Do You Really Need Your Blood Pressure Drugs?

High blood pressure affects roughly 75 million Americans. This condition increases risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and kidney disease, and those who are labeled with hypertension pay higher insurance rates and are frequently subjected to lifelong use of dangerous medications. Yet, a recent study suggests that four in five blood pressure readings taken in doctors’ offices are inaccurate!

Texas researchers enrolled patients with blood pressures higher than 120/80 and tested them according to the standard—but rarely followed—guidelines: sitting in a chair with a back support, feet planted on the floor and legs uncrossed for five minutes, no restrictive clothing or caffeine, and no exercise or tobacco for at least 30 minutes prior to testing. The tester made sure the cuff was sized and the arm placed appropriately, and two separate readings were taken and averaged (plus a third if the first two varied by more than 5 mmHg).

The results were astounding. When these guidelines were followed, average systolic/diastolic pressures were 15.7/8.2 mmHg lower, going from 146.4/87.6 to 130.7/79.4. These are significant differences, folks. The blood pressure classifications of 81 percent of the patients in this study improved—from stage 1 hypertension (140–159/90–99) to prehypertension (120–139/80–89) or from prehypertension to normal (less than 120/80).

This study is only one illustration of factors that play a role in the inaccuracies of testing. Uncalibrated equipment, “interobserver reliability” (different nurses or doctors getting different results), and white coat hypertension (elevation due to doctor-induced anxiety) also contribute to faulty readings and over-diagnosis. Unfortunately, the lack of awareness of this very common and serious problem has turned millions of healthy individuals into medication-dependent, erroneously diagnosed “patients.”

There’s a simple way to avoid this: Buy a blood pressure monitor, learn how to use it correctly, and periodically take your blood pressure at home. Do not, I repeat, do not roll over, accept a diagnosis of hypertension, and get on the drug merry-go-round until you have checked and double-checked your numbers.

Diet: The Cause and the Cure 

If you truly do have high blood pressure, what can you do? First, you need to understand the underlying causes. Hypertension is not so much a disease as it is a reflection of the body’s response to dietary preferences, excess weight, and lack of exercise.

The major dietary factor is our lopsided ratio of sodium to potassium. Human beings evolved as hunter-gatherers, on a diet virtually devoid of sodium and very high in potassium. Consequently, the kidneys tend to get rid of potassium but hang on to sodium. Today, sodium chloride (table salt) is our primary seasoning, and our sodium-potassium balance is way off kilter. In response, doctors routinely promote an unpalatable low-sodium diet, but they ignore the other, equally important aspect of the ratio: increasing potassium.

According to a 2010 Dutch study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the effects of eating more potassium are “of similar magnitude to what can be achieved by lowering sodium intake.” The researchers suggested that this could be accomplished by eating more potassium-rich vegetables and fruits and replacing sodium chloride—especially in processed foods, our most abundant source of sodium—with potassium salt.

We’ve been doing that at Whitaker Wellness for years. In place of regular salt, we mix three parts potassium chloride (Nu-Salt or Morton’s Salt Substitute) with one part sodium chloride. Potassium chloride by itself has a metallic taste and doesn’t enhance flavor much. However, with this mixture, which provides a substantial amount of potassium, few people can tell the difference.

My inspiration for creating this potassium-salt combo was a Taiwanese study in which food preparers substituted salt with a 50–50 mixture of potassium-sodium chloride for a group of residents in an assisted living facility. Compared to a control group, these people had a 33 percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease. We also serve our patients lots of plant foods, plus 12 ounces of Low Sodium V8 Juice per day, which adds an additional 1,260 mg of potassium.

Not everyone with hypertension is salt sensitive, but maintaining an appropriate sodium-potassium balance has a wide range of health benefits. Other dietary indiscretions that contribute to hypertension include excess sugar, starches, fat, alcohol, and, for some, caffeine. On the other hand, onions, oats, garlic, soy, sesame seeds, pomegranate juice, and dark chocolate are protective.

Lose Weight, Take Supplements 

Another risk factor for hypertension is obesity. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of weight loss—as weight comes down, so does blood pressure. At the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, which is renowned for its emphasis on exercise, investigators evaluated the body mass indexes (BMIs) and fitness scores of more than 35,000 people. They found that excess weight had a far greater impact on blood pressure than cardiorespiratory fitness. Normal-weight individuals had an average systolic blood pressure 12 mmHg lower than heavy people, even if they were only modestly fit.

There are countless approaches to losing weight, but the most rapid and enduring, in my experience, is the mini-fast with exercise. Here at Whitaker Wellness, virtually all patients who go on the mini-fast lose weight, lower their blood pressure, and get off medications.

We also rely heavily on nutritional supplements that help lower blood pressure, such as coenzyme Q10, magnesium, hawthorn, fish oil, vitamin D, antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, and flavonoids like quercetin. A Chinese herbal preparation called Balance 3 and a combo formula that contains grape seed, olive leaf, and stevia extracts are also effective. This well-rounded supplement program stimulates nitric oxide production and relaxes the arteries, reduces blood viscosity and improves circulation, protects the endothelial cells against homocysteine and free radical damage, and enhances overall cardiovascular health.

With this multipronged approach of mineral balance, weight loss, and appropriate supplements, the overwhelming majority of patients could eliminate their antihypertensive drugs—along with the side effects that accompany this misguided pharmaceutical approach.

Take Action, Not Drugs

None of these therapies are hard to implement. Granted, it takes a concerted team effort between patient and physician to make lifestyle changes, lose weight, and employ nutritional remedies, but all too often these proven modalities are glossed over. After all, it’s much easier to write a prescription than to impart the importance and particulars of a good diet, exercise, and supplement regimen.

Nevertheless, it is amazing to me that physicians are content to load their patients up on drugs. I also marvel at how often they ignore the established treatment guidelines and scientific studies and bypass inexpensive, equally effective medications such as diuretics, which cost $25–$40 per year, in favor of newer, heavily advertised brand-name drugs that run up to $600 annually.

I don’t want to dismiss the importance of controlling your blood pressure. According to the National Institutes of Health, if you get serious about weight loss, you could reduce your pressures by 5–20 mmHg, and if you eat a DASH-type diet (high-potassium plant foods, low-fat dairy, reduced fat), you could expect to lower your numbers by 8–14 mmHg. Reductions incurred by sodium restriction would be in the range of 2–8 mmHg; regular exercise, 4–9 mmHg; and moderation of alcohol intake, 2–4 mmHg. When you add the effects of targeted supplements, it’s a slam-dunk.

In other words, you have the power to lower your blood pressure safely and naturally—if you’re willing to make the effort. The best part? You won’t have to use any medications at all.

From: Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healingclick here.