(and what you can do to control it)
Nearly half of all American adults have elevated blood pressure.* Many may not even know that they have high blood pressure because there are often no symptoms, especially if blood pressure is only mildly elevated.
And many common health conditions of aging are associated in one way or another with high blood pressure, making blood pressure control a clear health priority. Today I’m going to explain what blood pressure is, what causes it to be elevated, and what you can do right now to take control of your blood pressure right now.
What is Blood Pressure?
Your heart works like a pump and your blood vessels are the pipes.
In order for a pump to work efficiently, it needs pressure to move things along. This pressure allows your heart to move oxygen throughout your body. Blood pressure is a reading of the amount of pressure it takes for your heart to push blood through your blood vessels and arteries, and it takes into account two different pressure readings.*
The first reading (systolic) is a measurement of how much pressure is exerted when your heart is pumping blood through your blood vessels.* The second measurement (diastolic) is how much pressure exists when your heart is at rest, in between beats.
These two numbers are usually presented by a reading of systolic over diastolic pressure, for example “120 over 80” or “120/80 mmHg”.*
Why Has the Healthy Range for Blood Pressure Decreased?
In 2017 the definition of high blood pressure changed according to guidelines from major health organizations including the American Cardiology Association (ACA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC).*
Previously, someone was considered to have healthy blood pressure as long as their blood pressure was below 140/90 mmHg. But now those guidelines have been reduced to an ideal range of blood pressure – one that now most people should strive for - a blood pressure reading of 130/80mmHg or below.*
The ACA and ACC made the decision to lower the threshold to encourage interventions including lifestyle modifications and medications sooner than later noting the detrimental effects of even marginally elevated blood pressure.*
According to Dr. Tereas Iribarren, an Assistant Professor at Florida International University College of Medicine and practicing Internal Medicine physician specializing in Integrative Medicine and Preventative Cardiovascular Medicine:
“These lower baseline readings help to identify patients who are at risk early on, when implementing lifestyle changes and dietary supplements can interrupt the domino of risk factors that can lead to serious and, at times, sudden problems.”
The Significant Health Consequences of High Blood Pressure
Many age-related conditions can be caused or made worse by having elevated blood pressure. Over time, the heart and blood vessels can become worn out due to an increase in pressure which can lead to serious, and at times sudden, cardiovascular issues.*
Remember your heart is a muscle, and if it is forced to work harder than normal, this can cause it to grow in size. Unfortunately, this increase in size can increase the risk that your heart will malfunction.
Elevated blood pressure can also affect your brain and how you think. Research shows that high blood pressure increases your risk of serious and sudden brain issues, as well as long-term decline in cognitive function.*
Other consequences of high blood pressure include sexual dysfunction. Men may have trouble having or maintaining an erection and women can experience decreased sexual desire and vaginal dryness.*
When High Blood Pressure and Other Age-Related Health Issues Collide
Our bodies like balance and an imbalance in pressure can impact many other areas of our health. Many age and lifestyle related health problems such as high LDL cholesterol, high blood sugar levels, and obesity can cause or be caused by elevation in blood pressure.
A consequence of high LDL cholesterol is a hardening or stiffening of blood vessel walls. When the blood vessels stiffen, your heart has to work harder to pump and this causes blood pressure to rise.*
Obesity is a major risk factor for high blood pressure and is the root cause of high blood pressure in up to 75% of people. The main reason is obesity, especially when excess fat is primarily stored around the belly - this adds pressure to the kidneys and interferes with how well the kidneys excrete salt among other things.*
And elevated blood sugar increases your risk of developing high blood pressure.
This is particularly significant because clinical studies show that the combination of significant blood sugar issues and high blood pressure increases a person’s risk of developing serious cardiovascular problems four-fold.*
Major Risk Factors for Developing High Blood Pressure
Risk factors for developing high blood pressure include aging as well as having family history of high blood pressure.*
Modifiable risk factors include those caused by lifestyle choices. Being overweight is a major cause of high blood pressure as is physical inactivity.*
Tobacco use and alcohol use can affect your heart as well and increase your blood pressure.*
Dietary risk factors include consuming too much salt and too little potassium in your diet.*
Eating too much salt forces our body to hold onto more water and in turn increases the volume of blood in the bloodstream. As blood volume increases, your heart needs to work harder to move blood around our body, creating more strain on your cardiovascular system and increasing your risk for high blood pressure.*
And if you don't consume enough potassium, instead of passing out of the body, salt is then reabsorbed by the kidneys and retained causing a buildup that puts even more strain on your cardiovascular system and blood pressure.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, increasing your potassium intake by 1.6 grams per day decreases the risk of a serious cardiovascular event by 21%.*
Stress is yet another factor that can increase your blood pressure. When you are under stress, your body releases hormones to help protect you (think ‘fight or flight’ response).*
These hormones cause your heart to race and blood pressure to rise which is helpful if you’re running from a cheetah. But over time, if your body continues to release these hormones due to chronic stress related to work, family, or any number of things that cause stress in today’s world – it can lead to sustained blood pressure elevation.*
6 Simple Ways to Control Your Blood Pressure
Here are some simple ways you can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure or take the first step in controlling your high blood pressure:*
- Maintain a healthy waistline measurement (men should strive for 40 inches or less and women 35 inches or less)
- Exercise – target 150 minutes per week or around 30 minutes a day (start slowly and gradually build to this level if you don’t currently exercise regularly)
- Avoid tobacco use
- Limit alcohol and caffeine consumption
- Reduce salt in your diet and increase potassium
- Utilize meditation or other mind/body techniques to manage stress
While medications are often recommended to help control high blood pressure, they can come with some unpleasant side effects including:*
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Decrease in energy and stamina
- Stomach upset
- Swelling of your hands and feet
This is why many people work on lifestyle modifications first and may add some dietary supplements to support their efforts to prevent or reduce high blood pressure.
Beneficial Nutrients and Supplements for High Blood Pressure
The Mediterranean diet which includes healthy fats like olive oil is widely considered a blood pressure friendly diet. This has led to research exploring the benefits of the olive plant and the role it may play in regulating blood pressure.
Studies have found olive leaf extract to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol in participants.* Olive leaf extract was studied in identical twins who both had high blood pressure, and this extract was found to reduce mildly elevated blood pressure readings.*
Vitamin K has also been studied when it comes to high blood pressure. Vitamin K2 specifically has been found to reduce the risk of calcium deposits, or plaque, from forming on blood vessel walls. This can help reduce the risk of blood vessel hardening and subsequent elevated blood pressure.*
As you can see there are many ways you can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure as well as reducing already elevated blood pressure. By maintaining healthy blood pressure readings, you can also reduce your risk for many age-related health issues. This is why learning what your blood pressure readings are and implementing healthy lifestyle choices are vital to living a longer, healthier more active life.
If you need some extra help reducing your blood pressure, I urge you to click here to learn more about my new BP Advanced formula which features clinically proven doses of both olive leaf extract and a patented and highly-absorbable form of vitamin K2.