Don't Be Casual About High Blood Pressure

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, Blood Pressure
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

There are a lot of factors that contribute to heart health. One of them, I learned early in my career, is a patient's willingness to make lifestyle changes that can prevent small problems from becoming big, debilitating ones.

That's why I want to talk with you today about the importance of maintaining healthy blood pressure. Hypertension--the clinical name for high blood pressure--is exceedingly common, and as cardiovascular problems go, you might say it's relatively "small." Now, I say that mainly because it rarely has noticeable symptoms that will compromise your quality of life. For example, it doesn't cause chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, or other clear signs that your heart is under some kind of duress. As a result, it's not something that will make you worry from day to day that you're at risk for heart attack and stroke.

But I can't emphasize enough that you are at risk--despite the fact that you feel fine. High blood pressure is one of the biggest heart risk factors out there, and that's because of the long-term effects it has on your body if it's not controlled.

High blood pressure damages the sensitive inner layer of the arteries, called the endothelium. This layer of cells is responsible for making a number of substances that keep the vascular system pliable and responsive to changing conditions in the body. For example, nitric oxide is produced by the endothelium, and it keeps your arteries appropriately dilated. High blood pressure, however, damages the endothelium in the same way that a rushing stream or river cuts into its banks. The arteries are especially vulnerable to this "sheering force" at points where they bend or form branches.

When damage to the endothelium occurs on a regular basis, it results in inflammation and, eventually, atherosclerosis. As your body uses cholesterol to patch up the damage, the cholesterol begins accumulating in the arterial wall where it contributes to plaque buildup that hardens and narrows the arteries.

Another reason high blood pressure is so dangerous is the effect it has on the heart. The greater your blood pressure, the more resistance there is in your entire vascular system. That means your heart, the pump at the center of it all, must work harder to keep your blood moving. Over time, the extra effort spent by the heart will cause it to enlarge and become less efficient.

The long and short of it is this: You have to control high blood pressure, or you'll be in the fast lane on the road to heart disease.

Hypertension can be caused by a number of things. The most common include stress, genetics, being overweight, eating a high-sugar diet, heavy metal toxicity, and lack of exercise. Blood that is too thick is another, often overlooked, cause.

Since many of these causes are related to lifestyle, there are some obvious natural ways to lower blood pressure. You can start by getting a handle on your stress level, whether that means adopting a meditation or prayer routine, or pursuing relaxation exercises like yoga and Tai' Chi. Regular exercise and good cardiovascular nutrition that helps you lose weight are also key (stay away from processed and packaged foods--they're loaded with salt). If you still need help, look into nutritional supplements that support healthy blood pressure. My favorites are magnesium (400-800 mg daily), which has a relaxing effect on blood vessels; CoQ10 (100-180 mg daily), which supplies extra energy to the heart; and fish oil (2-3 g daily) and nattokinase (50-100 mg daily), both of which thin the blood.

High blood pressure is sometimes called the "silent killer" because it does its damage without your even knowing it. Take charge of your lifestyle and don't let this small problem become a cardiovascular crisis.

For more information on high blood pressure remedies, visit

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