We are continually bombarded with messages to regularly monitor our blood pressure, warning us that, “Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to a stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure.” And to help us out drug stores often have blood pressure testing machines available, and many hospitals and emergency care facilities will allow you to get your blood pressure checked by a healthcare professional at no charge. Thank you very much, but the issue most of us don’t seem to understand about our cardiovascular health is that high blood pressure is not a disease!
Let’s be clear. We are not suggesting that you should ignore extreme blood pressure scores, and we don’t want you to go against the advice of your doctor if he or she recommends a treatment protocol for a specific vascular dysfunction causing high blood pressure. Instead, we want you to consider that blood pressure is a tool that provides feedback about the state of one’s health, and not as a potential “silent killer” that acts independently of other body processes.
According to Eric Serrano, MD, a family physician who gives presentations worldwide on how to achieve optimal health and athletic performance, the human body is especially good at self-regulation. If you fall asleep, body processes such as your respiration and heart rate decrease automatically – you don’t have to consciously think about regulating these processes. If you start running, you don’t have to think about breathing faster or trying to increase your heart rate – your body knows what to do. As such, why should we try to artificially regulate our blood pressure with drugs? Isn’t a change in blood pressure a natural response to stress…and if so, why are we screwing with it? Let’s look at some numbers.
Normal blood pressure is often defined as 120/80, but is it? Should the resting blood pressure of a 90-pound teenage girl be the same as a 60-year-old, 185-pound man whose arteries have seem some mileage? Even if we accept that 120/80 is a good guideline for resting blood pressure, consider that a blood pressure reading taken in the morning right after you wake up might be different from a reading taken in the afternoon or evening. Further, those readings can be elevated if they are taken after consuming a heavy meal or drinking coffee, or during periods of emotional stress. In fact, if for whatever reason you want to “cheat” on a blood pressure test to get lower numbers, perform deep breathing exercises for several minutes before the test.
Asked about potential problems with prescribing blood pressure medications, Dr. Serrano says that using drugs to change an abnormal blood pressure reading may not make a person healthier. If a patient’s blood pressure is high from being overweight, taking a drug to return to normal levels will not help that person lose weight. Further, Dr. Serrano says these drugs can give a false sense of security that a person is healthy when in fact they are not, and treating someone for a slightly elevated blood pressure when there is an absence of symptoms may be doing more harm than good.
What makes the issue of hypertension even more confusing is that many health organizations disagree on what is considered normal. Whereas 120/80 is the standard you will find on most blood pressure machines you find in drug stores, it was not long ago that the standard for the systolic reading was “age plus 100.” Let’s think about this.
A standard of 120/80 would mean that about 50 percent of the adult population has hypertension and should be considered candidates for drug therapy! Blood pressure-related expenses have been estimated to be as much as three percent of health care spending in the US, which translates into $131 billion. Serrano says that recommending a lower standard is good news for the pharmaceutical industry as it would transform a billion dollar a year industry into a trillion dollar a year industry.
Serrano believes you can take significant positive steps to improve the quality and length of your life if you and your doctor adopt the perspective that a high blood pressure reading is a possible warning that you need to address one or more health issues. Such warnings include being overweight or that you are not getting enough sleep. From this starting point, you could look at other factors, such as cigarette smoking and the excess consumption of alcohol or sugar. There are also nutritional deficiencies to consider.
Because he prefers a natural approach to patient care, Serrano is a big believer in supplements, especially when you consider that much of the food we eat comes from food grown on farms with poor soil quality (and researchers say it takes as many as 17 ingredients to make a healthy plant, but fertilizers often only contain three of them). Two minerals that we are often deficient in are potassium and magnesium, which influence blood pressure. Ironically, diuretics that are commonly prescribed for high blood pressure can increase the secretion of these minerals! And as for other supplements that he believes offer the most “bang for your buck” for treating abnormal blood pressure scores, Serrano says three to consider are Vitamin D3, garlic, and fish oil.
The takeaway here is that your body is extremely good at self-regulation, and one way it achieves a state of balance is by adjusting how hard the heart pumps. Rather than looking at a high blood pressure reading as a message that you may be just a few heartbeats away from the sweet release of death, use the reading as an educational tool to guide you on the path to optimal health.