I must start with a disclaimer. I am not a doctor. While I have much knowledge and experience in holistic medicine, I am not attempting to replace your physician. If you have hypertension (high blood pressure), step one is to see your doctor.
That said, you may be wondering why I am writing this. I am scribing this mainly for two reasons. First, I have personally benefitted from the suggestions I shall make here and, if the article is received well enough, future articles. Shortly after I turned 50. my blood pressure skyrocketed to 210/180! I am pleased to say that without any drugs, but by simply modifying my diet and lifestyle, I am now within normal limits. Secondly, while I am aware that you can get this information elsewhere, I feel the more varied ways we put information into our brains, the more likely it is to stick. Furthermore, hypertension is a huge problem in the world. According to WebMD, 30% of Americans need treatment and the number is growing, not shrinking. I honestly feel that even if you don’t have issues at present, my suggestions can still make your life healthier and likely longer.
So what is hypertension? In layman’s terms, it is high blood pressure. Blood pressure is measured in mm of mercury and consists of two readings. It is recorded as one number over another, for example, 120/80. The upper number is the systolic pressure, which is when the heart is contracting. The lower number is the diastolic and occurs when the heart relaxes between contractions. (A way to remember this is that the systolic is when the heart “squeezes” the blood and the diastolic is it’s “down” time. The diastolic also goes on the down side of the fractional representation.)
Normal blood pressure should be between 100/60 and 140/90. “Ideal” blood pressure would be 120/80 or under. If the blood pressure is above 120/80 it is considered “pre-hypertension”. Anything higher than 140/90 is considered hypertension. It is important to note that if either the systolic OR diastolic are above the limit, it is considered high blood pressure. In general, the higher your blood pressure, the higher your health risk is.
Hypertension does not usually have obvious symptoms. In fact, it usually has no symptoms and must be detected by medical screenings. It is, however, still a serious health issue. Hypertension is associated with increased risk for stroke, aneurysms, heart disease, peripheral arterial disease and chronic kidney disease. Moderate hypertension is also associated with a shorter life span when compared to those with normal blood pressure.
In order to deal with high blood pressure without prescriptions, it is important to understand what contributes to it’s manifestation. Exactly what causes high blood pressure is not a simple matter to answer, if it can actually be answered at all. There seems not to be one single cause. However, we do know of a number of factors that contribute to it. Lifestyle and diet are likely the two broadest categories. According to WebMD, smoking, obesity, a lack of physical activity, too much salt intake, excessive alcohol, stress, old age, genetics, kidney disease, family history, adrenal disorders and thyroid disorders all contribute hypertension. However, hypertension can usually not be traced back to a single cause. In fact, most individuals have what is called “essential” hypertension meaning that the physician only knows that it is high and cannot identify a specific cause.
In this series, I am going to focus on the ones you can actually do something about it without prescriptions. Today I would like to try to debunk an excuse I hear too often. That being, “it runs in my family”. I know many people with hypertension and, I am sorry to say it, they use that far too often as an excuse. While there is evidence that hypertension does “run in the families”, you should not believe such and simply toss your hands up in surrender. Instead, I suggest you do a serious examination of your diet and lifestyle.
The reality is that family history is not entirely about genetics. While we do inherit chromosomes, we also copy behavior and lifestyle. While my grandfather did have hypertension, he also consumed four or five shots a day. While my mother has hypertension, she also loves our Polish food, high in fat, cholesterol and sodium. While examining family history, it is difficult to filter out how much is genetic and how much is from the lifestyle often handed down from generation to generation. So the question is, is it your genes or your heritage?
For example, my father who does not have hypertension likes to have the same breakfast every day; two eggs over easy, two slices of bacon and two slices of toast with butter because “margarine tastes like plastic”. My father is a non-smoker, physically active and in excellent health for his age. I inherited many of my father’s habits. I am active, exercising 6 days a week, and pretty much healthy, especially compared to people my age. However, I also have the same daily breakfast. Like my mother, I love kielbasi, perogies and saurkraut… add to that vodka. Furthermore, margarine does taste like plastic. It seems like I inherited my father’s taste, but not his genes regarding hypertension.
When I was diagnosed hypertensive, I realized I needed to do a self assessment. By that, I mean a serious analytic look at what I eat and how I live. Since, I am physically active, my doctor suggested I examine my diet. Let me start with my breakfast.
I decided to start by really looking at my daily breakfast and commit to changing it if needed. As you shall see, I really, really needed to change it! I am going to focus on calories, sodium, cholesterol and saturated fat.
Previous to my hypertension my daily breakfast consisted of two medium eggs over easy cooked in 2 tsp butter, two strips of bacon, and two pieces of toast with a tsp of butter. What exactly does that equal?
3 tsp of butter is 300 calories, 30% of the DV (daily value of intake based on a 2000 calorie per day diet) for cholesterol, and a whopping 108% DV for saturated fat! (I use unsalted butter so no sodium.) Two eggs contain 140 calories, 18 % DV for saturated fat, 124% DV for cholesterol, and 4% DV for sodium. The bacon contains 86 calories, 10% DV for saturated fat, 6% DV for both sodium and cholesterol. Honestly, I nearly had a heart attack after I calculated this. (I also have coffee, but it only adds up to 2 calories and nothing more.) Adding all the items up it equals:
- 528 calories
- 160% DV for cholesterol
- 136% DV for saturated fat
- 10% DV for sodium
Wow! after having consumed such almost daily for 50 years, I should be dead. Obviously, I needed to take some action. Now consider my current breakfast:
- 2 servings oatmeal
- 1/2 cup fresh strawberries in the oatmeal
- 6 oz. blueberry yogurt (as I will cover in the future, blueberries are one of the “super foods” for attacking hypertension)
The oatmeal contains 300 calories, 4% DV saturated fat, no cholesterol, and no sodium. The strawberries contain 27 calories, no saturated fat, no cholesterol and no sodium. The yogurt contains 190 calories, 5% DV saturated fat, 3% DV cholesterol, and 4% DV for sodium. Now let me add up my newer healthy breakfast.
- 519 calories
- 9% DV saturated fat
- 3% DV cholesterol
- 4% DV sodium
The handouts my doctor gave me suggested to make changes gradually. I decided to attack just this one meal would be a good starting point. While results will vary, I am pleased to say that this one change helped my hypertension in under three weeks. While I still have some days where I am hypertensive, most days I am in the pre-hypertension range. I intend to keep attacking my problem and sharing my results with you. Hopefully, you gained some insight into just how un-heart-healthy a typical American breakfast is and you gained some motivation to deal with hypertension.
To close, I wish to reiterate that I am writing these articles for motivational and informational purposes. If you suffer from hypertension, you need to see your doctor. That is the most important first step. I would also encourage you to regularly check your BP and consider trying some of these health wise tips regardless of how high or low your blood pressure is. Thanks for reading and please feel free to leave comments below.
Please leave me comments with your thoughts. If the community likes this type of information, I intend to write more on the topic. I already have a draft on more general dietary suggestions and would love to post it here if you feel it is useful. Thank you for reading and I hope you live a long healthy life.
- Handouts from my doctor from The University of Wisconsin Integrative Medicine
- Web page on High Blood Pressure Causes at WebMD
- Article on High Blood Pressure at WebMD