High blood pressure, known as hypertension, is known as the ‘silent killer’ because most people can’t tell when their blood pressure is high. Elevated blood pressure can lead to a greatly increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other serious illnesses. Along with high cholesterol and smoking, hypertension is one of the most serious causes of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Keeping blood pressure under control is essential for long-term good cardiovascular health. Two studies involving natural therapies for reducing blood pressure were recently conducted. These studies revealed that nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, and antioxidants help lower blood pressure.
The Calcium/Vitamin D Connection
When we think of calcium, we automatically think of strong bones. One of the most important aspects of calcium is to prevent and treat osteoporosis. What many people don’t realize is that, according to a new German study, calcium and vitamin D supplementation is also effective in reducing high blood pressure.
In this study, which appeared in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers found that calcium and vitamin D supplementation is effective in reducing blood pressure, including pregnancy-induced hypertension. In addition, they recognized that calcitropic (vitamin D-related) hormones are associated with blood pressure. Therefore, the researchers sought to determine if short-term supplementation with calcium and vitamin D might improve blood pressure.
Working with women over the age of 70, researchers found that when the women took calcium and vitamin D, they successfully reduced their systolic blood pressure and reduced levels of parathyroid hormone. (Parathyroid hormone regulates the body’s calcium levels. Too much of this hormone can result in calcium being withdrawn from bones.) The study reiterated the fact that calcium should always be taken with vitamin D because the body can’t absorb calcium without it. In addition, the study showed that inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake could play a contributory role in the progression of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in elderly women.
According to Dr. Helmut W. Minne and colleagues from the Institute of Clinical Osteology in Hamburg, Germany, ‘A short-term supplementation with vitamin D and calcium is more effective in reducing blood pressure than calcium alone.’
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, have found that a diet rich in the antioxidant vitamins C and E can help lower high blood pressure. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants that protect against damaging natural substances called free radicals. Vitamin C fights free radicals in water and is complemented by vitamin E, which fights free radical destruction in the fatty regions of the body.
Dr. Nostratola D. Vaziri, the study’s leading author, and his team tested the theory that antioxidants might help reduce high blood pressure by protecting the body’s supply of nitric oxide, a molecule that relaxes blood vessels. During the study, they found that supplementing the diet with vitamins C and E raised levels of nitric oxide in the body. The study, published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, showed that although hypertension is a highly complex medical problem that has many causes, nitric oxide and oxidative stress are major contributors to the disease.
‘Antioxidants are powerful regulators of blood pressure, and our studies show that multiple types of these chemicals, found in a diet heavy in fruit and vegetables, could help mitigate high blood pressure,’ Vaziri said.
Millions of men and women suffer from high blood pressure. The discovery of natural alternatives for treating this prevalent condition offers even more reasons for the importance of supplementing with these important nutrients every day.
One look at the blood pressure statistics indicates that the body’s ability to maintain its blood pressure is vital to life. Chronic hypertension is a major coronary heart disease risk factor. High blood pressure contributes to half a million strokes and over a million heart attacks each year. The higher the blood pressure above the normal 120/80 mm Hg, the greater the risk of heart disease. This condition is sometimes referred to as the silent killer, since people usually cannot feel the physical effects of high blood pressure.
First some definitions. Hypertension without an identifiable cause is categorized as essential or primary hypertension. When High blood pressure has a specific cause, such as in cases of kidney disease, it is considered secondary hypertension.
What is blood pressure? The pumping action of the heart must create enough force to push blood through the major arteries, into the smaller arteries, and finally into the tiny capillaries, where the porous walls permit fluid exchange between the blood and tissues.
Several factors influence blood pressure. The nervous system helps maintain blood pressure by adjusting the size of the blood vessels, and by influencing the hearts pumping action. The kidneys assist in regulating blood pressure by adjusting mechanisms that change blood volume. For example, when blood flow to the kidneys is reduced, as would be the case in atherosclerosis, the kidneys set in motion actions that raise blood pressure by expanding blood volume, and constricting surrounding blood vessels. Obesity is a contributing factor because excess body fat, especially central fat, can precipitate high blood pressure. Another reason could stem from the extra miles of capillaries through which blood must be pumped. Insulin resistance, which is associated with obesity, triggers the pancreas to produce more insulin to move glucose into cells. High blood insulin may signal the kidneys to retain sodium, and may precipitate the development of high blood pressure. This may explain why high blood pressure is 2 to 3 times more likely to occur in people with Non Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM), which is characterized by insulin resistance, than the rest of the population.
The treatment of hypertension often focuses on weight loss, diet, exercise, and drug therapy. Aside from drug therapy, changes can be implemented by the individual as part of the therapeutic protocol. However, as with any health condition, all changes should be made under the supervision of a primary care physician.
Reduction in body fat is one of the most effective and long lasting treatments for hypertension. In fact, individuals on medication for high blood pressure may be able to have their doctor reduce the dose, or in some cases, discontinue the drugs if they lose weight. Consulting with a Certified Nutritionist is the best way to begin a successful weight loss program.
Some health professionals recommend diets adequate in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and slightly reduced in sodium, as a useful intervention for preventing and treating hypertension. Such a diet would be rich in green leafy vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains and low fat dairy, or diary substitutes fortified to match the nutritional profile of dairy, such as most soy beverages currently available.
Since people with hypertension usually already have at least one risk factor for coronary heart disease, a diet plan is devised to cover such conditions.
For individuals with insulin resistance, consuming a consistent amount of carbohydrate, based on individual tolerance, as part of balanced meals, at regular times, is a good place to start. Such a plan can be designed by a Certified Nutritionist.
Exercise, with a doctors permission, and sometimes under supervision, can be a great adjunct to all forms of high blood pressure therapy.
In the final analysis, it is important to have regular blood pressure screenings, and follow the advice of a primary care physician when confronted with the diagnosis of hypertension.
Can Blood Pressure Medication Prevent Cancer?
Recent information from the Glasgow Blood Pressure Clinic Study suggests that a certain class of blood pressure lowering medication can cut the risk of dying from cancer by 20% and prolong life in those with cancer by 30%. The incidence of new cancers in those taking these drugs declined 28%. This class of medication is referred to as ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors) which block the production of a potent blood pressure regulating hormone angiotensin II. Angiotensin II is also responsible for the growth of new blood vessels and general cell growth as well. Blocking production of angiotensin II may therefore stunt tumor growth, which depends on the development of tumor-feeding blood vessels.
ACE inhibitors have been a popular form of treatment for hypertension for many years. Other excellent benefits of ACE inhibitors include increasing survival after heart attack and preventing congestive heart failure. Common brands are vasotec, lotensin, zestril, prinivil, accupril, and monopril.
This is the first indication of their tumor fighting abilities and more research is already underway to discover more about this amazing benefit.