Health markers such as high cholesterol, being overweight, having diabetes, smoking, being stressed out, being inactive or having high blood pressure(BP) are all signs (indicators) that you’re at risk of developing problems with your heart and brain later on in life.
It seems obvious, but the more of these indicators you have the higher the risk you are.
I work with people who have all of these indicators – here in South Wales there are lots of stressed, obese, diabetics with high blood pressure, who smoke, drink heavily and eat unhealthily. It may be an extreme example but not so extreme that I can’t think of lots of people who fit this description.
To me they are like a time bomb’s waiting to go bang or a train which is destined to crash.
If you only suffer from one problem from the list of indicators, and all the others are fine then you are pretty low risk.
Each of these need to be taken into the context of the person’s overall health and well being.
High blood pressure is one example of that.
If you have high blood pressure, are overweight and have a poor lifestyle, your pretty much guaranteeing yourself poor health in the future in some shape or form. Conversely if you have just high blood pressure but you are otherwise fit and healthy, it’s not deemed as high of a risk.
Although hard to spot at first, as people who suffer from high blood pressure will not experience any symptoms, high blood pressure sufferers if treated by a doctor will be prescribed blood pressure medication to help the problem. I have been a big fan of blood pressure medications as they helped me deliver exercise, safely and effectively, to hundreds of heart attack patients.
However in more recent years along with cholesterol reducing medication (statins) blood pressure medication and its effectiveness is actually being brought into question. Now I would never suggest you ditch your beta blockers or your ace inhibitors and alike but it’s an interesting discussion, one which I will have with you today, read on to find out more.
This is what lead me to writing this article, a couple of quotes, from a Doctor. “I’ve been aware for some time that salt reduction (vigorously promoted by most Governments and relevant health agencies) doesn’t appear to have any miraculous beneficial effects(on BP), but what about drugs for blood pressure so-called antihypertensives? Do these medications deliver on their promise?”
Before we go any further with the controversial side of things let’s get familiar with the basics of blood pressure.
Blood pressure medication effectiveness would not have been questioned 10-15 years ago. I myself ran a cardiac rehabilitation programme for six years and medication was at the centre of the therapy given to preserve life and keep these post heart attack clients as fit and active as possible.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure which is often referred to as hypertension is defined as a persistently elevated pressure of blood within the arteries. Blood pressure is the force of blood which is pushed around the body and the blood vessel walls.
High blood pressure and hypertension can lead to such health risks as:
- Strokes or heart attacks
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Renal failure
If you want to know your blood pressure reading then it is simple, you can get it tested easily at your local pharmacy, doctors or you can even get a home testing kit.
As I mentioned there are very little symptoms of high blood pressure so it is difficult to spot. But if you do suffer from symptoms such as nosebleeds, thumping of the heart, constant headaches, dizziness, flushing of the face and unusual fatigue then it would be worth getting your blood pressure tested.
When blood pressure is tested you will give 2 values firstly Systolic (working) and then Diastolic (resting). If your blood pressure is greater than 120/80 mm Hg then you according to health practitioners have high blood pressure.
Blood pressure values of between 120/80 – 139/89 is called pre hypertension where you at a greater risk of hypertension, blood pressure values of 140/90 or above are defined as hypertension.
What are the causes of high blood pressure and hypertension?
There is no definitive answer but as I mentioned earlier there are many “risk” factors which are associated with high blood pressure:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor eating habits
- Obesity and being overweight
- Lack of exercise
- High Salt intake
- Adrenal and thyroid problems
Plus many more. Doctors use a wide variety of different drugs to treat high blood pressure and hypertension.
Some of the medications prescribed include beta blockers, vasodilators, ace inhibitors, diuretics, calcium channel blockers, rennin inhibitors, alpha blockers, alpha beta blockers and central acting agents.
These medications can be prescribed individually to help reduce high blood pressure or in combination with other blood pressure medication. There is a general consensus amongst Doctors that combinations of the drugs work better that one pill alone.
This begs the question how effective are these treatments and how healthy is it to be taking so many different types of medicine, what with all the side effects. One side effect of some BP meds is actually high blood pressure!
How effective are these blood pressure medications?
Now I’m not an expert on this, doctors are, so I have sought out some words of wisdom from a doctor who does not seem to suffer the same brain washing as many of his peers.
In an article, by a man called Dr Biffa, about blood pressure medication he says that most doctors will prescribe medication on the basis of it being evidence based where in truth there isn’t actually good evidence supporting this.
In this article Dr Biffa explained how a well respected group of scientists (the Cochrane collaboration) reviewed the research which tested the effectiveness of blood pressure medication, they looked at four studies and over 9000 subjects with no history of cardiovascular disease over a period of 4/5 years.
This study looked into how effective blood pressure medication was on people with just mild cases of high blood pressure. The subjects tested all recorded blood pressure values of between 140-159 mmHg systolic blood pressures and 90-99 mmHg diastolic blood pressures.
Half of the subjects were treated with actual blood pressure medication and the other half were given a placebo. The results found that the group who took blood pressure medication were at no reduced risk of developing heart disease, suffering a stroke or any other cardiovascular events.
Basically the meds didn’t work any better than a placebo.
So this study was done on a lot of people and over a long time and shows that the medication taken did not have a positive effect on the subjects.
Briffa also said, James Wright editor of Cochrane Hypertension Group wrote in the British Medical Journal that doctors have based their opinions on a combination of assumptions and data from clinical trials in which patients with mild hypertension were not analysed separately.
He also went on to say “In most cases medication works well on the sickest people, people who suffer from mild hypertension (which is a lot of people) don’t benefit from being on this medication.”
Professor Jerome Hoffman wrote in the British Medical Journal “that efforts to lower blood pressure to ‘normal,’ typically requiring multiple drugs, are not only usually unsuccessful but produce more harm than good, since adverse effects of intensive treatment outweigh the minimal marginal benefit of a little more blood pressure ‘control’.
He went on to say that treatment of mild hypertension is of great benefit to the drug makers even though it offers no real benefit to patients. (This is the type of thing which really pisses me off (sorry), it’s always about the money, the governments and big pharmaceutical companies make the decisions and they make the decisions are not based on health they are profit based decisions.
In many professions such things called “conflicts of interest” keep people doing what they are meant to do, not in the pharmaceutical industry it seems, maybe they forgot they are meant to help people, not just make money. rant over ;-))
You may think that such a finding would hopefully lead to many people with MILD BLOOD PRESSURE throwing away their blood pressure medication and focusing on some natural ways of lowering blood pressure. In reality this is not a good idea and ultimately won’t happen, not yet.
Another interesting point from Dr Des Spence, a general practitioner and BMJ columnist. He’s quoted as saying:
“Risk is abstract, and doctors and patients struggle with the concept and may not follow the guidelines. Doctors see a blood pressure of 156/98 and they prescribe. It’s easier to treat than not treat—you never get blamed for overtreating.
And that’s what you will have to battle against, and in fairness I don’t blame the GP’s, unfortunately its normal practice.
Prescribing blood pressure medication to someone is the easiest step by a doctor and it’s going to take something BIG, and a lot more studies like the one I mentioned, to change things. Interesting all the same.
Natural ways of reducing blood pressure
So let’s look at what we can do.
As I mentioned there are more natural ways to reducing blood pressure than taking a variety of drugs day in day out.
Most of this is common sense.
However “common sense is not common practice”.
(You should already have a vague idea how to help yourself, it’s not rocket science. Do the opposite to what caused the problem. Eat well, lose weight, drink less etc etc)
For those who are still wondering a good way to start would be by looking at your lifestyle. How much physical exercise do you do, what foods do you eat, do you smoke or drink a lot?
All of these things need to be addressed and changed in order for it to have a positive effect on their health and reducing blood pressure levels.
So I shall put it into a simple easy list of 8 natural ways to reduce blood pressure:
1. Increase activity levels with exercise
2. Reduce salty & processed food intake
3. Reduce alcohol consumption
4. Stop smoking
5. Eat a healthy diet containing quality meat and plenty of fruit and vegetables
6. Aim for foods rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium, or take supplements
7. Eat garlic – garlic has been linked with lowering blood pressure plus it is a great way of making up for the flavour lost from salt
8. Reduce body fat levels – this should happen by doing the previous 7 tips
These 8 steps can be very useful if used in combination with your meds, and maybe if your meds become too effective the GP will be forced to reduce them (they don’t like doing this mind you, be warned). I have had clients taken off meds or have their meds reduced but usually I needed to make the case via a cardiac rehabilitation nurse, which is fine, as long as the GP’s listen it doesn’t matter who gets them to comply!
Thanks for reading, let me know your thoughts below, I will respond to all your questions ASAP,