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High blood pressure? What to know and how to help yourself

High blood pressure? What to know and how to help yourself

If you had your blood pressure measured recently and it was high, you may be feeling appropriately concerned.  Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to help yourself.

The first thing to understand is that blood pressure is not static.  It varies throughout the day – minute by minute.  What it’s really doing is oscillating, sometimes quite profoundly, around a mean – and what we’re really interested in is what that mean is.  So one reading in a doctor’s office does not a hypertension diagnosis make.  What we really need are multiple readings that give us more information.  Which is why I always ask my patients to get their own blood pressure cuffs and start taking their own readings at home.  Home BP monitors are widely available and relatively inexpensive, and can be invaluable tools for facilitating BP evaluation and management.

The second thing to know is that there are multiple factors that can contribute to high blood pressure that are reversible: excess weight, inactivity, smoking, stimulants (like caffeine and alcohol), non-restorative sleep/sleep apnea, and high sodium intake/poor diet.  These are not necessarily factors that are chip shots to solve or change, but it’s all doable.  Most importantly, making inroads here – even if they’re only partial - can help reduce your readings enough that you can avoid medications or, at the very least, lower the drug doses needed to control them.

Finally, know that there is a significant connection between mental health and hypertension.  Not just anxiety.  Depression too can be linked.   One recent study found a connection between depressive symptoms and high blood pressure years before hypertension was diagnosed.

The relationship between mental health and blood pressure is complex. On one hand, anxiety and depression may cause people to avoid taking medications or even skip medical appointments altogether.  On the other hand, some antihypertensive medications, such as beta blockers, can have depression and fatigue as side effects.   High blood pressure causes low-grade inflammation. And inflammation can interfere with mood-regulating chemicals.  Left untreated, hypertension can also increase stress-related hormones. And stress, of course, is not good for your mental health.

We tend to think of mental and physical health separately, but they are so intertwined that it can be hard to tell what is the cause and what is the effect. Is stress making your blood pressure rise, or is hypertension causing your stress? While the answer isn’t always clear, the good news is that treating one should improve the other as well.

The best part is, the treatment doesn’t need to be just drugs, drugs, and more drugs!  What we eat has a TREMENDOUS impact on both physical and mental health – including mood and blood pressure readings.  Consuming more whole food fiber, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats is the key.  Sound familiar?

We've had lots of customers tell us their blood pressure has improved as a consequence of eating Step One Foods.  But I’ll never forget the day that a customer marched into our offices and demanded to know if we put anti-depressants into the foods – because he had never felt better!  Not everyone will have such dramatic improvements, but shouldn’t we all feed our bodies in a way that supports health on every level?

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