What Causes High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?

Author: Dr. Jeda Boughton, B.A., R.Ac., Dr. TCM, FABORM – Boda Health

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is one of the leading causes of heart disease, strokes, disability and hospitalization in Canada. Despite high rates of community awareness of hypertension throughout Canada and some of the best care in the world for this condition, high blood pressure still affects about one-quarter of Canadian adults. It’s the most common reason for doctors’ visits in Canada and the number one reason for taking medication. The costs related to hypertension in Canada are an estimated $20 billion.

What is High Blood Pressure?

So what exactly is high blood pressure? It’s a condition related to the force of blood pressing against the walls of your arteries. When the pressure in your arteries is high and stays that way for a long period of time, it can cause undue stress on your heart. Your blood pressure is taken, it’s reported as two numbers, because two things are being measured at once—the amount of blood being pumped by your heart and the pressure of blood flow in your arteries. Essentially, narrower and more inflexible or resistant arteries make your heart work harder. The narrower your vessels and the harder your heart pumps, the higher your blood pressure.

The first number in a blood pressure reading is called systolic pressure, and it measures the pressure in your arteries during heartbeats. The second number is called diastolic pressure, which measures the pressure in between heartbeats. Normal blood pressure is defined as a systolic/diastolic reading of less than 120/80. Your blood pressure is considered to be elevated with the systolic pressure is between 120 and 129, but diastolic remains less than 80. And High blood pressure is a reading above 130/80. The 2003 guidelines suggested that the blood pressure was a reading higher than 140/80, but in 2017 that was changed to 130/80.

There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure. Some factors that contribute to hypertension are related to lifestyle. This includes:

  • Smoking
  • A diet high in salt, particularly refined or table salt, in people who are salt-sensitive
  • Excess alcohol consumption
  • Stress
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of physical activity

However, there are factors that cause high blood pressure over which you may have no control. Genetics or a family history of hypertension, age, chronic kidney disease, a thyroid or adrenal imbalance and sleep apnea also raise your risk.

Is There Anything You Can Do to Lower Your Blood Pressure?

There’s good news on treating hypertension on a couple of fronts. First, it is possible to lower your blood pressure through lifestyle changes. Second, natural treatments, such as Chinese medicine and acupuncture can help treat this condition.

Lifestyle changes that can help lower your blood pressure include getting a handle on your stress, quitting smoking, getting more exercise and making dietary changes. While every patient is going to have a different health history and unique set of needs, treatments that come under the umbrella of Chinese medicine are beneficial in helping patients in a number of ways.

Acupuncture is well-known for its ability to reduce stress, decrease anxiety and produce a sense of calmness in patients. During an acupuncture treatment certain feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins, are released that produce a sense of calm and help reduce stress. In addition, acupuncture stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps your body rest, digest and heal. (As opposed to your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight or flight response when you’re under stress.)  And if you don’t think that stress can raise your blood pressure, there’s a condition called White Coat Syndrome, which describes sudden spikes in blood pressure when you’re at the doctor or in a medical setting. It’s a real thing.

If you’re a smoker and are trying to quit, you’re well-aware of how hard that can be. If you’re trying to quit to help manage your blood pressure, now more than ever is the time to try acupuncture. That’s because acupuncture is an effective natural treatment to help people quit smoking. Most often your acupuncture session will include ear acupuncture in your treatments for smoking cessation. This is an effective way to help reduce the frequency and intensity of cravings.

Dietary changes are often the cornerstone of any strategy to lower your blood pressure. At BodaHealth, our acupuncture practitioners as well as our naturopathic doctor and holistic nutritionist are able to help you make the tweaks to your diet to help get your blood pressure under control. They understand that the starting point with nutritional therapy is to assess your current diet and to help you make changes that are appropriate for your specific needs. They are also able to suggest appropriate supplementation when needed. Our naturopathic doctor is also able to run tests for thyroid and adrenal function.

In addition, there are a number of herbs in the Chinese medicine formulary that are known to help reduce blood pressure. Typically herbs are combined into a formula, and the exact quantity and mix of herbs is based on your specific symptoms and health history.

When it comes to treating your hypertension with Chinese medicine, it’s important to know that there are several patterns of signs and symptoms that can cause an imbalance leading to high blood pressure. What this means is that there’s no single cookie-cutter treatment plan for high blood pressure. Rather, an acupuncture treatment, herbal formula, dietary strategies and any other supplementation or lifestyle changes will be based on what will work best for your unique needs.

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