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Reducing High Blood Pressure

By Elaine Pomfrey

Get your blood pressure measuredAs soon as any doctor or nurse gets close to you, they want to take your blood pressure. What is blood pressure and why is it so important? This article examines blood pressure and explores ways to reduce high blood pressure.

Blood pressure is a measurement of how much blood your heart pumps and the level of resistance to the blood flow in your arteries. Your blood pressure is expressed in two numbers, for example, 120/80 (120 over 80) mmHg (millimeters of mercury). What do the numbers mean?

Let’s take a look at the heart to find an answer. The heart is a muscle that functions much like a pump. Every time it beats, the heart contracts and sends a rush of blood through the blood vessels similar to toothpaste being squeezed from the tube. This contraction is called systole. The pressure of the blood during systole is called systolic blood pressure - the top number in your blood pressure reading.

After contraction, the heart relaxes and expands. This relaxation is called diastole and the pressure of the blood during this process is called diastolic blood pressure – the bottom number in the blood pressure reading. In the example above, the systolic pressure is 120 and the diastolic pressure is 80.

Your blood pressure increases the more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when blood pressure is greater than 140/90. People with hypertension (25% of the population) have four times the risk of heart disease than people with low blood pressure.

120/80 used to be considered normal blood pressure. However, numerous scientific studies discovered that people with blood pressure levels between 120/80 and 140/90 were twice as likely as those with lower blood pressure to get heart disease. Therefore in 2003, the government lowered the standard for normal blood pressure to less than 120/ less than 80. The 23% of Americans whose levels are between 120/80 and 140/90 are now labeled “prehypertensive” because they are at risk for developing hypertension as they age.

Physicians call hypertension the “silent killer” because it usually displays no symptoms and is associated with the potentially deadly illnesses of stroke, heart attack and congestive heart failure. You could have hypertension for years without knowing it. That’s why doctors and nurses check your blood pressure each office visit.

What is the prognosis for hypertensive patients? Changes in lifestyle and medicine can usually control high blood pressure. Many people need to take more than one medicine to reduce hypertension. However, sometimes people drop the prescriptions because the side effects are greater than the hypertension, from which they experienced no symptoms.

As an alternative to drugs, hypertensive patients often opt to pursue a natural approach to reduce blood pressure by managing their stress levels. Meditation seems to play a significant role in lowering blood pressure due to its ability to reduce stress. In fact, the National Institutes of Health has funded at least five research studies demonstrating the effectiveness of meditation, specifically the Transcendental Meditation technique, on reducing hypertension. A 2007 meta-analysis found that compared to other stress reduction techniques, e.g., bio-feedback and progressive muscle relaxation, the TM technique created a more significant reduction in blood pressure. Another study supported by a $3.8 million grant from the NIH tracked 201 subjects with coronary heart disease over 9 years. The researchers concluded that meditators showed not only a significant reduction in blood pressure, but they also had nearly 50% lower rates of heart attack, stroke and mortality compared to non-meditating controls.

Exercising, losing weight and following a healthier diet are additional tools to reduce blood pressure. The first change in your diet should be to reduce salt intake. The next is to cut back on soda. Recent research links high fructose corn syrup, an essential ingredient of soft drinks, to hypertension. Just 74 grams per day of fructose, the amount in 2 ½ cans of pop, increased the risk of high blood pressure. For more complete guidelines, the DASH diet, recommended by the American Heart Association, has been proven to lower blood pressure in just 14 days. It can reduce the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease too. The DASH is heavy on the plants - lots of fruits, veggies and plant proteins, like beans and grains – and light on the animals - minimal animal protein and high fat dairy products.

Normal blood pressure is essential to reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease, strokes and heart attacks. Fortunately, modern medicine and alternative medicine offer numerous tools to lower blood pressure leading to a healthier and happier life.

Additional resources:

The Transcendental Meditation technique is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis or treatment.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider regarding any medical condition. Individual results may vary.

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