Most people begin to pay attention to heart health when their blood pressure becomes elevated. According to the Center for Disease Control CDC, blood pressure measures the force of blood flow against arteries. In 2020, nearly half of adults in the United States (108 million, or 45%) have hypertension defined as a systolic blood pressure ≥ 130 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure ≥ 80 mm Hg or are taking medication for hypertension. Only about 1 in 4 adults (24%) with hypertension have their condition under control.
Follow a Wise, Preventative Lifestyle
It is normal for blood pressure to go higher than normal (120/70 or so) when we are excited or stressed, but it should soon come down again. Someone with so called normal blood pressure can still have a stroke so hypertension is only one measure of heart health but one that we can easily monitor. This blog details ways to prevent and treat simple hypertension.
Prevention is Key
- Exercise Regularly
- Prevent Obesity
- Reduce Stress
- Add Foods that Improve Circulation
- Monitor Heart Health and adjust for Seasonal Change
Hypertension is a result of modern life. Stress, dietary habits and substance abuse, aging, obesity, diabetes, our genetics and (EMI) low-frequency electromagnetic radiation emitted from virtually everything electrical and electronic in our modern world, most often play an important part in heart health. We have all heard how hypertension often leads to heart disease and stroke. What is hypertension? How may we avoid it naturally by using a wise diet, circulation-enhancing herbs, and soothing home treatments? Let’s start with the basics.
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure measurement tells us how well our heart is working and indirectly observes the health and flexibility of our blood vessels. Our blood flows through our body constantly moving away from the heart in the arteries and toward the heart in veins. Have you ever wondered how blood flows against gravity upward toward the heart? It is in part our breathing, the movement of our diaphragm, that makes the heart pump sending blood back up to the heart and lungs where the blood becomes oxygenated.
How Our Heart Works:
This is how our heart works: Oxygen-poor blood comes from veins into the right atrium for a brief second then down to the right ventricle and out through a large artery into the lungs. Refreshed by oxygen without pause blood flows back from the lungs into the left atrium and ventricle, and out the aorta, our largest blood vessel, to every part of the body. The entire squeeze and release, lasting a few seconds, moves one cup of blood through a ten ounce heart the size of a fist, sending blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels to energize body, mind, and consciousness.
Blood pressure is the measurement of the force
(the pressure) on the walls of our arteries as
our heart pumps blood through the body.
Systolic and Diastolic
When measuring blood pressure, ideally at the same time of day as needed, the top number indicates the force of the blood against artery walls when our heart beats. It is called systolic pressure. The bottom number indicates what the blood pressure is when our heart is at rest between heartbeats. It is called diastolic pressure. If the numbers are high it means our heart may be working hard to push blood through blood vessels or that the blood vessels have become narrowed or brittle.
Common Heart Health Issues Associated with Hypertension
How does our heart, a marvel of Nature, get into trouble? We should clarify several medical terms before we can discover natural alternatives to risky surgery and life long heart drugs. What do we mean by hardening of the arteries, heart attack and heart failure?
Atherosclerosis (aka hardening of the arteries) is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease which are together called “cardiovascular disease.” Do all you can to keep your blood free-flowing through the body and the heart. Arteries that carry blood from the heart throughout the body are lined by a thin layer of cells, the endothelium, which keeps the inside of arteries toned and smooth, and that keeps blood flowing. Atherosclerosis starts when high blood pressure, smoking, pollution or high cholesterol damage the endothelium. At that point, cholesterol plaque formation begins.”
So called bad cholesterol (LDL) crosses damaged endothelium and enters the wall of the artery. Plaque is formed over time. Then white blood cells stream in to digest the LDL cholesterol. Over years, a jumble of lipids, or cholesterol, cells, and debris creates a bump on the artery wall. As the process of atherosclerosis continues the bump gets bigger. A big enough bump creates a blockage from plaque in the heart or throughout the body increasing our risk of stroke.
Can You Feel Heart Trouble?
The bad news is we cannot feel the clogging mess in our blood vessels, there are no symptoms until middle or older age. Once hardening of arteries become severe, the blockage chokes off blood flow and causes pain. Pain on exertion (in the chest or legs) is the usual symptom.
Blockages can also suddenly rupture, causing blood to clot inside an artery at the site of the rupture. Stable plaques in the heart’s arteries cause angina which is chest pain upon exertion. Pain because the heart is not getting enough oxygen rich blood. Sudden plaque rupture and clotting causes heart muscle to die. This is a heart attack, or myocardial infarction. Narrowing in the arteries of the legs caused by plaque is called PAD peripheral artery disease. This causes leg pain after walking, discolored purplish legs, and poor wound healing. Severe PAD disease may lead to amputations.
Is Heart Disease Only for the Elderly?
No. Experts say a large number of asymptomatic young people have evidence of atherosclerosis. In a 2001 study of 262 apparently healthy people’s hearts, atherosclerosis was present in 85% of people over age 50 and 17% of teenagers had atherosclerosis. No one had symptoms! And very few had severe narrowing of the arteries detectable by special tests. Research says, If you are 40 and generally healthy, you have about a 50% chance of developing serious atherosclerosis in your lifetime.
Are You At Risk?
Atherosclerosis is progressive, but preventable. For example, nine risk factors are to blame for upwards of 90% of all heart attacks:
- High unhealthy cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Abdominal spare tire
- Not eating fruits and vegetables
- Daily more than 1 alcoholic drink for women, 1 – 2 for men
- Not exercising regularly
Medical intervention including stents, angioplasty, and bypass surgery come with major risks and are usually saved for people with significant symptoms or limitations caused by atherosclerosis. Such intervention is the end game of heart troubles, after there is no other safe way. Let’s look closer at heart attack and heart failure which are usually the reasons why we consult a cardiologist.
If you tune a string musical instrument too tightly the strings break. If we create excess tension in fragile artery walls, they crack. A wound on the skin is normally healed when the body sends “glue” to seal the crack, a cut or burn, with a scab. Eventually it forms a scar. But inside blood vessels this healing glue made of fat, calcium, and wastes, is plaque that can quickly blocks blood flow, cutting off oxygen to heart muscles, in effect quickly killing heart muscle.
Long Term Causes
A heart attack can kill a person within twenty minutes. After years of poison from poorly digested dietary animal fats, junk foods, harmful chemicals, and inflammation from stress, smoking, environmental pollution among others, blood vessel walls thicken, harden and become brittle, eventually leading to congestion and cracks. What comes first and is most damaging to blood vessels– harmful cholesterol or inflammation–is a point argued by present day cardiologists. Both faulty “plumbing” (clogged pipes) and “electricity” (irregular heartbeat) can be the cause of heart disease. For our purposes we shall consider both issues because they are real problems that affect us all.
Blood pressure and Life Style
With arteries constricted by plaque or edema (water retention) from heart weakness, the heart works harder to push blood forcefully through narrow arteries and that results in higher blood pressure measurement (higher than 120/70.) Also a tired or “stiff heart.” If a crack or rupture develops in an artery made brittle by inflammation and is healed with plaque, it shuts off blood flow like stepping on a garden hose. How can we help to keep blood flowing?
Five Ways to Naturally Improve Heart Health.
- Daily Exercise and Heart Muscle Strength
As we said, the four heart valves and many little valves in the veins prevent blood from flowing backwards the wrong way. There is no tension, no blood pressure, in veins those large bluish blood vessels that carry blood to the heart. So how does blood get from our feet and our head to our heart? Breathing and walking move our blood. The heart is resting on the diaphragm. Every time we inhale our abdomen pushes up the diaphragm which makes the heart pump.
When we move, our muscles push against the walls of blood vessels moving blood as muscles undergo contraction and relaxation cycles that propel blood within the veins. Gravity also moves blood from the head to the heart. So blood in the veins is squished by muscles toward the heart and cannot fall backward because the tiny valves in the blood vessels prevent blood from collecting in our feet.
Walk Slow and Steady, with Breathing Relaxed and Deep
Walking is for most of us the easiest and best daily exercise. Walking outdoors in sunshine gives us vitamin D that we require for strong bones, nerves and muscles (including the heart muscle) that support healthy circulation. Over time, watch to see if you develop swollen feet, painful, hot feet or leg pain and muscle fatigue after walking. They are signs of heart weakness or blood vessel congestion that should not be ignored. Here is another sort of gentle exercise, meditation for your pleasure and comfort.
Gently Flows the Stream
Try this free-flowing exercise to move the current of ocean waves filled with light and life reaching every pore of your body. Wear loose-fitting comfortable clothing and bare feet in a quiet room. Lie on your left side with your knees up toward your chest in a fetal position. Support your hips and lower back by placing a pillow between your bent knees. Extend the arm you are lying on from your shoulder so that it does not constrict your breathing and with the other bent arm support yourself. Breathe smoothly without pause throughout this exercise. Focus on your breath and allow tensions to relax.
Using a slow, steady movement, and without moving your legs, flex and extend your feet as though you are walking, without stopping the rhythmic flow of your breathing. You might inhale as you stretch your feet up toward your head and as you exhale let the feet relax downward. You are a jelly fish. Open and close your hand to the slow rhythm set by your breath and feet moving. You might be a slowly opening lotus as long as you continue breathing smoothly, opening, closing, opening, closing with your delicate feet and hands.
Congestive Heart Failure
When the heart contracts it sends blood through the aorta, our largest blood vessel, out to the body. When the heart relaxes it fills with oxygenated blood from the lungs. Blood flows in the right side of the heart and out the left side of the heart to the tissues. When the heart muscle is weak from age, stress, medications, illness, grief, shock, anemia, then it can leak from behind the left atrium into the lungs. The fluid build up causes congestive heart failure.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs of congestive heart failure include labored breathing.
- Do you need several pillows to improve breathing as you sleep?
- Do you huff and puff when climbing stairs or walking more than a few blocks?
- Are your ankles, face or hands bloated with excess fluid?
Sometimes dietary changes as simple as reducing salt and canned and processed foods, often high in sodium, and taking diuretic herbs such as parsley tea are adequate to reduce excess water retention and heart stress.
- Reduce Obesity: Belly Fat and Heart Health
The dietary and herbal approach necessary to reduce heart stress in simple hypertension and congestive heart failure would reduce excess fluid retention (edema), strengthen the heart muscle, regulate the heart beat, and support heart tissue to help prevent stress.
A Large Waistline = A Short Lifeline
Most often weight loss, especially reducing belly fat, can improve heart function. Researchers consider belly fat to be a major risk factor for repeat heart attacks, even more than BMI readings (body mass index which measures obesity). Belly fat also indicates problems that often accompany heart disease, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, poor digestion, breathing problems, impotence etc. Belly fat is not an accident. It most often results from weak digestive organs, stress, lack of exercise and poor food choices.
Do You Eat Foods that Increase Belly Fat?
Sugars, Sweets and Processed Foods.
Excess sugar is known to contribute to obesity, diabetes, and other conditions linked to heart disease, and now research from 2010 links it to unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. People in the study who ate the most added sugar had the lowest HDL, or good cholesterol, and the highest blood triglyceride levels. Sugar is sugar no matter whether it’s brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, agave, or even these surprising foods which contain hidden sugars:
- Low fat yogurt or other “Low Fat” foods
- Barbecue sauce BBQ 33% of the weight of BBQ sauce may be sugar
- Fruit juice
- Commercial Spaghetti sauce
- Sports drinks
- Chocolate milk
- Flavored Coffee
- Iced Tea
- Protein Bars
- Vitamin Water
- Breakfast Cereals
- Canned Soups and Canned Fruits, Vegetables and Beans
- Licorice root tea can increase edema which leads to hypertension
To check for added sugars in pre-made soup or canned foods, look at the ingredient list for names such as:
- barley malt
- high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other syrups
The higher up on the list an ingredient is, the higher its content in the product. Watch out for when manufacturers list small amounts of different sugars, as that’s another sign the product could be high in total sugar
Sweeteners Safe for High Blood Sugar and Hypertension
Stevia a green plant made into powdered sweetener. Stevia has fewer calories than sugar and may play a role in weight management by helping you eat fewer calories. Because it’s free of calories and carbs, it’s a great sugar alternative for people on low-calorie or low-carb diets. It is safe and beneficial for diabetes and prevention of hypertension. It also helps reduce harmful cholesterol.
Monk Fruit (lo han guo) an Asian dried pod used in traditional Chinese medicine to help moisten, cool and heal lung damage. Sweeteners made with monk fruit don’t impact blood sugar levels. With zero calories, monk fruit sweeteners are a good option for people watching their weight. Unlike some artificial sweeteners, there’s no evidence to date showing that monk fruit has negative side effects.
- Reduce Stress
Financial worries, family problems, personal health, epidemic disease—we have lots of stress. Stress impacts our breathing, our sense of confidence and wholeness. It increases the effects of aging, fatigue, and harms digestion. We cannot eliminate all stress. In fact, stress may be motivating. However, we can control our dietary lifestyle and aim for longevity, fulfillment, health and beauty.
“The Longevity Diet”
“The Longevity Diet” taught at the Academy of Healing Nutrition over the past 40 years in New York, Sydney, London and Prague and now online features foods and targeted recipes favored by the planets’ centenarians. Students learn how to prepare dishes to their best advantage in order to protect digestion, vitality, mental clarity, sexuality and hormonal balance. Whole grains, meats, fish, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, seaweeds, nuts, seeds, teas and time honored herbal elixirs make up the bulk of the diet suited to individual needs and seasonal foods. A wise, balanced diet that improves digestion, vitality and immunity naturally reduces physical and, eventually, emotional stress. As digestion and breathing improve we enjoy increased strength for positive thoughts and actions. We can better focus our attention, renew enthusiasm and reevaluate our priorities.
- Twenty Great Foods to Improve Circulation
These are foods proven to cleanse and protect our fragile blood vessels. They are part of a wise, comprehensive approach to a happy, healthy, and long life.
- Avocados are high in potassium, which may lower blood pressure. Avocados do not contain cholesterol or sodium, and they’re low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat, which reduces bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, while raising HDL (good cholesterol).
- Nuts are also rich in unsaturated fats, vitamins, and soluble fiber. Inside your digestive system, soluble fiber attaches to cholesterol particles and takes them out of the body, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Whole Grains have dietary fiber that reduces cholesterol, also make us feel fuller longer which helps with weight loss. Grains contain vital nutrients such as iron, magnesium and selenium.
- Olive Oil keeps arteries healthy. Saturated and trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol. Other traditional oils, used correctly, include coconut oil and lard which has less saturated fat than butter. Ghee is also a butter alternative.
- Fatty Fish with omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeats) that can lead to sudden death. Like avocado, fish is packed with healthy, unsaturated fats.
- Asparagus is one of the best, natural artery-cleansing foods. It’s not only known for decreasing inflammation, but it’s also high in vitamin K and folate. On top of that, it contains asparagine which is important in the development and function of the brain.
- Coffee has long been used as a stimulant. One study found drinking three cups of coffee a day significantly lowers the risk for developing atherosclerosis, or clogged arteries. Caffeine temporarily raises blood pressure.
- Green Tea helps lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood, and are the hardest fat to rid from the body.
- Broccoli which contains Vitamin K keeps arteries from clogging by preventing calcium from damaging your arteries. It also helps the body use protein to prevent plaque build-up in the arteries.
- Watermelon is a great natural source of the amino acid L-citrulline, which boosts nitric oxide production in the body. Nitric oxide causes the arteries to relax, decreases inflammation and can help lower blood pressure.
- Turmeric is an effective anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is often tied to a hardening of the arteries.
- Pomegranate benefits the cardiovascular system by preventing damage to arterial walls, promoting healthy blood pressure levels, improving blood flow to the heart, and preventing or reversing atherosclerosis.
- Citrus such as orange or lemon juice is another source of powerful antioxidants, as well as vitamins C and A that protects the body from pollutants, free radicals and improves heart health.
- Spinach is filled with potassium, folate and fiber, which helps lower blood pressure and prevents artery blockage.
- Persimmons has polyphenols that can help decrease levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Persimmons have twice as much fiber and more antioxidants than an apple.
- Cinnamon lowers harmful cholesterol and triglycerides and has a positive effect on blood pressure.
- Cranberries are a great source of potassium, which lowers bad cholesterol and increases your good cholesterol.
- Cheese has mixed results. One study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found people who eat three servings of low-fat dairy each day have lower systolic blood pressure than those who eat less. But the effects may be due to stress reduction more than a dietary advantage.
- Seaweed is packed with vitamins, proteins, minerals and carotenoids which easily regulate your blood pressure. At the same time sea minerals help protect us from radiation damage, stress, and can tone metabolism.
- Spirulina may be “most complete food source in the world.” It may help relax artery walls. Pay attention to the source of sea algae in order to avoid pollution.
Dietary Blood Thinners
Natural blood thinners reduce the blood’s ability to form clots. Blood clotting is a necessary process, but sometimes the blood can clot too much, leading to dangerous complications. Sometimes medical drugs may be avoided by adding blood thinning foods. However, blood thinners should be avoided before surgery or for certain blood conditions since they may increase the risk of bleedin
Blood-thinning foods and supplements
- Cayenne peppers.
- Vitamin E and Vitamin C
- Cassia cinnamon.
- Ginkgo biloba.
- Grape seed extract.
- Dong quai (aka tang kuei)
- Pineapple (bromelain)
- Tree ear fungus, Auricularia auricula-judae
- Wood ear fungus, white backed black fungus
For more information on foods and natural treatments for heart health, see Heart to Heart: care for your heart naturally
- Monitor the Success of your Diet and Lifestyle with Health Checkups
A lifestyle program is only as successful as its success. Observe whether you have increased energy, vitality, balanced hormones, and even emotions. Seasonal changes often present a health challenge. It is wise to regularly check with a natural health professional, a dietary coach at the change of season in order to adjust foods and herbs. It is even more wise to become a holistic health and nutrition expert in order to improve your life and help others.
The Academy of Healing Nutrition provides valuable, time-tested tools and the experience of experts in the field of alternative healing who can help you to transform your mind, body and spirit, and live a long and happy life. You’ll have fun and meet like-minded students while you learn and become qualified as a holistic Nutrition Coach. Become part of our next class – the world needs you!