Holistically Dealing with Hypertension: Why Just Taking Medicines Isn’t Enough
More often than not, a hypertension diagnosis can be a life-altering event. While there are multiple beliefs surrounding hypertension that are out there, one of the most popular ones is how many people believe that just the intake of medicines along with the reduction of salt in their diets, can help them get back to “normal”, can help them understand how to control blood pressure.
But what we often don’t understand is that a high blood pressure is equivalent to a wakeup call to go for an improved lifestyle with better beliefs and habits. It’s worthy of noting that hypertension can also be a result of many things that do not necessarily go back to our diets, such as mental health issues or an unhealthy lifestyle. In this article, we are going to holistically focus on hypertension, understand how to control blood pressure and what all we can do about it.
Complications revolving chronically high BP
We can look at high blood pressure as a bio-feedback from our body, alerting us about something not being entirely right in our system. It also stands as the prime cause for cardiac arrests, strokes, kidney issues as well as paralytic attacks in the brain, lower body, etc.
Some of the risk factors or root causes are:
● Chronic stress and sleep deprivation are the leading cause for high BP;
● Smoking and binge-drinking also contribute to high BP;
● Side effects of several medications also contribute to high BP (diabetic & kidney medications);
● Poor sleeping patterns affect blood pressure just as much;
● A high intake of sodium through consumption of processed foods are big contributors too;
● Excess body fat can also lead to the development of high BP;
● Inflammation of the endothelial cells in the arteries also are a contributor;
● Cholesterol deposits that narrow the arteries can also lead to a high BP;
● CKD and kidney diseases.
● Low levels of D3 are a cause too;
● A sedentary lifestyle which doesn’t involve much movement can also become a reason for high BP later on.
Lifestyle changes for better management of high BP
For the healing as well as prevention against high BP:!
1. Foods that effectively lower blood pressure
a. Beetroot and celery juice – beets are rich in nitric oxide, which is a vasodialator (something that helps the dilation of blood vessels);
b. Dark chocolate/cacao (magnesium-rich properties);
d. Herbs/spices (that can be used to enhance the food instead of using too much salt);
e. Foods that are rich in potassium help balance the sodium levels in blood like coconuts, bananas, pomegranates, sweet potatoes, avocados, etc.
f. Nuts and seeds;
g. Leafy and green vegetables;
2. Using the right quantity of salt in meals
a. Sodium (or NaCl) is the most important electrolyte that maintains an osmotic balance in body cells. It also has a direct impact on the heart and blood pressure.
Na – Helps in nerve impulse transmissions; regulates pH, digestion, hydration, and breakdown & absorption nutrients into cells.
Cl – Enables the blood to carry carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs so we can exhale it out during respiration. So, it plays a vital role in oxygen saturation levels in the body. It’s also instrumental in maintaining proper digestion and immunity.
b. We cannot produce NaCl on our own, and so we depend on external sources for the same, like fruits, vegetables, sprouts, etc.
c. NaCl is anhydrous in nature, which means every gram of excess sodium chloride requires roughly 23 g of cellular water to neutralize it. This is why an excess in the sodium intake can cause the tissues to hold onto water, leading to edema (water retention);
d. NaCl also draws excess water in the blood leading to an increase in osmotic pressure, directly affecting the pressure in the heart.
e. Excess sodium also steals water from the cells, leading to cellular dehydration, which consequently results in acidity, fatigue, hair loss, etc. This also hardens the arteries and can be responsible for the haemorrhaging of the blood vessels and thickening of the heart muscles.
So, it’s important to understand that salt is not the enemy; however, its quality and quantity is. Refined salt is your biggest enemy if you’re suffering from high blood pressure. The recommended sodium intake for hypertension is less than 1500 mg/day. This equates to fewer than 3-4 gm of salt per day (less than 1 tsp.)
While iodized salt is also important for the body, in the case of high blood pressure, it’s recommended to go for rock salt (or low sodium salt). Rock salt or a reduced-sodium salt is usually preferred to help you understand how to control blood pressure. It’s also great for digestion, immunity building, and helps in cleaning out toxicity. It’s widely present in tubers, seeds, fruits, vegetables, etc. Apart from all these benefits, rock salt also contains over 85 trace minerals.
A lot of arterial functions & pressure are dependent on the adequate amount of water intake. It is even more important to drink more water if your junk food intake is high.
Something as manageable as 20-30 minutes of exercising every day is good for hypertension. It also helps you lose the excess body fat – which again is one of the primary reasons for high BP.
The magical element that helps you move from sympathetic to parasympathetic is oxygen. Most of us do not breathe to our full capacity and only use up to 10% of our lung capacity. We can use the process of breathing to immediately lower blood pressure in the body as well as transform our stressful state to a calm one. It helps in bringing down almost 10-15 points of systolic too. Since it’s an extremely easy exercise to do, you can do it almost anywhere – in a car or on a plane, even in the middle of a particularly stressful situation or conversation. This technique works extremely well on anxiety too, and we are all aware of how taxing anxiety can be for our immunity, weight, and our overall well-being.
There are several ways to breathe that are helpful to the body:
A. Sit with your back straight
Inhale – till the count of 4;
Exhale – till the count of 4;
In the case of high blood pressure, there’s no need for retention of breaths (holds).
B. Left-nostril breathing
Inhale from your left nostril and exhale from your right nostril. Repeat for 6-10 rounds.
C. The diaphragmatic way of breathing
As you’re inhaling deeply, your belly (and not your chest) should rise and inflate like a balloon. As you’re exhaling, your belly should deflate. You can place your hand on your belly while doing this exercise.
6. Yoga and asanas
You should pick asanas that are restorative while avoiding anything to do with forward bends and inversions. For example, child’s pose, shavasana/corpse pose, baddha pose. You should avoid kapalbharti and bhastrika in the case of a very high BP.
7. Stress management
If you find yourself in a stressful situation, simply walk away from it if that is under your control and revisit it later. In a stressful situation, all the blood from our head rushes to our muscles to prepare us to either fight or flee, therefore, we seldom have the clarity of thought in these situations. We even end up losing our temper or say things that we may not entirely mean. So, it’s best to step back from a situation like this and come back to it later with a calm and composed state of mind.
8. Alcohol consumption
It’s best advised to avoid alcohol if you have hypertension. But if one must have alcohol, then it should be a good quality red wine in absolute moderation.
9. Maintaining kidney health is key
High BP can cause damage to your kidneys. If your BP is high along with other health ailments like diabetes or high cholesterol, then the overall impact can be quite a bit for your body to handle. Since damaged kidneys do not filter blood well and fail to regulate blood pressure, it’s important to ensure that your kidneys’ health is constantly monitored. Any kidney failure that ever occurs due to high BP is a long process that can take years to fully develop, but one can very well limit the risk by managing their blood pressure in the first place.
10. Prioritising sleep
It’s of paramount importance to take care of your sleep in the case of hypertension. You should prioritise your sleep, rest and recovery above everything else. Sleep according to the circadian rhythm and sleep at the same time every day. Go for early dinners so that you can sleep early and wake up early too.
At the end of it all, it’s all about your mindset. Do you believe you can get better? Do you think you can healthily and safely get off your medications? If you do, then that’s how it’s going to be. We are often made to believe that medications are supposed to continue for a lifetime. While medications can definitely be life-saving, their dependency for a lifetime might not be necessarily true. If a faulty lifestyle has caused your blood pressure to go up, a corrective lifestyle can help bring it down just as well, while teaching you how to control blood pressure. Lifestyle changes do work, but they do so even more with faith, belief and trust in yourself.
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