Hypertension or high blood pressure is one of the most common diseases in the Western World. Often termed the silent killer, symptoms are not usually noticeable except for a dizzy feeling or a slight headache. Hypertension is the reason for tens of thousands of deaths every year due to heart attack, stroke and kidney complications. According to the latest research, even a small increase in blood pressure on an ongoing basis can have serious consequences on our bodies and yet many of us are often not aware of this or simply choose not to have our blood pressure monitored regularly until the disease has set in or when complications arise.
What is hypertension?
The normal reading for blood pressure is 120/80mmHg. The definition of hypertension is when the blood pressure readings are consistently above 140/90mmHg. This is the basic rule for determining whether the reading is high or normal, but in its most basic sense, a reading is considered high when the numbers mentioned above are exceeded consistently.
How to understand your blood pressure reading
A blood pressure reading consists of two parts. The first part is the systolic reading which is the higher number and the second part is the diastolic reading, which is lower. The diastolic reading is considered to be the most important reading although systolic numbers that run haywire can also be dangerous.
When a doctor takes your blood pressure reading the old fashioned way, he pumps up the cuff to a point where the pressure exceeds what he guesses will be the systolic reading. The doctor then lets the air out gradually and listens using a stethoscope for the sound of the pulse. The point at which the pulse is heard is the systolic pressure. He then continues to listen to the pulse until the pulse is no longer heard and this point is the diastolic pressure. The doctor is in essence determining the effort required by the patient’s heart to pump the blood through the veins. Imagine the circulatory system as a series of garden hoses. Blood gets pumped from the aorta coming out of the heart, the heart contracts, the arteries contract, and blood is then moved through the system.
For a number of reasons such as the narrowing of the arteries and capillaries with age, the pressure that blood gets forced through the arteries elevates. This force can then result in these arteries and capillaries bursting open, similar to the hose when the pressure is great, and can result in blood clots, aneurysms and strokes.
Pre-hypertension is considered if your systolic reading is within the range of 120mmHg and 139mmHg and the diastolic readings are between 80mmHg and 89mmHg. What this means is that if you do not take the necessary steps then it is more than likely that you will develop high blood pressure.
Stage 1 hypertension is when the readings for systolic are between 140mmHg and 159mmHg and diastolic readings are between 90mmHg and 99mmHg.
Stage 2 hypertension is when the readings for systolic are higher than 160mmHg and diastolic are higher than 100mmHg.
Several readings should be taken over a few days in order to ascertain whether one does have the markings of high blood pressure.
Is the medical definition for high blood pressure accurate?
A review of scientific literature seems to suggest that the readings used for the definition of high blood pressure are dangerously high and that for every 20/10mmHg increase above the 120/80mmHg, the risk of cardiovascular disease doubles. There appears to be reluctance to treat patients even with readings which indicate Stage 1 hypertension, let alone those who are in the Pre-hypertension range, needlessly increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. What this really means is that by the time one has been diagnosed as having Stage 1 hypertension, you are already at risk from cardiovascular disease.
It is for this reason that all maturing individuals should take the necessary steps to ensure that their blood pressure falls within the normal readings irrespective of their age even if we are not diagnosed as having blood pressure and fall within the category of Pre-hypertension. Every decrease, however low, in blood pressure may help to reduce our chances of cardiovascular disease. From all the literature I have read on this subject, the recommendations appear to point to the fact that we should be reducing the readings for treating Stage 1 Hypertension and ideally blood pressure above 120/80mmHg should be treated early and aggressively to prevent the possible complications I mention below.
Equally worrying is the fact that most patients using drugs for the management of blood pressure only manage to control their blood pressure for part of each day. According to Professor Julian Paton, Chair of the Bristol Heart Institute, ‘Remarkably, up to 50 percent of patients on blood pressure tablets continue to have high blood pressure, and many suffer from unpleasant side effects which affect their quality of life’.
What causes high blood pressure?
There are many causal factors for high blood pressure and these are in addition to what is termed the normal ageing process where the arteries gradually get furred up as fats deposit over time requiring the heart to force blood through the circulatory system. I have listed some of the other causal factors and they include:
Stress: Plays a big role in the development of hypertension. Short term stress can elevate blood pressure but this often returns back into the normal range once the stressors are diminished. Chronic ongoing stress can result in the release of adrenal hormones that can cause blood vessels to constrict and this puts a burden on the heart, which has to beat with force to ensure optimal circulation.
Exercise: A person who exercises regularly will have a stronger heart than one who does not. A stronger heart has the ability to pump greater amount of blood with less effort and thus the heart has a lesser workload and in turn there is less pressure in the arteries. Additionally, regular exercise may help to keep weight under control which is another factor for high blood pressure.
Diet and Lifestyle: It is essential to follow a healthy diet and lifestyle. Cutting down on red meat and other fatty foods will help to keep circulating fats and cholesterol at a low level in the bloodstream which would otherwise deposit onto the arteries. Reduce salt intake since this helps retain water in the body resulting again in the heart having to beat with greater force to ensure optimal circulation.
Alcohol and Smoking: There are several reasons why regular consumption of alcohol increases blood pressure. Alcohol impairs liver function which results in toxins seeping into the bloodstream and damaging the heart and arteries within our bodies. The liver also processes certain hormones which maintain blood pressure. An alcohol impaired liver loses the ability to metabolise these hormones efficiently. Regular consumption of alcohol may result in magnesium deficiencies within our bodies, a mineral that helps to maintain low blood pressure levels and crucial for cardiovascular function. Smoking increases blood pressure over a period of time because cigarettes contain numerous toxic chemicals that damage the heart muscle tissue and the arteries.
These are just some of the common factors that are attributable to high blood pressure. Both prolonged and periodical increase in blood pressure can damage the multiple organs in our bodies. Complications that may arise as a result of elevated blood pressure include heart failure, stroke, aneurysm, eye disorders, kidney disease and haemorrhages. A lifestyle conducive to good health is one that puts little strain on the heart, and living with elevated blood pressure even if it is mild tends to wear the heart out.
Natural remedies to support healthy blood pressure
The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil and appears above vegetables on their food pyramid. People who follow this diet have been known to live longer lives, have lower levels of cardiovascular disease and obesity. Olive oil contains healthy fats that manage high cholesterol.
However, current scientific findings point to the high concentrations of oleuropein found in the leaf of the olive tree that is largely responsible for its beneficial effect on blood pressure.
So how does oleuropein help with blood pressure? There are numerous causal factors for elevated blood pressure and a large proportion of these are associated with arterial stiffness or the lack of elasticity. Healthy blood vessels are supposed to be flexible and elastic ensuring that the flow of blood is not impeded as the heart muscle tissue forces blood out of the major artery. Arterial stiffness leads to the heart having to pump blood with much greater force and thus increasing the risk factors for heart disease and increased blood pressure.
By specifically targeting arterial stiffness, oleuropein has been shown to bring blood pressure under control. In a randomised, double blind, controlled trial, the results of using 1000mg of olive leaf extract showed a reduction of approximately 5 percent in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure reading within eight weeks. Interestingly, the scientists also noted that there was an average 7.8 percent reduction in triglyceride levels and a 2.8 percent reduction in total cholesterol for those who took this dose. The results are thought to be due to the constituents of olive leaf extract having an effect that helps relax artery walls.
Blood pressure above 120/80mmHg should be treated early and aggressively in order to prevent potentially lethal damage to the body. Since statistics indicate that a large proportion of the adult population over the age of 50 fall into the category termed Pre-hypertension where the blood pressure is higher than this level, but not high enough to warrant medication according to mainstream medicine’s definition of what constitutes “safe” blood pressure, I think it is imperative that we should all benefit from the use of olive leaf extract in supplement form for their ability to reduce elevated blood pressure and help our cholesterol levels. Olive Leaf Extract has additional benefits and these include its high antioxidant activity helping to protect the body against free radical damage as well as having anti-microbial properties.
There are many olive leaf extract supplements on the market and some of these contain very low strengths of oleuropein and some even contain synthetic salts of elenolic acid, another compound present in olive leaf extracts, just in order to patent the product so that it appears to be superior. The fact remains that these synthetic compounds may be touted as being equal to or superior to natural olive leaf extracts when the opposite is true. I recommend Olive Leaf Extract by Swanson which contains 20 percent oleuropein per capsule providing a therapeutic strength.
Olive Leaf Extract can help support healthy blood pressure and can be combined with existing medications without fear of side effects. Lifestyle changes including a healthy diet and exercise will further support your cardiovascular system. However, do not make any abrupt changes to your medications without consulting a qualified medical practitioner first.