Your heart pumps your blood through the circulatory system in order to feed oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout your body, and to remove waste products. By circulating through the system, your blood is filtered and re-utilized, again and again.
In a hot tub, as the water comes through the pipes, it has a degree of force. This force is caused by the action of the pump, which puts energy into the circulating system and forces the water through the pipes. When the pump is off, there still may be water in the pipes, but there is no force. The degree of force in the system when the pump is on can be gauged in several ways, such as by putting your hand in front of a “jet.” Another way would be to have a device to measure the amount of force that the water exerts against the walls of the pipes as it circulates. Such a device might yield a numerical measurement of the force, or pressure, of the water within the pipes.
Similarly, your blood exerts a force against the walls of your blood vessels as it circulates through your body. The degree of this force is called your “blood pressure,” and it can be measured with a blood pressure monitoring device.
Unlike the water pressure in the hot tub, however, human blood pressure is highly variable. In the hot tub, the water ejected by the jets comes in a steady, pressurized stream. But in the human circulatory system, blood pressure varies dramatically from one moment to the next.
Unlike the smooth action of the hot tub pump, the human heart expands and contracts mightily each second or so, causing your blood pressure to be comparatively high one moment, and comparatively low in the next. That is why we need two measurements when checking your blood pressure: one at the moment when the pressure is highest (your systolic blood pressure), and one a moment later, when the pressure is lowest (your diastolic blood pressure).
Your systolic blood pressure is always higher than your diastolic blood pressure and is always the “top” number when your pressure is reported.
If your doctor tells you that your blood pressure is “120 over 80,” this means that your systolic blood pressure was measured at “120,” and your diastolic was at “80.” Both your systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements are important because they indicate how well your circulatory system is working.
If either of these measurements is unusually high, this warrants your serious attention. Because, as previously mentioned, elevated blood pressure may be not only a sign of cardiovascular disease, it is a cause of disease, as well.
What Causes High Blood Pressure?
Think back for a moment to the circulatory system in a hot tub. When the system is working as designed, there is a certain level of water pressure in the system.
However, we could arrange things that would increase this level of pressure. One way would be to partially clog the pipes. In this way, the pressure in the whole system would rise, just as the water pressure in your garden hose rises when you put your finger over the spout and impede the flow.
In the human circulatory system, it also is possible to “clog the pipes.” By consuming a diet that is excessive in fats, cholesterol, and animal proteins, it is possible to develop atherosclerosis, a condition of fatty deposits in the cardiovascular system.
Editor’s Note: Considerable controversy exists about whether fat or cholesterol are, per se, drivers of atherosclerosis. They are implicated in some studies, while others indicate that quality of fat, and placement in a wider dietary pattern, may be more significant to ultimate impact. What seems clear, however, is that a diet high in animal products, sugar, and processed foods is often a recipe for high blood pressure and heart disease.
Over time, people can build up such significant deposits that their “pipes” are clogged up, to some degree. This is one of the main causes of high blood pressure and is one reason why high blood pressure tends to become more prevalent as people age.
But this condition is not inevitable. More encouraging still is the finding, by Dr. Dean Ornish and others, that this condition is reversible with dietary and lifestyle modifications, the first step of which is to adopt a plant-based diet derived from whole, natural foods.
While “clogging the pipes” is a major cause of high blood pressure, there are other causes, as well. A second major factor is that excessive dietary salt causes there to be too much fluid in the circulatory system.
Consider once again the analogy of the garden hose. If you turn on the water “harder,” there is more pressure in the hose. Excessive salt in the diet can result in excessive fluid volume in the blood, which results in elevated blood pressure. This cause, too, is reversible, as a plant-based diet of whole, natural foods, devoid of added salt, is naturally low in sodium chloride.
We can see that two major causes of high blood pressure: atherosclerosis and excessive fluid in the circulatory system, are reversible, given dietary modifications.
Such modifications directly address the causes of high blood pressure and thus might be expected to be quite effective. The curious reader might wish to know just how effective such dietary modifications are, as compared to the drug treatments offered by most doctors.
A summary of results from a variety of studies on diet and lifestyle modifications, as compared with drug treatment, appears in Figure 1.
Impressive Ways to Lower Blood Pressure Naturally
As you can see in Figure 1, dietary and lifestyle modifications are very impressive as compared with drug treatment.
In a study conducted by Dr. John McDougall and his colleagues, a program utilizing a moderately low-sodium, vegetarian diet with moderate exercise resulted in an average blood pressure reduction of 17/13 in just eleven days!
This is particularly striking when we compare these results with medications, which have been found to reduce blood pressure only about 12/6 points, on average. This should be encouraging for those who have been told that they must take blood pressure medication for the rest of their lives.
It is notable that relaxation and meditation, though useful for many purposes, have not been found to impact high blood pressure. Many people find this surprising, possibly since high blood pressure also is known as “hypertension.” Because of this potentially misleading term, many people have assumed that high levels of stress or “tension” are a major cause of “hypertension,” or high blood pressure. This is not the case. High blood pressure is an essentially mechanical, and not psychological, problem.
The causes are most often some combination of clogged “pipes” and excessive salt in the diet. Lifestyle changes, such as appropriate diet and exercise, are among the most effective treatment strategies for high blood pressure. Relaxation, meditation, and otherwise “taking it easy” are not effective solutions, as valuable as such strategies may be for your psychological well-being.
As you examine Figure 1, you may observe that the real key to the treatment of high blood pressure is to practice a diversity of health-promoting behaviors.
By avoiding alcohol use, stopping smoking, switching to a high-fiber, low-sodium, vegan-vegetarian diet, and engaging in moderate, regular exercise, the problem of high blood pressure usually will eliminate itself.
However, as alluded to at the beginning of this article, high blood pressure is not only a sign of distress in your cardiovascular system but also a cause.
If your blood pressure is elevated above what is normal and healthy for our species, the pressure itself causes damage to arterial walls of your circulatory system, which can facilitate the build-up of atherosclerosis and, thus, exacerbate the high blood pressure condition itself.
For this reason, it can be useful to reduce high blood pressure as quickly as possible, rather than to patiently wait for the often-moderate healing pace of healthful lifestyle changes.
“The real key to the treatment of high blood pressure is to practice a diversity of health-promoting behaviors.”
The Evidence Says: Water Fasting Is An Effective Way to Normalize Blood Pressure Rapidly
In the study, funded in part by a grant from the National Health Association, it was discovered that by having patients consume nothing but pure water in a supervised environment of complete rest, blood pressures rapidly normalized.
In fact, many patients who began their fasts while on high blood pressure drugs were required to quickly discontinue their medications, so that their blood pressures would not drop artificially low!
Over a 12-year period, 174 patients diagnosed with mild to severe high blood pressure were seen at the Center for Conservative Therapy and were placed on a medically-supervised, water-only fasting regime. The treatment procedure included an average water-only fasting period of 10.6 days, followed by a supervised refeeding period of about one week with a whole, natural foods diet. The results of the study are summarized in Figure 2.
In the final analysis, this safe and simple procedure demonstrated extraordinary effectiveness. By the end of their stay, all patients were able to discontinue their medications, no matter how severe their initial condition.
In fact, a review of Figure 2 indicates that the most impressive results were observed with the most serious cases. In cases of “moderate” to “severe” hypertension (blood pressures of 174/93 or greater), the average reduction at the conclusion of treatment was a remarkable 46/15! For these cases, which medical practitioners generally would insist need lifetime medical intervention, the average exit blood pressure was 128/78, using no medication whatsoever!
The reasons for this astonishing success are not yet entirely understood. Certainly, two of the major causes of high blood pressure are being addressed: excessive dietary salt is completely eliminated, and it is likely that some patients experience some reversal of the atherosclerosis process. However, Dr. Campbell has suggested that additional mechanisms may be partly responsible for fasting’s remarkable effects, such as the rapid reduction of a phenomenon known as “insulin resistance.”
Though the details are incompletely understood, the clinical results are clear and convincing. Water-only fasting represents an astonishing breakthrough in the treatment of high blood pressure, with the only “side effects” being that people lose weight and feel great.
Note: The fasting and high blood pressure study described in this article was funded in part by a grant from the National Health Association. It was conducted at the Center for Conservative Therapy in Penngrove, California. The results appeared in the article, “Medically Supervised Water-Only Fasting in the Treatment of Hypertension,” published in June 2001 in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.
Editor’s Note: Are You Interested in Using Water Fasting Or a Residential Cleanse Program to Lower High Blood Pressure And Reset Your Health?
Fasting can be a powerful healing tool, and it’s been used for thousands of years. But only recently have research studies started to uncover the incredible potential of fasting for a variety of medical challenges, including high blood pressure.
For more about the benefits and science behind water fasting, check out Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease.
If you want to use water fasting or a medically supervised residential cleanse program, here are two resources you may want to consider:
- Joel Fuhrman, M.D. has just opened a brand-new Wellness Center in California, designed for (longer) monthly stays, where guests under his care get help achieving dramatic weight loss, resolving food addiction and emotional overeating, and reversing serious diseases. He incorporates fasting and vegetable juices when appropriate at his retreat.
- TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, California, offers highly effective medically supervised water fasting and cleanse programs.
And remember: If you do a water fast, it’s critical to drink high-quality water. (Many Food Revolution members like the AquaTru water filter because it delivers high-quality water for a remarkably affordable price. Find out more and get a special discount here. If you order from this link, the AquaTru manufacturer will contribute a portion of the proceeds to support Food Revolution Network’s mission of healthy, ethical, sustainable food for everyone who eats.)
It’s heartening to know that we have natural treatments that can lower high blood pressure naturally. And unlike most of the blood-pressure-lowering drugs, the side effects of healthy eating are good ones — like increased energy, expanded mental clarity, and better sexual function. I’d call that a win!
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