Don’t assume that your doctor is aware of these facts. If you are diagnosed with mild, high blood pressure, you likely will be prescribed medication, instructed that it is helpful, and told that you must take it for the rest of your life. But before accepting this potentially dangerous treatment, it may be to your advantage to seek answers to the following questions: “What caused my high blood pressure?” and “Can I remove those causes and reverse this condition?”
“Beware of the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 'Salty Six' — six popular foods that can add high levels of sodium to your diet,” says Rachel Johnson, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington and the former chair of the AHA’s nutrition committee. The Salty Six include breads and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, sandwiches, pizza, soup, and chicken.
An aside: We don't much like taking medications, either. But if you end up needing blood pressure medicine to achieve a healthy blood pressure, don't be discouraged. The medicines are effective and safe, and they present only mild side effects, if any. Studies comparing older and newer blood pressure medicines found that one of the oldest and cheapest classes of drugs (the thiazide diuretics, such as hydrochlorothiazide and chlorthalidone) was as good as, or better than, the newer, more expensive ones.
I use a wrist cuff to measure my BP. I am consistently ( I mean every time) able to lower my BP by approximately twenty points, both values, from the initial reading. I do it with controlled breathing. I inhale deeply and hold it until it just begins to become uncomfortable, exhale slowly, and hold the exhale, until it becomes slightly uncomfortable, and then inhale slowly again, and hold it, repeating the process at least 3 times. Not only is the BP down, but the sensation is that of being physiologically calmer.
Also, be sure that the quality chocolate has large quantities (a minimum of 70%) of cocoa - the active ingredient that lowers the blood pressure. Cocoa has antioxidant-rich compounds called flavanoids, which help dilate blood vessels and assist in glucose metabolism. Surprisingly, dark chocolate contains more of these antioxidant compounds than even the famed blueberry.
4. Limit your salt usage. A sudden jump in blood pressure may be a sign of salt-sensitive hypertension. Overall, about half of Americans with high blood pressure are sodium sensitive; it's particularly common in African-Americans and those over age 65. Cutting the salt in your diet can result in anything from a small to a dramatic improvement in high blood pressure, depending on your level of salt sensitivity.
When your blood pressure rises, your heart is working harder to pump blood to the rest of your body. This may lead to heart failure or a heart attack, especially in people with heart disease. Furthermore, the extra force exerted by blood may cause blood vessels to burst, resulting in bleeding. Blood vessels in the brain are especially likely to rupture, which can lead to a stroke.
Stress can cause blood pressure to rise, both short- and long-term. So finding something that helps you relax can be an important part of preventing or reducing hypertension. What that something is, exactly, is up to you—but research suggests that yoga, meditation, spending time with pets, laughing, and even having sex (!) may be good choices. “Just like with exercise, you have to choose something that you enjoy and that you can do consistently as part of your daily lifestyle,” says Dr. Bisognano.
After a cigarette break, blood pressure rises for a short time. Interestingly—and even though it’s bad for your heart in other ways—it doesn’t seem to raise levels very much in the long-term. But besides those temporary spikes, there’s another reason to kick the habit: Smoking dulls taste buds, says Dr. Bisognano, so smokers tend to salt their food more and have a harder time decreasing sodium intake.
As the body increases production of an enzyme called angiotensin I-converting enzyme, or “ACE”, blood pressure increases. Pharmaceutical drugs called ACE inhibitors work by blocking the formation of this enzyme, but they have multiple side effects. Garlic contains gamma-glutamylcysteine, a natural ACE inhibitor. This chemical, in combination with the high allicin content, gives garlic its ability to dilate arteries, thereby lowering blood pressure. I usually take one clove of garlic and remove the skin, chew well and swallow. Yes nobody wants to be around me after. You can also buy in pill form.
Exercise. Doctors recommend at least 150 minutes per week of exercise to help reduce blood pressure. Brisk walking is excellent for reducing blood pressure and improving overall cardiovascular health, but other exercises can work too. Try jogging, riding a bike, swimming, dancing, or interval training to get your aerobic exercise. Strength training is also important to your heart health and can help reduce blood pressure.
But the dark chocolate should be 60 to 70 percent cacao. A review of studies on dark chocolate has found that eating one to two squares of dark chocolate per day may help lower the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and inflammation. The benefits are thought to come from the flavonoids present in chocolate with more cocoa solids. The flavonoids help dilate, or widen, your blood vessels (25).
If you happen to love any of the above alternative approaches, or are doing it as part of your healthy lifestyle, you can continue to do so. Remember they complement, and not necessarily replace traditional approaches and medications that your doctor suggests. You might see only a modest reduction in your blood pressure, but you know what...it is probably not going to hurt either!
Your blood pressure is said to be “high” when either your systolic blood pressure is 140 or above, or your diastolic blood pressure is 90 or above, or both. So if your blood pressure is found to be 142/88 (systolic = 142, diastolic = 88), you are diagnosed as having high blood pressure, according to current definitions. The same would be true if your blood pressure was found to be 135/92, or 152/95. In each case, either the systolic is high, or the diastolic is high, or both. Any of these findings result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure.
Sleep. Short and poor-quality sleep are both associated with raised blood pressure (40). On the other side of the spectrum, excessively long sleep may also be harmful. One study found increased blood pressure in those who got fewer than five hours of sleep per night and in those who averaged more than nine hours of sleep per night, when compared with people who slept around seven hours (41). I suspect that it’s not the long sleep itself that is the problem, but that some underlying condition is both increasing sleep requirement and raising blood pressure.