The busy career woman making lots of big decisions–lots of stress. But high blood pressure is not necessarily the result. Find out ways to control stress and high blood pressure.
Stress and high blood pressure have long been associated together in most people’s minds. Several studies have shown that “Type A” personalities, high-energy, competitive people prone to anger, are more likely to die of heart attacks or suffer from long-term heart disease, than more laid-back personality types are. Is the stress experienced by Type A personalities a one-way ticket to high blood pressure?
Are Stress and High Blood Pressure Connected?
Experts say the answer is not a simple yes or no. Stress does not automatically mean that you will have long-term trouble with high-blood pressure.
Your body reacts to stress by increasing the “stress” hormones, epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol which in turn raise your blood pressure. This is called the “fight or flight” response. Your body is preparing you to either fight a perceived danger or run from it.
Of course, now most people experience the chronic stress of the everyday grind, dealing with the difficult boss, meeting a work deadline, getting the kids to school on time and so on. Being physically prepared to either “fight or flee” simply does not help in these situations and so some people remain in a fairly constant cycle of stress arousal.
However, what may be stressful to some is actually enjoyed by other people and this fact complicates matters for scientists researching the connection between stress and high blood pressure. A clear-cut definition of stress has not been agreed upon by researchers, but most would agree that if your individual “stressors” are a source of distress there is cause for concern. If you are distressed, your blood pressure will rise and then return to normal after your unease subsides. The problem is that even temporary bouts with high blood pressure can cause damage your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys, if they occur on a regular basis.
Risk Factors for Stress-related High Blood Pressure
If you are under constant distress from your situation or lifestyle you may be at risk for stress induced high blood pressure.
Symptoms of stress include difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomachaches and intestinal problems; some people may experience sweating palms, rapid breathing, and even heart palpitations. If your stomach churns at the thought of going to work, chances are you are in an unhealthy stressful situation.
You should be especially concerned if you have a family history of high blood pressure or if you are African American, because these factors increase your risk of developing hypertension (the medical term for high blood pressure).
Chinese Medicine’s Understanding of Stress and High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is one condition which Western medicine has long connected with stress. Other healing systems, such as Chinese traditional medicine also recognize the connection between stress and high blood pressure. Chinese traditional medicine distinguishes two forms of high blood pressure: liver and lung.
In liver high blood pressure the qi of the liver increases too much. Qi is a concept unique to Chinese traditional medicine; simply speaking qi is the energy or life force that flows through the entire body. The symptoms of liver high blood pressure include headache, heart palpitations, dry or red eyes, and dizziness, but high blood pressure is often present without symptoms.
In lung high blood pressure, qi of the lung cannot descend. Symptoms of lung high blood pressure include shortness of breath, swelling of the legs and feet, wheezing, and fatigue. Both liver and lung high blood pressure are treated with various herbal preparations; acupuncture is also a part of the treatment. In addition, dietary changes are helpful.
Lowering Blood Pressure with Diet
Both Western and Eastern healing systems recognize diet as playing an important role in high blood pressure. Chinese traditional medicine focuses on increasing urine output and avoiding constipation through diet. Cleansing fruits and vegetables are recommended; these include watermelon, winter squash, cucumber, carrots, and mango.
Western practice focuses on reducing sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats. Sodium raises the blood pressure of sodium sensitive individuals; ninety percent people are sodium sensitive. Reduce your salt intake and beware of added sodium in foods. Sugar also increases blood pressure, probably by increasing adrenaline. Avoid transfats and saturated fats; these unhealthy fats raise your bad cholesterol which can increase your blood pressure. Eat foods rich in fiber; fiber cleans the system and helps lower cholesterol as well as blood pressure.
The dietary guidelines that most doctors prescribe for hypertension are summarized in the DASH diet, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This dietary program, which is endorsed by the National Institutes for Health, emphasizes an excellent healthy diet approach–low sodium, high fiber, fruits, veggies and little junk food. In a study, it was found to lower the blood pressure in all subgroups, but particularly African Americans.
Help for Starting DASH
One excellent resource for starting your DASH diet is DashForHealth.com. This website has an online program which helps you keep track of what you are eating. It has health calculators for BMI (Body Mass Index), calories to eat and calories burned in exercise. It gives weekly health tips, recipes, and you are encouraged to email any questions you have to their health team. There is a monthly fee, but it is reasonable and this may be a great tool to get you started on a healthier diet for your high blood pressure.
Basically Western and Eastern recommendations for a healthy diet coincide. Both perspectives recommend a diet high in healthy vegetables and fruits, along with complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole wheat, buckwheat, and millet. Both recommend keeping meat to a minimum. A diet following these guidelines will help your general health and not just your blood pressure.
Some foods are particularly good at lowering blood pressure. Garlic is the acknowledged superstar; as little as one clove a day of garlic can significantly lower your blood pressure. Carrots are also good at lowering blood pressure, as are tomatoes and broccoli.
Lowering Blood Pressure with Herbs and Supplements
There are many herbs and supplements which help lower or control blood pressure.
- Magnesium. Magnesium acts as a smooth-muscle relaxant, and acts as a natural calcium channel blocker, and so may help relax the blood vessels, lowering blood pressure. Other minerals associated with controlling blood pressure are calcium and potassium.
- Vitamin B3. Vitamin B3 (a vasodilator) is helpful in controlling high blood pressure.
- Hawthorn berry extract. Hawthorn berries contain chemicals which can protect and relax you arteries. It has been used for centuries as a traditional remedy for many cardiovascular problems.
- Coenzyme Q10. CoQ10 is an anti-oxidant produced by our body, but which declines as we age. It has been shown to help lower blood pressure.
- Essential Oils. Many essential oils can help relax you and reset your nervous system back to the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest and digest mode). Try Lavender or Ylang Ylang or the blends Peace and Calming, and Aroma Life, which is especially good for conditions of the heart.
Will Reducing Stress Reduce my Risk for Hypertension?
This is another question for which the answer is not simple. Researchers have found no direct connection between stress reduction and decreased hypertension. However, the good news is that stress management offers overall health benefits that can improve your heart’s function and eventually lead to healthier blood pressure.
Even if you stress level seems unmanageable and impossible to reduce, taking the time to make simple dietary changes will help you feel better. Don’t get stressed out while trying to de-stress. By making gradual changes you can get a handle on stress and high blood pressure.