When you go to the doctor’s office, one of the first things they do is check your blood pressure. After taking the reading, they tell you two numbers, probably somewhere around 120/80. But do you know what they really mean?
What is Blood Pressure?
Think of it this way – blood pressure is the amount of pressure your blood exerts on the walls of your arteries. Arteries carry blood from your heart throughout your body. Measuring arterial pressure shows the health of your blood vessels and cardiovascular system!
A blood pressure reading contains two numbers – systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is the first number you see – the 120 in the reading blood pressure of 120/80. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number is diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure in your arteries when your heart is resting between beats. So for 120/80 – a normal blood pressure – 120 is the systolic blood pressure and 80 is the diastolic blood pressure.
But if 120/80 is normal, what does high blood pressure look like?
High Blood Pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is any number higher than 120/80. Frequent high readings may result in a hypertension diagnosis. It’s important to know that blood pressure can vary based on several factors including activity, stress, hormone levels, and hydration to name a few. It is also important that the proper size blood pressure cuff be used for the measurement, as if it is too small, it may result in a falsely elevated reading, just like a blood pressure cuff that is too large may result in a falsely low reading. If you have had high blood pressure readings at your doctor’s office, it is recommended to start tracking your blood pressures at home or even in other environments where stress does not play as much of a role, and report those numbers to your doctor as well.
Think high blood pressure is something only older people deal with?That’s not the case. Worldwide, 45% of the adult population has hypertension. In the US, hypertension is the leading modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular-disease related death.
Monitoring your blood pressure and preventing high blood pressure matters. Your risk of stroke, heart disease, and heart attack increase with high blood pressure. This makes it essential to manage high blood pressure and take steps to keep it in a healthy range. Hypertension often has no symptoms so getting it checked often is essential.
Stages of High Blood Pressure
- Elevated blood pressure: 120-129/less than 80
- Stage 1 hypertension: 130-139/80-89
- Stage 2 hypertension: >140/>90
- Hypertensive crisis: >180/>120 (you would call your doctor immediately)
Common Causes and Risk Factors For High Blood Pressure
This is one of the biggest contributors to high blood pressure. In addition, waist circumference, hip circumference, and a high BMI also influence hypertension. When combined with a sedentary lifestyle, hypertension can develop over time.
Diabetes and High Insulin
High insulin is normally thought of happening in people with a diabete diagnosis. But it’s not something only diabetic people have! High insulin is associated with a higher risk of hypertension, coronary artery disease, and obesity.
The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system is one example of how the body regulates blood pressure. Also known as RAAS, this system works in the kidneys to manage blood volume and the tone of the arteries. When the kidneys aren’t functioning normally, the cardiovascular system becomes strained. High blood pressure can follow.
Sleep apnea is an interrupted breathing pattern during sleep, defined as periods of complete cessation of breathing–meaning periods of time where no air exchanging. It causes oxygen levels in your blood to decrease and carbon dioxide levels to rise, which will in turn raise blood pressure and heart rate. This compensatory response is your body’s way of trying to get more oxygen to your tissues. Sleep apnea can be an undiagnosed contributor to hypertension.
Did you know toxins like high levels of mercury found in some fish can contribute to high blood pressure? Mercury toxicity can inactivate important hormones and co-factors that regulate cardiovascular system processes. Research shows that mercury toxicity can increase blood pressure.
Management and Prevention of High Blood Pressure
Functional medicine takes a lifestyle based approach to hypertension whenever possible. This looks like:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Not smoking
- Reducing alcohol
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Managing stress
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough good quality sleep
- Reducing toxins
Let’s zero in on the key changes to focus on that will make a big impact.
Eat a Healthy Diet
It’s no secret eating a healthy diet is important for many aspects of our health – including blood pressure! Eat lots of real whole, real foods including fresh fruits and vegetables. Limit alcohol, sugars, caffeine, and processed/packaged foods. Specific diets like the Mediterranean diet have also been studied. A healthy diet also helps maintain a healthy weight, helping to control blood pressure.
Stress management also helps manage high blood pressure. Finding ways to unwind and relax each day is also essential. Whether it’s mindfulness, yoga, or talking to a friend, find a way to manage your stress.
Exercise and Movement
Exercise also helps! The current recommendations are 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. This may look like 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week for example. Regular physical activity is associated with lower blood pressure and reduced cardiovascular risk.
Practice good sleep hygiene each night with a consistent sleep routine. Go to bed and wake up around the same time, limit screen time before bed, and avoid meals and exercise close to bedtime. If you snore or have frequent unexplained awakenings in the night, you may want to consider asking your doctor to refer you for a sleep study to evaluate for sleep apnea or other sleep disorders.
While a healthy diet is a great place to start, sometimes supplements are needed. Magnesium is one such supplement. It is deficient in many Americans and can help lower blood pressure! Taking a high-quality magnesium supplement may help lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep.
Another helpful category of supplements include adrenal adaptogens, such as those in Stress Support. There are also many other herbs and supplements to help improve sleep, like melatonin for example, which can help you fall asleep more easily. If adding magnesium and melatonin are not helpful enough, you may want to consider adding an herbal sleep supplement such as Sleep Rescue temporarily to help reset your sleep cycle.
Remember how important stress management and sleep are to regulating high blood pressure? Sometimes your body needs just a little more help, which is where adding key supplements can be really helpful!
Support Your Health With Functional Medicine!
Here at Arizona Wellness Medicine, we have a team of highly trained functional medicine providers to create a personalized plan for you so you can feel your best. Whatever you’re struggling with, we have a team of providers who can help. To learn more, click here.