Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DMN, CNS – What if I told you that a health condition affects about 72 million — or one out of every three — American adults under old guidelines? And what if I told you that under new guidelines, that number will rise to about 103 Americans? I’m talking about a highly common, yet preventable, condition called high blood pressure, also known as hypertension — which is why you need to pay attention if you have high blood pressure symptoms. (1)
High blood pressure (HBP) isn’t just a problem in and of itself, but it also leads to other dangerous health conditions, including stroke, heart attack, chronic heart failure and kidney disease.
Did you know that most people with high blood pressure or hypertension have no symptoms, even when their blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels? In fact, about many U.S. adults with high blood pressure still doesn’t know they have it. Scary, I know.
The good news is that even mainstream medicine will agree with me when I say that diet and exercise are the most important tools for preventing and treating high blood pressure naturally and successfully.
Symptoms and Life Expectancy
What is high blood pressure exactly? It’s a common disease in which blood flows through blood vessels and arteries at higher than normal pressures.
Hypertension costs the U.S. $46 billion each year, which includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat high blood pressure symptoms and missed days of work — a number that’s expected to rise with the American Heart Association releasing new standards for what constitutes high blood pressure. Standard medical treatment for elevated blood pressure is to prescribe dangerous beta blockers, ACE inhibitor drugs and diuretics, along with convincing the patient to restrict salt in the diet. Although these things can help, they don’t get to the root of the problem and can actually cause more problems. We’ve been encouraged to fear salt when it comes to our health, but this recommendation of extreme salt reduction for high blood pressure symptoms remains controversial, questionable and even destructive for good reason. (2)
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure happens when this force is too high. Scary, but true: Most people who have this condition display zero signs or high blood pressure symptoms, even when their blood pressure readings are at dangerously high levels.
When blood pressure is measured, there are two numbers that result, which measures two different pressures. The top number is systolic pressure, the blood pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood. The second or bottom number is diastolic pressure, the blood pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.
Under the previous guidelines, blood pressure ranges include: (3)
- Low blood pressure (hypotension) is anything less than 90/60
- Normal: Less than 120/80
- Prehypertension: 120–139/80–89. “Prehypertension” means blood pressure is higher than normal but not yet at the point of being considered true “high blood pressure.”
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140–159/90–99
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above/100 and above
- If you get a reading that’s very high, above 180/110, chances are this is inaccurate and you should have another reading done.
However, now there are new guidelines lowering the threshold of what’s considered high blood pressure. The American Heart Association has now lowered stage 1 high blood pressure from 140/90 to 130/80. What does this mean? It means “that 46 percent of U.S. adults, many of them under the age of 45, now will be considered hypertensive.” (4) That’s not all: (5)
Under the guidelines, formulated by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, the number of men under age 45 with a diagnosis of high blood pressure will triple, and the prevalence among women under age 45 will double.
The new guidelines from the American Heart Association are as follows:
- Normal: Less than 120/80 mm Hg;
- Elevated: Systolic between 120–129 and diastolic less than 80;
- Stage 1: Systolic between 130–139 or diastolic between 80–89;
- Stage 2: Systolic at least 140 or diastolic at least 90 mm Hg;
- Hypertensive crisis: Systolic over 180 and/or diastolic over 120, with patients needing prompt changes in medication if there are no other indications of problems, or immediate hospitalization if there are signs of organ damage.
Frequently, there are no high blood pressure symptoms as blood pressure increases, but some warning signs for very high blood pressure can include chest pains, confusion, headaches, ear noise or buzzing, irregular heartbeat, nosebleeds, tiredness or vision changes.
When high blood pressure symptoms do develop, it’s normally because the condition has progressed to a dangerous point. This is called hypertensive crisis which means a systolic/top number higher than 180 OR diastolic/bottom number higher than 110.
Hypertensive crisis is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. Emergency medical treatment is needed. At this point symptoms are usually present including:
- Severe headaches
- Severe anxiety
- Shortness of breath
At the age of 50, total life expectancy is about five years longer for people with normal blood pressure than for those who have hypertension. That’s just another worthwhile reason to get your high blood pressure symptoms under control and keep them under control.
Also keep in mind that the readings above are intended for normal adults over 18 years old. If you have diabetes, kidney disease or a short-term serious illness your readings will be interpreted differently. If you have diabetes (another very common problem) or chronic kidney disease then high blood pressure is defined as 130/80 or higher.
Root Causes and Risk Factors
Knowing what triggers high blood pressure can help you prevent or reverse it. Like with most other chronic diseases, the reason someone develops HBP has to do with several factors.
HBP seems to run in families, but it’s also highly dependent upon the type of lifestyle someone leads. Women are at an increased risk when taking control pills, during pregnancy, or if taking hormone therapy medications to control menopause symptoms. Obesity or being overweight increases the odds because this puts more pressure on the heart and arteries.
Men and women are equally likely to develop HBP during their lifetimes, but interestingly men are more likely when they’re younger. Before turning 45, men are more likely to have HBP than women but then this flips after age 65, when women’s risk becomes higher than men’s. When children younger than 10 years old have HBP it’s usually a side effect of another condition. This can include a kidney problem, medication use or type 1 diabetes.
High blood pressure has a real laundry list of risk factors. The good news is that the majority of these hypertension risk factors are well within your control. They include: (6)
- Age — High blood pressure risk increases as age increases. It’s more common in men through the age of 45. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after age 65.
- Family history — High blood pressure tends to run in families.
- Race — High blood pressure is especially common among African-Americans and often develops at an earlier age than it does in Caucasians. Serious complications, such as stroke, heart attack and kidney failure, are more common among African-Americans suffering from high blood pressure.
- Being overweight — The higher your body weight, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls and your blood pressure.
- Not being physically active — People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries. Lack of physical activity and exercise also increases the risk of being overweight, which are some of the reasons a sedentary lifestyle is dangerous.
- Tobacco use — Whether it’s smoking or chewing tobacco, both immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily. Additionally, the chemicals in tobacco damage the lining of your artery walls, which causes your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure. Secondhand smoke can also raise your blood pressure.
- Too much alcohol — Over time, heavy drinking can damage your heart. Having more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women may affect blood pressure negatively.
- Too much sodium in your diet — Too much salt or sodium in your dietcauses your body to retain more fluid, which increases blood pressure.
- Too little potassium in your diet — Potassium is a mineral that helps balance the sodium content of your body’s cells. If you don’t consume enough potassium or retain enough potassium, you can accumulate too much sodium in your blood stream. That’s one reason why you want to avoid low potassium.
- Stress — High levels of stress can lead to a temporary increase in blood pressure.
- Certain chronic conditions — Certain chronic conditions also may increase your risk of high blood pressure, such as kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnea.
- Pregnancy — Sometimes pregnancy can contribute to high blood pressure.
High blood pressure is most prevalent in the adult population, but children are also at risk. Sometimes children can experience high blood pressure symptoms that are caused by problems with the heart or kidneys.
However, more and more children who experience high blood pressure are dealing with this chronic issue at a way too young age because of poor lifestyle habits. When I say poor lifestyle habits, I’m referring to an unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise, which both directly relate to the increase in childhood obesity and childhood hypertension.
More than 360,000 American deaths in 2013 included high blood pressure as a primary or contributing cause. That equates to a highly disturbing and concerning nearly 1,000 deaths each day.
High blood pressure increases your risk for dangerous health conditions, such as: (7)
- First heart attack: About 7 of every 10 people having their first heart attacks have high blood pressure.
- First stroke: About 8 of every 10 people having their first strokes have high blood pressure.
- Chronic heart failure: About 7 of every 10 people with chronic heart failurehave high blood pressure.
- Eye problems: High blood pressure can cause thickened, narrowed or torn blood vessels in the eyes, which can result in vision loss.
- Metabolic syndrome: High blood pressure symptoms increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, a combination of three or more of the following health issues: abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
- Memory issues: Uncontrolled high blood pressure can affect your ability to think, remember and learn. Trouble with memory or understanding concepts is more common in people with high blood pressure.
- Aneurysm: Increased blood pressure can cause your blood vessels to weaken and bulge, forming an aneurysm. If an aneurysm ruptures, it can be life-threatening.
High Blood Pressure vs. Low Blood Pressure
Risk of both low blood pressure and high blood pressure normally increases with age due in part to normal changes during aging. Here are how low and high blood pressure stack up.
High Blood Pressure
Frequently, there are no high blood pressure symptoms as blood pressure increases. Some warning signs for very high blood pressure, however, can include:
- chest pains
- ear noise or buzzing
- irregular heartbeat
- vision changes
Here are some more alarming facts about high blood pressure and high blood pressure symptoms:
- About 70 million American adults (29 percent) have high blood pressure — that’s nearly 1 out of every 3 adults.
- Only about half (52 percent) of people with high blood pressure have the condition under control.
- Nearly 1 out of 3 American adults has prehypertension — blood pressure numbers that are higher than normal but not yet in the high blood pressure range.
- Heart disease remains the number one killer in the U.S and many other nations. In the U.S. alone, about 7 million people die each year from various illnesses that are mostly caused by high blood pressure, since this boosts the odds of heart failure/heart attacks and stroke.
- High blood pressure costs the nation $46 billion each year. This total includes the cost of health care services, medications to treat high blood pressure, and missed days of work.
- High blood pressure is most common in African American adults, although it’s still high among every nationality. African Americans tend to get HBP earlier in life, have more severe cases with more complications, and are more likely to put off getting treatment compared to Caucasians.
- Other risk factors for HBP include having compounding medical problems (kidney disease, thyroid disease, and sleep apnea for example), taking prescriptions that increase blood pressure, having a family history of heart disease, being overweight and being pregnant or on birth control pills.
- High blood pressure is riskiest when it’s left unmanaged for a long period of time, which is why early detection and intervention is key to preventing permanent damage.
Low Blood Pressure
How can you tell if you have low blood pressure, high blood pressure or normal blood pressure?
- Low blood pressure or hypotension: Less than 90/60
- Normal: Less than 120/80
- Prehypertension: 120–139/80–89
- Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140–159/90–99
- Stage 2 high blood pressure: 160 and above/100 and above
Here are some stats on low blood pressure:
- Chronic low blood pressure with no symptoms is almost never serious.
- Low blood pressure is concerning when blood pressure drops suddenly and the brain is deprived of an adequate blood supply. This can lead to dizziness or lightheadedness.
- Sudden drops in blood pressure most commonly occur in someone who’s rising from a lying down or sitting position to standing. This kind of low blood pressure is known as postural hypotension or orthostatic hypotension. Another type of low blood pressure can occur when someone stands for a long period of time. This is called neurally mediated hypotension.
- Blood flow to the heart muscle and the brain declines with age, often as a result of plaque buildup in blood vessels.
- Estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of people over age 65 have postural hypotension.
As long as you don’t experience symptoms of low blood pressure, there is no need for concern. Most doctors consider chronically low blood pressure dangerous only if it causes noticeable signs and symptoms, such as:
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- fainting (called syncope)
- dehydration and unusual thirst
- lack of concentration
- blurred vision
- cold, clammy, pale skin
- rapid, shallow breathing
Low blood pressure can occur with:
- Prolonged bed rest
- Decreases in blood volume
- Certain medications, including diuretics and other drugs that treat hypertension; heart medications such as beta blockers; drugs for Parkinson’s disease; tricyclic antidepressants; erectile dysfunction drugs, particularly in combination with nitroglycerin; narcotics and alcohol. Other prescription and over-the-counter drugs may cause low blood pressure when taken in combination with HBP medications.
- Heart problems
- Endocrine problems
- Severe infection (sepsis)
- Allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) — anaphylactic shock is a sometimes-fatal allergic reaction that can occur in people who are highly sensitive to drugs such as penicillin, certain foods such as peanuts, or to bee or wasp stings. This type of shock is characterized by breathing problems, hives, itching, a swollen throat and a sudden, dramatic fall in blood pressure.
- Neurally mediated hypotension
- Nutritional deficiencies — a lack of the essential vitamins B12 and folic acid can cause anemia and anemic symptoms, which in turn can lead to low blood pressure.
With two thirds of the population clinically having hypertension or prehypertension, this is a health issue that needs attention and fast. I’m happy to say you can start improving your blood pressure symptoms easily and naturally today with the recommendations below.
One of the best natural remedies for high blood pressure is an improved diet.
Foods to Avoid that Make High Blood Pressure Symptoms Worse
- Alcohol — Narrows arteries and can increase blood pressure. If you’re going to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
- High-sodium foods — No need to fear salting your food, especially when you use good-quality salts, but you definitely want to avoid high-sodium processed and canned foods.
- Trans fats and omega-6 fats — These fats increase inflammation and blood pressure and are found in packaged foods and conventional meats.
- Sugar — High sugar consumption contributes to high blood pressure. Studies have even shown that sugar intake might be more concerning than salt intake when it comes to high blood pressure. (8)
- Caffeine — Too much caffeine can cause an increase in blood pressure. If you’re suffering from high blood pressure, reducing your daily consumption of coffee and other beverages high in caffeine is an easy way to get your blood pressure numbers down and prevent caffeine overdose.
Foods to Eat that Help Heal High Blood Pressure Symptoms
- Mediterranean diet —In general, think Mediterranean when it comes to a helpful diet for high blood pressure symptoms. This diet is very high in fruits, vegetables, seafood and healthy omega-3 fat oils. Some of the best foods you want in your Mediterranean diet are olive oil, wild-caught fish (especially salmon), and a lot of fruits and vegetables, all of which help lower your blood pressure naturally.
- High-potassium foods — According to the American Heart Association, a diet rich in potassium is an important part of controlling blood pressure because it lessens any negative effects of sodium on the body. Potassium balances the effect of sodium and helps lower blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods include things like coconut water, melons, avocados and bananas. (9)
- High-fiber foods — Unprocessed foods high in fiber, such as vegetables, fruits, seeds and beans, should be the basis of any healthy diet, especially one looking to lower blood pressure readings.
- Omega-3 rich foods – Consume omega-3 foods like grass-fed beef, wild-caught salmon, chia seeds and flaxseeds to reduce inflammation.
- Apple cider vinegar — Apple cider vinegar is naturally very high in potassium. It also helps to keep the body alkaline, which can help naturally lower your blood pressure.
- Tea — White tea in particular can actually thin the blood and drastically improve artery function. Drinking white tea several times a day on a consistent basis can actually lower the pressure of your blood and protect the body against one of its common health enemies, stroke. This only works when you drink the tea every day, a couple of times a day.
- Dark chocolate — Dark chocolate is healthy chocolate. Look for a dark chocolate that contains at least 200 milligrams of cocoa phenols, which can reduce blood pressure.
The mineral magnesium is great because it helps relax your blood vessels and can have an immediate impact on naturally lowering blood pressure (and many people have a magnesium deficiency, which plays in to high blood pressure). To start, 500 milligrams daily before bed is a great dose to address your blood pressure issues.
2. Fish Oil
One of the main causes of high blood pressure is inflammation in the arteries over time. Study after study has shown consuming fish oil, which is high in EPA and DHA forms of omega-3 fatty acids, reduces inflammation of the body, which is why fish oil benefits heart health. Taking a high-quality, 1,000-milligram fish oil dose every single day with your meals is one of the best natural ways to lower blood pressure.
3. Coenzyme Q10
Coenzyme Q10 or CoQ10 is an antioxidant critical for supporting heart health, and it’s crucial if you’ve ever been on blood pressure or cholesterol-lowering medication. About 200 to 300 milligrams of CoQ10 per day is a great, natural remedy for high blood pressure.
Available in powder form, consumption of cocoa increases your intake of flavonols, which help lower blood pressure and improve blood flow to the brain and heart. Cocoa is also a natural vasodilator, which means it increases nitric oxide in the blood and widen blood vessels.
Garlic is another natural vasodilator, and if you can’t get enough of it in your diet, then it’s readily available as a supplement in liquid or pill form. A 2016 study showed that aged garlic reduces peripheral and central blood pressure in patients with uncontrolled hypertension. It also has the potential to improve arterial stiffness, inflammation and other cardiovascular markers in patients with elevated levels. (10)
1. Increase Physical Activity and Exercise
Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your blood pressure. Ideally, you should engage in some form of physical activity and/or exercise for at least 20 minutes per day to unlock the benefits of exercise. Children and adolescents should get one hour of physical activity every day. (11)
2. Reduce Stress
Yet another reason to reduce stress is its ability to raise blood pressure. But don’t relax by eating more or using tobacco or alcohol. These activities only increase the problem.
For high blood pressure symptoms and good health in general, it’s a great idea to practice daily relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, healing prayer and/or meditation. These natural stress relievers help you relax and reduce your blood pressure.
3. Essential Oils
Essential oils can lower blood pressure by dilating arteries, acting as antioxidants to reduce oxidative stress and by decreasing emotional stress. The best choices when it comes to lowering high blood pressure include neroli, lavender, ylang ylang, sweet marjoram, clary sage and frankincense. You can use these oils in a diffuser. You can also include a few drops in a neutral carrier oil or lotion and massage the mixture on your body.
4. Keep Up with Doctor’s Visits
Blood pressure levels tend to go up as someone get’s older, which is why prevention, early detection and management through a healthy lifestyle are so crucial for lowering blood pressure. Remember that you likely won’t have any noticeable signs or symptom of high blood pressure, so you can’t just assume that everything is normal and okay because you don’t feel any differently.
If you’re at a high risk for various forms of heart disease, make sure to have your pressure checked professionally at least once every six to 12 months. If your blood pressure is normal, great — you can work on keeping it that way as you get older! But if it’s high, you’ll need to make some changes and work with your doctor to manage the condition, possibly by changing your medications and helping you lose weight. (12) Keep in mind that HBP is a chronic disease and ultimately needs lifelong treatment, so support is helpful to make it easier to stick to a healthy lifestyle plan.
5. Consider Measuring Your Blood Pressure at Home
If you already have high blood pressure, some evidence shows that measuring levels at home can help you manage symptoms better. This will give you an early warning sign if you start to see numbers creep up slowly. You’ll also be able to monitor how you react to different meals, circumstances, sleep routines, exercises, etc. (13)
You can buy several different types of home blood pressure monitors without a prescription from pharmacies or online. If you feel more comfortable visiting your doctor regularly or working with a nurse to control your blood pressure, the same benefits apply. Research suggests people who have some kind of ongoing support from their doctor or health clinic improve blood pressure better than without support.
6. Eat a Nutrient-Dense Diet to Maintain a Healthy Weight
Want to know how to control your blood pressure without the need for medications? The first step is looking at your diet. Your diet is one of, if not the most, important piece of the puzzle when it comes to controlling your blood pressure naturally. People with high blood pressure tend to eat an unhealthy diet that’s low in nutrients, electrolytes (especially low levels of potassium), antioxidants and fiber.
Sodium, alcohol, refined grains, sugar and trans-fats can all raise inflammation that makes it more likely you’ll develop HBP. Center your diet around unprocessed, whole foods as much as possible− especially fresh veggies, fruit, healthy fats and “clean and lean” protein. Your doctor might recommend you follow The DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) which includes the high fiber foods above and limits alcohol and sodium (salt). It’s rich in essential nutrients, protein, and fiber but encourages you to choose unprocessed, low-sodium and no-added-salt foods.
7. Quit Smoking
Smoking damages your blood vessels and raises the risk for various heart problems. It will also worsen complications and make it harder to reverse the problem. The U.S National Library of Medicine offers resources to help you quit, such as links to join online or in-person support groups offered in many hospitals, workplaces, and community centers for free.
- High blood pressure affects about 70 million U.S. adults, which is about 1 of every 3 American adults. In addition, one out of three adults who don’t have it are one step below having it.
- One out of 5 U.S. adults with high blood pressure still doesn’t know he or she has it, as people can experience no high blood pressure symptoms despite having even dangerously high levels.
- Systolic blood pressure is when the heart beats while pumping blood. Diastolic blood pressure is when the heart is at rest between beats.
- Frequently, there are no high blood pressure symptoms as blood pressure increases, but some warning signs for very high blood pressure can include chest pains, confusion, headaches, ear noise or buzzing, irregular heartbeat, nosebleeds, tiredness, or vision changes.
- High blood pressure increases your risk for dangerous health conditions, such as heart attack, stroke, chronic heart failure, eye problems, metabolic syndrome, memory issues and aneurysm.
- Foods to avoid to treat high blood pressure symptoms include alcohol, high-sodium foods, trans fats and omega-6 fats, sugar, and caffeine. The foods to eat to treat high blood pressure symptoms include Mediterranean diet foods, high-potassium foods, high-fiber foods, omega-3 foods, apple cider vinegar, tea and dark chocolate. There are also supplements and lifestyle changes you can add to reverse high blood pressure symptoms.