Do you have high blood pressure? If you’re like most people, then you only started to pay attention to your heart health when your doctor told you that you had high blood pressure. According to the Center for Disease Control CDC, blood pressure measures the force of blood flow against arteries. The higher that force, the more likely that it will damage the arteries and the heart, leading to heart disease or associated problems.
In 2020, nearly half of adults in the United States (108 million, or 45%) had hypertension. When you have hypertension, your systolic blood pressure is equal to or above 130 mm Hg, this is the upper number in blood pressure readings. Or, you may have diastolic blood pressure above or below 80 mm Hg. Despite these numbers, only about 1 in 4 adults (24%) with hypertension have their condition under control.
Medications can be helpful in some cases. However, they can also have dangerous side effects. That’s why you should try to lower your blood pressure using natural, safe remedies first.
Building a Heart Healthy Lifestyle
It’s normal for your blood pressure to go higher than normal (120/70 or so) when you’re excited or stressed. However, it should quickly come back down again. The key to maintaining health blood pressure levels and a healthy heart is in your lifestyle. Some effective strategies to avoid these health problems are:
- Exercise regularly
- Prevent obesity
- Reduce stress
- Add foods that improve circulation
- Monitor heart health and adjust for seasonal changes
Hypertension is often the result of modern life. Some of the factors that contribute to hypertension include:
- Dietary habits
- Substance abuse
- Aging, obesity
- (EMI) low-frequency electromagnetic radiation that’s emitted from virtually everything electrical and electronic
So, with so much in the world that damages the heart, the question remains. How can you avoid hypertension naturally through diet, circulation-enhancing herbs, and soothing home treatments? It is possible, but let’s just start with the basics.
What is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure measurements tell you how well your heart is working and indirectly observes the health and flexibility of your blood vessels. Blood constantly moves away from the heart through the arteries and towards it in the veins.
Blood is pumped through your body and against gravity because of your breathing. As you breathe and your diaphragm moves, it pumps blood back up to the heart and through the lungs where it becomes oxygenated.
How the Heart Works
Your heart is a complicated organ. The right atrium takes in oxygen-poor blood from the veins and pushes it down to the right ventricle and out through a large artery into the lungs. Once in the lungs, the blood is refreshed by oxygen. It then flows back into the left atrium and ventricle. It then leaves the heart through the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body.
The entire squeeze and release that propels the blood only lasts a few seconds. It moves one cup of blood through a ten-ounce heart the size of a fist. It also sends blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels to energize the body, mind, and consciousness. As you can tell, it really is an amazing organ, so you should take good care of it.
Systolic and Diastolic Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is basically the measurement of the force or pressure on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through the body.
Two numbers are recorded when you take your blood pressure. The top number indicates the force of the blood against the artery walls when your heart beats. It’s called the systolic pressure.
The bottom number indicates the blood pressure between heartbeats, when the heart is resting. It’s called the diastolic pressure. If these numbers are high, it means that your heart has to work harder than normal to push blood through the vessels or that the blood vessels have become narrowed or brittle. Both of these can be very dangerous.
The Dangers of Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis (aka hardening of the arteries) is a very common cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease. These are together called “cardiovascular disease.” Arteries have a thin lining of cells called the endothelium, which keeps the inside of arteries toned and smooth and keeps blood flowing. Atherosclerosis starts when these cells are damaged and cholesterol plaque begins to form on the walls.
So-called bad cholesterol (LDL) crosses damaged endothelium and enters the wall of the artery, which forms plague. White blood cells stream in to digest the LDL cholesterol and join with the cholesterol, damaged cells, and debris to create a bump on the artery wall.
Over time, these kinds of bumps get bigger and create a blockage, often resulting in a heart attack or stroke.
Can You Feel Blockages?
Unfortunately, you can’t feel blockages in your blood vessels and there often aren’t symptoms until middle or older age. Once the hardening of the arteries becomes severe, the blockage chokes off blood flow and causes pain, usually in the chest or legs during exertion.
Blockages can also suddenly rupture, causing blood to clot inside an artery at the site of the rupture. Sudden ruptures and clotting causes parts of the heart muscle to die. This is what’s known as a heart attack, or myocardial infarction.
Stable plaques in the heart’s arteries can also cause problems. They stop the heart from getting all the oxygen it needs, causing chest pain upon exertion.
Narrowing of arteries in the legs because of plaque deposits can also cause problems. This is known as PAD or peripheral artery disease. This causes leg pain after walking, discolored purplish legs, and poor wound healing. Severe PAD disease may also lead to amputations.
photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann
Who Gets Atherosclerosis?
Heart disease isn’t just for the elderly. Experts say a large number of asymptomatic young people have evidence of atherosclerosis too.
In a 2001 study of 262 apparently healthy people’s hearts, atherosclerosis was present in 85% of people over 50 and 17% of teenagers. Worst of all, no one had symptoms! And very few had narrowing of the arteries severe enough to be detectable by special tests. Research shows that if you’re 40 and generally healthy, you have about a 50% chance of developing serious atherosclerosis in your lifetime. This is a frightening statistic
Atherosclerosis Risk Factors
Atherosclerosis is progressive, but preventable if you understand the risk factors. In fact, it’s estimated that these 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
There are medical treatments that can help correct atherosclerosis. However, interventions such as stents, angioplasty, and bypass surgery are invasive and come with major risks. That’s why they’re usually saved for people with significant symptoms or limitations caused by atherosclerosis. These interventions are basically a last resort to try to avoid a heart attack, used only after other interventions have been tried and failed.
What is a Heart Attack?
If you tune a string musical instrument too tightly, then the strings break. And if you create excess tension in fragile artery walls, they crack.
A wound on the skin heals when the body sends “glue” to seal the crack with a scab. Eventually it forms a scar. But inside blood vessels this healing glue is made of fat, calcium, and wastes. This plaque can quickly block the blood flow, cutting off oxygen to the heart muscles. This can quickly kill all or part of the heart muscle.
Long Term Causes of Heart Attack
A heart attack can kill someone within twenty minutes. However, the damage that causes the heart attack builds up over years. Years of poison build up from:
- Poorly digested dietary animal fats
- Junk foods
- Harmful chemicals
- Inflammation from stress
- Environmental pollution
These years of poison leads to inflammation, thickened, brittle arteries, a tired or ‘stiff’ heart, and even problems with the electrical signals that tell your heart when to beat. They lead to heart disease, the biggest cause of death in the modern world. These dangerous conditions are also related to congestive heart failure.
Congestive Heart Failure
When the heart contracts, it sends blood through the aorta out to the body. When the heart relaxes, it fills with oxygenated blood from the lungs. Blood usually flows in the right side of the heart and out the left side to the tissues. However, when the heart muscle is weak from age, stress, medications, illness, grief, shock, anemia, or other problems, then it can leak from behind the left atrium into the lungs. The fluid build-up can then cause congestive heart failure.
Common Signs of Congestive Heart Failure
Congestive heart failure can cause a range of symptoms, however, the most common is labored breathing. If you experience any of the following, then you need to talk to your doctor about this condition:
- Needing several pillows to improve your breathing as you sleep
- Huffing and puffing when climbing stairs or walking more than a few blocks
- Ankles, face or hands that become bloated with excess fluid
You should always see your doctor if you have this condition. However, some strategies that can help are:
- Reducing salty foods
- Eliminating canned and processed foods
- Taking diuretic herbs such as parsley tea
These strategies should help to reduce excess water retention and heart stress.
photo by Avrielle Suleiman
Five Ways to Naturally Improve Heart Health
By now, you probably know that it’s important to protect and build the health of your heart. And this is how you can do it naturally and safely:
1. Build Heart Muscle Strength with Daily Exercise
Your heart rests on your diaphragm and every time you inhale, your abdomen pushes up the diaphragm and makes the heart pump. This is how breathing and walking help move your blood through your body, up to the heart, and out again.
Movement also makes your muscles push against the walls of blood vessels, propelling blood within the veins. As these blood vessels squish blood towards the heart, tiny valves in these blood vessels prevent blood from collecting in our feet.
These are just some of the reasons why walking is the easiest and best daily exercise. Walking outdoors also supplies you with the vitamin D you need for strong bones, nerves and muscles (including the heart muscle) to support healthy circulation.
You can also get some of the benefits of walking with this meditation:
Gently Flows the Stream
- Find a quiet room and put on loose-fitting comfortable clothing and bare feet.
- 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’re lying on from your shoulder so that it doesn’t constrict your breathing.
- Use the other bent arm to support yourself.
- Breathe smoothly without pause throughout this exercise.
- Focus on your breath and allow tensions to relax.
- Flex and extend your feet slowly and smoothly as though you are walking without moving your legs.
- Inhale as you stretch your feet up toward your head and as you exhale let the feet relax downward like a jellyfish.
- Open and close your hand to the slow rhythm set by your breath and moving feet.
2. Lose Weight
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 is strongly linked to problems that often accompany heart disease such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, poor digestion, breathing problems, and impotence. So, it’s obviously very important that you address this issue quickly.
Belly fat is not an accident. It most often results from weak digestive organs, stress, lack of exercise and poor food choices. Some food choices that increase belly fat include:
Sugars, Sweets and Processed Foods
Excess sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes, and other conditions linked to heart disease. Research from 2010 also links sugar to unhealthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In a 2010 study, people who ate the most added sugar had the lowest HDL, or good cholesterol levels as well as the highest blood triglyceride levels.
No type of sugar is safe. Brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, or agave, they can all contribute to belly fat. Sugar is also hidden in a lot of foods, so you might not know that you’re eating it. Look out for hidden sugars in:
- 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 also increase edema which leads to hypertension
Also, make sure that you check for added sugars in pre-made soup or canned foods by looking at the ingredient list for names like:
- 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. You should also beware of when manufacturers list small amounts of different sugars, as that’s another sign the product could be high in total sugar
There are some sweeteners that are safer in terms of heart disease and hypertension such as:
Stevia is a green plant made into a powder. Some of its benefits include:
- Fewer calories than sugar
- May play a role in weight management by helping you eat fewer calories
- Good for people on low-calorie or low-carb diets
- Safe and beneficial for diabetes and prevention of hypertension
- Helps reduce harmful cholesterol levels
Monk Fruit (lo han guo)
This is 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.
3. Reduce Stress
Financial worries, family problems, personal health, epidemic disease—most people are under a lot of stress. Stress impacts your breathing, as well as your sense of confidence and wholeness. It increases the effects of aging, fatigue, and harms digestion. You can’t eliminate all stress, because some can be motivating. However, you can control your dietary lifestyle and aim for longevity, fulfillment, health and beauty.
“The Longevity Diet”
“The Longevity Diet” has been taught at the Academy of Healing Nutrition for the past 40 years in New York, Sydney, London and Prague and now online. It features foods and targeted recipes favored by the planets’ centenarians.
In the course, students learn how to prepare dishes 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. And it’s suited to individual needs and seasonal foods.
This is a wise, balanced diet that improves digestion, vitality and immunity and naturally reduces physical and emotional stress. As digestion and breathing improve through this diet, you will enjoy increased strength for positive thoughts and actions. You will also find yourself better able to focus your attention, renew enthusiasm, and reevaluate your priorities.
4. Eat Circulation Improving Foods
These are foods proven to cleanse and protect your fragile blood vessels. They are part of a wise, comprehensive approach to a happy, healthy, and long life and include:
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).
Are 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.
Contain dietary fiber that reduces cholesterol. They also make you feel fuller for longer, which helps with weight loss. Grains contain vital nutrients such as iron, magnesium and selenium.
Olive oil keeps arteries healthy and doesn’t contain any saturated and trans fats, which 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.
The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish decrease the risk of arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeats) that can lead to sudden death. Like avocado, fish is packed with healthy, unsaturated fats.
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.
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.
Helps lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood and are the hardest fat to expel from the body.
Contains Vitamin K, which 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.
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.
An effective anti-inflammatory, which may help with hardening of the arteries.
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.
Citruses such as orange or lemon juice are another source of powerful antioxidants, as well as vitamins C and A. These components help protect the body from pollutants and free radicals and improve heart health.
Filled with potassium, folate and fiber, which helps lower blood pressure and prevents artery blockage.
Contain polyphenols that can help decrease levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Persimmons have twice as much fiber and more antioxidants than an apple.
Lowers harmful cholesterol and triglycerides and has a positive effect on blood pressure.
These are a great source of potassium, which lowers bad cholesterol and increases your good cholesterol.
This food 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.
This food is packed with vitamins, proteins, minerals and carotenoids which regulate your blood pressure. At the same time sea minerals help protect your body from radiation damage, and stress, and can help tone your metabolism.
This may be “most complete food source in the world.” It may help relax artery walls, but you need to pay attention to the source of sea algae in order to avoid pollution.
photo by Osha Key
5. Eat Dietary Blood Thinners
Natural blood thinners reduce the blood’s ability to form clots. Blood clotting is a necessary process, but sometimes your blood can clot too much, leading to dangerous complications. You can take medications to reduce clotting, but you may also get similar effects with blood thinning foods. Just make sure you avoid blood thinners before surgery and if you have certain blood conditions since they may increase the risk of bleeding.
Some effective blood-thinning foods and supplements include:
- 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.
6. Have Regular Check-ups
A lifestyle program is only as good if it improves your health. While you’re making these types of changes, observe your energy and vitality levels, hormones, and even your emotions. You can make this easier by regularly checking in with your doctor or other health professional to track your progress and make further changes.
photo by Mukuko Studio
Changing your diet and your lifestyle to prevent or reduce hypertension and heart disease can be complicated. You will probably spend your lifetime making these changes as your body ages and as new information is unearthed by medical experts.
You can make this process smoother by working with a natural health professional or a dietary coach. Or you can become the expert yourself and become a holistic health and nutrition expert to take control of improving your life and the lives of others.
The Academy of Healing Nutrition provides valuable, time-tested tools and the knowledge and experience of experts in the field of alternative healing. They can help you to transform your mind, body and spirit, and live a long and happy life. During your training, you’ll also have a lot of fun and meet like-minded students while you learn and become qualified as a holistic Nutrition Coach. So, become part of our next class, because the world needs you now more than ever!