Natural Medicine Q&A
Ask Dr. P
by Kasra Pournadeali, ND
Natural Medicine Specialist
Do you or anyone you know have high blood pressure? With 20-30% of the U.S. population affected, chances are the answer is yes. Despite the overwhelming trend of people taking better care of themselves, especially here in the Northwest, hypertension, or high blood pressure is still a serious problem. Untreated, hypertension can lead to blindness, heart disease, heart failure, kidney damage, and stroke. Since it has no symptoms in its early stages, it is called the "silent killer." Since it can be deadly if untreated, it's a very important health issue, and this month's focus in continuation of my heart health series. Have you measured your blood pressure lately?
Q: Dr. P., my blood pressure has been consistently but slowly going up over the past several years, and my doctor says I'll eventually need drugs, how will he treat my high blood pressure? Steve
Chad, antihypertensive drugs are what most M.D.s recommend. These drugs work by interfering with mechanisms that control the pumping ability of your heart and/or the resistance or backpressure in the vessels that carry blood. There are many different drug classes including diuretics (water pills,) Beta Blockers, Calcium Channel Blockers, and ACE inhibitors, to name a few. They are necessary for many but not all, and they are not without side effects. Some of these side effects include: loss of potassium and magnesium (each of which is helpful in lowering blood pressure and preventing heart attacks); increased cholesterol and triglycerides; and increased viscosity (or thickness) of the blood, both of which can increase the risk of a heart attack. Lightheadedness, muscle weakness, cramps, and sexual dysfunction, headaches, cough, nausea, dizziness, are not uncommon.
Q: Dr. P., I'm already taking blood pressure medicines, but would like something with less side effects, Are there any natural alternatives? Pat
Pat, that probably depends on your individual situation. Most people have a reduced need for conventional drugs when they use natural approaches. Some, can get off drugs altogether with the right plan. Never stop your prescription medications without the supervision of a physician (ND, MD, or DO) who can help you do so safely. Some examples of what might help you reduce your blood pressure without drugs are lifestyle changes like decreasing caffeine, alcohol, smoking, and stress, while exercising, and achieving an ideal body weight. Keep in mind that being overweight often has hidden causes (like food allergy, hormonal issues or insulin resistance) often missed by many doctors. It's not always "eat less, exercise more." Less commonly known is that a diet rich in vegetables, low in sugar, low in animal fats, high in fiber, and high in omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial effect on blood pressure. Even foods like garlic and celery have been reported to reduce blood pressure and have heart-protective effects.
Q: Dr. P., I've tried exercise, and dietary changes, but my pressure is still elevated, what next? Elaine
Elaine, For more resistant hypertension, depending on your unique situation, I might consider using therapeutic nutrition with calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, and Coenzyme Q10. If that's not enough, plant medicines like Crataegus, Taraxacum, Tilia, Achillea, Coleus, Olea, Viscum and Rauwolfia, can often do the trick in normalizing your blood pressure. Please keep in mind that hypertension should be taken seriously, and it is not a condition you should treat experimentally with supplements on your own or on the advice of someone simply trying to sell you supplements. Always see your doctor (naturopathic, medical, or osteopathic) for advice on drugs, and plant medicines.
Q: Dr. P., Why use natural approaches, when drugs control my hypertension? Ethel
Ethel, virtually every medical authority recommends non-drug therapies be used in borderline to moderate hypertension first, because drugs offer “no benefit in protecting against heart disease while having significant side effects and risks”. When drug therapy is needed, using naturopathic methods can complement by allowing reduction of drug doses- helpful because decreasing drug dose means decreasing side effects and risks associated with drugs; not to mention cost.
Q: Dr. P., Can I really achieve normal blood pressure with naturopathic methods alone? Sheila
Absolutely! Having treated hundreds of patients with high blood pressure, I’ve found only 10-15% to need standard medicines, once other causes have been addressed. Amazingly, most of us can manage high blood pressure by simple elimination of our food sensitivities. And, if we can avoid a lifetime of drug use, even a plant drug, don’t we owe it to ourselves to do so? Have a great month!
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appointment, please contact the Northwest Center for Optimal Health at (360)