Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hypertension Basics

by Iva Lloyd, ND

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects about 25% of Canadian adults under fifty and over 50% of those over the age of sixty. It also accounts for about 20% of deaths in Canada. Hypertension is considered a lifestyle disorder as it is strongly affected by diet, exercise, stress, smoking and other factors.

Whether you choose to treat your hypertension with prescription medication or natural therapies it is important to be aware of the impact that caffeine and salt have on your blood pressure.

There is a lot of debate as to the long-term risk and/or benefits of consuming caffeine on cardiovascular health, but what is known for sure is that for many individuals with hypertension there can be a significant short-term (roughly 3 hours) spike in blood pressure after drinking a coffee or having a caffeine drink (cola). The spike in blood pressure generally affects both the systolic and the diastolic aspects of blood pressure.

Consuming too much salt can not only spike blood pressure but it can put additional strain on the heart, arteries, kidneys and the brain. The impact of a high-salt meal on your blood pressure can last for hours or even a day or more.

Measuring The Impact of Caffeine on Blood Pressure

To measure the impact of caffeine on your blood pressure follow these steps:

  1. Either first thing in the morning (ideally) or three hours after a meal (without caffeine) take your blood pressure.
  2. Have your cup of coffee or other caffeine drink (cola).
  3. Thirty (30) minutes later take your blood pressure again.
If your blood pressure increases more than 10 points you may have caffeine-induced hypertension.  If you have been diagnosed with hypertension and if your blood pressure rises with caffeine you may want to reduce your caffeine consumption. The more profound the spike in blood pressure the more cautious you need to be with your total caffeine consumption.

Measuring The Impact of Salt on Blood Pressure

To determine the impact of salt on your blood pressure follow these steps:

  1. Ensure that you have at least two days with minimal salt and no caffeine in your diet.
  2. First thing in the morning take your blood pressure.
  3. Have a meal with added salt.
  4. Thirty (30) minutes later take your blood pressure again.
  5. Continue taking your blood pressure twice a day to determine how long it takes for your blood pressure to return to normal.  
If your blood pressure increases more than 10 points you may have salt-induced hypertension. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension and if your blood pressure rises with salt you may want to reduce your salt consumption.

Because both salt and caffeine are known to spike blood pressure it is helpful if you test them separately.  When determining the impact of caffeine, avoid salt.  When determining the impact of salt, avoid caffeine.  Generally you only have to do the test once. A person's response to salt and caffeine is fairly consistent.  If your blood pressure rises due to consumption of either one, it will generally always rise when you consume them.

The Perfect Storm

Most heart attacks and strokes occur due to a sharp rise in blood pressure over a short period of time due to multiple factors that have a cumulative effect. The more that you are aware of the factors that increase your blood pressure, the more control you will have over your blood pressure.

It is not always advisable or feasible to take your blood pressure multiple times a day, or even frequently during a week, but if you have been diagnosed with hypertension it is important to know your typical blood pressure and what affects you. Unless advised otherwise by your doctor, monitoring your blood pressure means taking your readings once or twice a month under the same conditions - i.e., same time of day.  Whenever you change medication or change a treatment plan for hypertension it is important to monitor more frequently (often daily or at least a couple times a week) to understand the impact of the new treatment on your blood pressure. 

To really understand what affects your hypertension, I recommend that you take a couple of weeks and do the following:
  • Monitor the impact of caffeine and salt on your blood pressure.
  • If you work out, take your blood pressure before and after a normal workout.  A "good" work-out will decrease your blood pressure as you are improving the circulation of blood throughout the body.  If your exercise regimen is too intensive, too focused on weights versus cardio or if you are dehydrated after your workout you may find that your workout is actually increasing your blood pressure. 
  • Stress can have a significant impact on blood pressure. During an acute stressful situation take your blood pressure so that you know the impact that it is having on your readings.
  • Being dehydrated will generally increase your blood pressure. If you have a day that you know was more dehydrating -- lack of drinking water, higher stress, diet that was dehydrating, a busy day, etc - take your blood pressure at the end of the day and monitor the impact.
  • Whenever you feel lightheaded, have a strange headache or feel weak, take your blood pressure and see if there is any correlation.  If you suffer with any of these symptoms frequently, you are best to talk to your naturopathic doctor.
The value of knowing the impact that different lifestyle factors have on your blood pressure is that you can avoid doing multiple things that increase your blood pressure simultaneously.  For example, when under stress you would know whether or not to avoid that extra cup of coffee and the high-salt meal.  You would know whether going to the gym will add to the problem or whether it would be beneficial. 

Knowing the impact that different lifestyle factors have on your blood pressure also allows your naturopathic doctor to tailor a treatment plan specifically for you.  For example, hypertension that is driven more by stress than by dietary factors would benefit from herbs or nutraceuticals focused on stress management.  Treating chronic dehydration (a common cause of hypertension) requires a different treatment approach than if the cause of hypertension if due to a high-salt diet or chronic stress.

Other Resources

To learn more about hypertension check out the following other resources:
Talk to your naturopathic doctor to learn more about how to manage your hypertension and to receive a treatment plan tailored specifically to you.

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