The Nutrient Management of Hypertension

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a chronic medical condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is elevated.  Blood pressure measures the force pushing outward on your arterial walls.  Since your body needs oxygen to survive, it is carried throughout the body.  Every time that your heart beats it is pumping oxygen through a network of blood vessels and capillaries.  There are two forces to every heart beat.  The first force occurs as blood pumps out of the heart and into the arteries that are part of the circulatory system, also known as systolic pressure.  The second force is created as the heart rests in between heartbeats, also known as diastolic pressure.  These are the two numbers that a person can see in a blood pressure reading.  Problems arise when there is too much force on the heart.  This can lead to conditions such as vascular weaknesses, vascular scarring, increased risk of blood clots, increased plaque build-up, tissue and organ damage from narrowed and blocked arteries, and increased workload on the circulatory system.  When cholesterol or plaque builds up because of scarring, the heart has to work harder in order to pump blood to the arteries.  This can eventually result in damage to the heart which can ultimately lead to heart failure.  This disease affects 76.4 million adults in the United States and can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and kidney failure.

Hypertension is usually a symptomless condition with complications.  Usually people only feel symptoms in extreme readings, for example if their systolic reading is 180 or their diastolic is 110.  This is what is known as a hypertensive crisis.  It is important that adults be familiar with their blood pressure numbers on a consistent basis in order to prevent this disease from causing serious health issues.

There are simple ways to help control a person’s blood pressure.  According to the American Heart Association, there are 8 main ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle.  Eat a better diet (including reducing salt), regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight, manage stress, avoid tobacco smoke, comply with medication prescriptions, limit alcohol, and understand hot tub safety.

Prescription medication is commonly used to help patients manage hypertension effectively.  One of the most commonly prescribed medications is lisinopril, a type of ACE Inhibitor that helps relax blood vessels keeping blood pressure low.  As with any drug therapy, there are good and bad side effects associated with lisinopril.  For example, lisinopril and other ACE inhibitors can cause a wide range of side effects, some less serious than others such as cough, dizziness, weakness, headaches, or nausea.  More serious side effects include swelling, difficulty breathing or swallowing, fever, fainting, and chest pain. Any patient taking this class of drugs should be aware of these side effects and monitor themselves at the onset of therapy and periodically throughout the course of therapy to ensure that the medication is more beneficial than harmful.

Another popular prescription option for patients with hypertension, are calcium channel blockers.  Calcium channel blockers relax and open up narrowed blood vessels by preventing calcium from entering the smooth muscle cells of the heart and arteries. The common side effects of this class of medications include headache, swelling, dizziness, flushing, fatigue, nausea, and palpitations.

Diuretics are also commonly prescribed and help expel excess sodium and fluid from the body in order to help control blood pressure.  Some of the side effects associated with diuretics are arrhythmia, extreme tiredness or weakness, muscle cramps, dizziness, fever, and dehydration.

Beta-blockers are also commonly used to treat hypertension. This class of medication is used to reduce heart rate, the heart’s workload, and the heart’s output of blood by preventing certain hormones from stimulating the heart. Side effects of beta blockers include diarrhea, depression, vomiting, depression, nightmares, and hallucinations.  One of the main dangers of beta-blockers is that if they are withdrawn suddenly conditions like angina can worsen, causing heart attacks or sudden death.

Doctors often hesitated to prescribe ACE inhibitors, beta blockers and diuretics until a patient’s blood pressure reaches 160/100. Anything below that level is deemed “mild hypertension” and not considered imminently dangerous, so a drugs’ potential side effects might outweigh their benefits. For patients with mild to moderate hypertension, nutritional interventions are commonly used in an effort to prevent the disease from progressing to a life threatening state.

A safe alternative for Hypertension is a medical food like Hypertensa® which are commonly used to expand blood vessels and improve blood flow through a natural pathway.  This class of medications addresses the increased nutritional demands of hypertension.  It uses specific amino acids and nutrients that are responsible for regulating blood pressure and vascular function.  Unlike drugs, medical foods address the production of the specific neurotransmitters that drive all the automatic functions of your body including heart rate and blood pressure.  Hypertension and many drugs that treat hypertension can alter the way the body uses these substances which are derived from both the diet and internal metabolic processes, creating deficiencies which cannot be fixed by altering diet alone.  By addressing the increased metabolic requirements of hypertension with nutritional interventions, the body will have the tools that it needs to help regulate blood pressure and heart rate.