To understand what causes high blood pressure you must first understand how your body works to keep blood flowing throughout your body. The blood is carried from your heart by a system of arteries, vessels, veins and capillaries. As your heart beats, blood is pumped out and into the arteries to be carried to your entire body.
The pressure to which the blood is pumped is your blood pressure. There are many factors that can increase or decrease your pressure and have a major impact on your health.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, currently affects more than 74 million people and causes at least 56,000 fatalities each year, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). This condition can cause vascular weakness, vascular scarring, stroke, increased risk for blood clots, increased plaque build-up, vision loss, erectile dysfunction, tissue and organ damage and increased strain on your circulatory system. Although it’s not uncommon to have no symptoms, you may have high blood pressure if you experience headache, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, chest pain and shortness of breath.
There are many causes of unhealthy blood pressure levels. Some of the risk factors you cannot control include heredity, race and age, according to the AHA. Other risk factors include high sodium consumption, obesity, stress, high alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation, tobacco smoking, caffeine, prescription drugs and a sedentary lifestyle.
Many medications can have an adverse affect on your blood pressure levels. The Mayo Clinic indicates several over-the-counter medications can cause a rise in pressure. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), decongestants, acetaminophen, appetite suppressants and pseudoephedrine. To avoid any complications you should have a list of all medications—prescription and over-the-counter—with you when you consult with a physician.
Prescription medication such as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can also cause high blood pressure. Drugs such as Lipitor®, Crestor®, Pravachol® and Mevacor® all have been scientifically shown to reduce your body’s natural coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) levels. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that statins reduce CoQ10 by 22 percent. CoQ10 is essential when it comes to helping you maintain and improve your blood pressure levels. CoQ10 can help prevent the oxidative damage of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol… reduce oxidative stress within your artery walls… and normalize your body’s sodium-to-potassium ratio.
By educating yourself about the risks and consequences of your lifestyle you can learn to maintain healthy blood pressure levels. According to the AHA, when you keep your levels within a healthy range you reduce the risk of your vascular walls becoming overstretched and injured… reduce the risk of your heart having to pump harder to compensate for blockages… and protect your entire body so that your tissue receives a regular supply of oxygen-rich blood.
Exercise can boost circulation by releasing nitric oxide in your bloodstream. This natural substance produced in your body helps keep plaque from building up in your arteries that can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease or stroke. By setting aside time each day to participate in an activity you can do your heart and blood pressure a world of good. I encourage you to find activities that you enjoy such as golf, tennis, swimming, biking or yoga so that you will be more likely to stick to your routine.
Stress and anxiety also play a key role in your blood pressure levels. When you are stressed, your heartbeat often races and this places a great amount of strain on your heart. This can also cause damage to your artery and blood vessel walls. One quick “de-stressor” I recommend is deep breathing. By closing your eyes and spending time concentrating on your breathing you can help regulate your heart beat and improve your blood pressure levels. Take at least five seconds to slowly draw in your breath and then take at least 10 seconds to slowly breathe out. Repeat this exercise for two to five minutes until you are relaxed and calm.
Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) believe there are various natural solutions to help lower your blood pressure levels. In the book Chinese System of Food Cures, foods such as seaweed, mung beans, hawthorn fruit, water chestnut, turnip, Chinese celery and persimmon are recommended for hypertension. A diet with less animal protein and more vegetable oils has been shown to help lower blood pressure levels.
Other TCM methods for reducing high blood pressure include acupuncture, massage, meditation and yoga. These relaxation techniques can help relieve stress and anxiety and therefore regulate your heart beat and circulation.
—Michael Cutler, M.D.