When it comes to hypertension, anyone who believes that ignorance is bliss is a fool. Let me explain.
Let’s take the example of a 35-year-old man whose blood pressure is 120/80, which is considered normal for a male of that age. Here is what will happen to this guy’s life expectancy with incremental increases in blood pressure (BP) that are not treated properly:
BP of 130/90 = 67 ½ years
BP of 140/95 = 62 ½ years
BP of 150/100 = 55 years
Now let’s look at the bigger picture: About 50 million Americans have elevated blood pressure that will shorten their lives. Of these, an estimated 7.4 million are not being treated, 13.1 million are not being treated adequately, and 15 million don’t even know they have it! Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, and the number-one cause of stroke is hypertension, which is related to elevated blood pressure. Do I have your attention?
What’s the Big Deal with High Blood Pressure?
The terms hypertension and high blood pressure are often used interchangeably, which is not technically correct.
Blood pressure is the amount of force produced by your heart (the first number in a BP reading) against the amount of resistance produced by the arteries (the second number in a BP reading). Blood pressure fluctuates in response to conditions such as exercise or stress. That’s normal. Only when the blood pressure stays elevated, changing the structure and function of the blood vessels, is it properly referred to as hypertension.
There are numerous conditions that can cause the force produced by your heart to increase and stay elevated, such as narrowed arteries, overweight, physical and mental stress, smoking, hormones and sodium. Many of the same conditions can increase the resistance of the arteries, such as mental stress, smoking and hormonal factors – and there are additional contributing factors such as blood clots and atherosclerosis (hardening of the artery walls). And finally, there are genetic factors – if one of your parents had hypertension, you have a 25 percent chance of getting it; if both had it, the odds increase to 50 percent.
Hypertension is a unique disease in that often it doesn’t have any noticeable symptoms in its early stages, which is why so many people who are diagnosed with it often ignore their doctor’s advice to take medication to deal with it. But the fact is, hypertension plays havoc with your vital organs, causing everything from blindness to kidney disease. It also damages the arteries in the brain, which can result in a stroke.
Because hypertension is a serious disease and very prevalent today, I invited Dr. Mark Houston to the Poliquin Strength Institute this past November to give a two-day seminar on cardiovascular disease. Dr. Houston is an associate clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and also the director of the Hypertension Institute, both located in Nashville, Tennessee. He has personally conducted 75 research studies on hypertension and has written more than 120 peer-reviewed medical articles on the subject.
During the seminar Dr. Houston emphasized that much can be done to avoid hypertension, or at least reduce the severity of the condition, by simply living a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing stress, avoiding overweight, staying in shape, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol. But sometimes all these measures are still not enough, and for those cases, medically prescribed drugs may be indicated. There is also another solution that involves the use of natural methods of lowering blood pressure.
The Nutraceutical Alternative
In my work I’ve met many doctors who have entered, mid-career, into the field of functional medicine because they are not satisfied with the conventional approach to treating disease, which often focuses on drugs. When Dr. Houston decided to look into the research available on non-drug approaches to treating hypertension, such as the use of specific vitamins, he found more than a thousand studies showing how vitamins, minerals and other natural substances can lower blood pressure.
Dr. Houston uses the term nutraceutical, which combines the words nutrition and pharmaceutical, to describe products that act like drugs without producing many of the side effects associated with drugs. Nutraceuticals are considered nutrients or food products, not drugs. Dr. Houston points out, for example, that while beta blockers deal with hypertension by slowing the heart rate, these drugs can produce many potential side effects such as congestive heart failure, fatigue, depression, headaches, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, flatulence... (see Dr. Houston’s book for the complete list of undesirable side effects). In contrast, an herb called hawthorn berry offers a safer, natural alternative to beta blockers.
Dr. Houston explains that treatment for hypertension is not as simple as taking a pill in the morning with your orange juice. First, you have to know what specific problem needs to be treated. A doctor may decide that a diuretic, which dilates the arteries and increases the loss of salt, might be the only drug necessary for a specific patient to lower their blood pressure. But for another patient with a more advanced stage of hypertension, a combination of several drugs might be necessary. Hypertension is a complicated disease, and unfortunately the medical treatment of hypertension is not as exact a science as we would like to believe (and if you would like to know just how complex this subject is, pick up a copy of Dr. Houston’s medical textbook Handbook of Hypertension, published by John Wiley & Sons).
The following are common categories of drugs used to treat hypertension, the purpose of the drugs, generic names of the drugs for each category, and the nutraceutical equivalent that delivers the desired action naturally. For a detailed explanation of what these drug functions are, pick up a copy of Dr. Houston’s book that is written for the lay person, What Your Doctor May NOT Tell You About Hypertension (available at major bookstores or through www.HachetteBookGroupUSA.com).
Drug category: angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors)
Purpose: interferes with the function of the angiotensin-converting enzyme, which is involved with constricting the artery muscles
Generic drug name: lisinopril, benazepril, captopril
Nutraceutical equivalent: seaweed, gelatin, zinc
Drug category: angiotensin II receptor blockers
Purpose: also interferes with the function of the angiotensin-converting enzyme
Generic drug name: candesartan, eprosartan, irbesartan
Nutraceutical equivalent : fiber, vitamin C, garlic
Drug category: beta blockers
Purpose: slows heart rate
Generic drug name: acebutolol, atenolol, betaxolol
Nutraceutical equivalent: hawthorn berry
Drug category: calcium channel blockers
Purpose: interferes with the movement of calcium in the artery muscle, thereby allowing the muscles to relax and the arteries to dilate
Generic drug name: amlodipine, diltiazem SR, isradipine
Nutraceutical equivalent : vitamin E, alpha-lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine
Drug category: central alpha agonists
Purpose: decreases vascular resistance by dampening specific actions of the sympathetic nervous system
Generic drug name: clonidine, guanabenz, guanfacine
Nutraceutical equivalent: flavonoids, fiber, potassium (K+)
Drug category: diuretics
Purpose: help remove excess fluid from the body to relax artery muscles
Generic drug name: hydrochlorothiazide, chlorothiazide, cyclothiazide
Nutraceutical equivalent: vitamin B6, magnesium (Mg), coenzyme Q10
Drug category: vasodilators
Purpose: help the arteries relax and open wider
Generic drug name: hydralazine, minoxidil
Nutraceutical equivalent : omega-3 fatty acids, taurine, L-arginine
Dr. Houston’s 1-2-3 Supplement Bundle
Dr. Houston recognizes that the subject of supplements can be overwhelming, not just in the number of supplements to choose from but also the appropriate quantities. He also stresses that these products are designed to complement, not replace, good nutrition. With these factors taken into consideration, Dr. Houston worked with the Hypertension Institute of Nashville to develop three nutraceutical formulas to fight hypertension and improve vascular health. Here are those formulas (available solely through the Poliquin Strength Institute):
1. VasculoGuard Px. This is a formula that includes 21 nutraceuticals that Dr. Houston believes will have the greatest impact on lowering blood pressure and targeting organ damage associated with high blood pressure. Dr. Houston says that it’s not just a matter of taking the appropriate supplements – because often substances interact with each other – but of having the right doses of each to produce the appropriate synergistic effect. That’s not all.
VasculoGuard Px also includes compounds such as vitamin K that have been shown to retard and possibly even reverse plaque formation and vascular calcification in the coronary articles. Says Dr. Houston, “The quality of this product is unsurpassed. In my opinion, there is nothing on the market right now that rivals VasculoGuard for improving vascular health.” Five capsules, twice a day, is the recommended dose. Individuals with very healthy profiles, can get away with 2 capsules twice a day as a measure of prevention.
2. EFA Complete Px. Dr. Houston believes that it is the single best supplement to take and that he cannot imagine anyone who should not be taking omega-3 fatty acids because they do so much to prevent disease, besides dealing with hypertension. Omega-3s will help the cardiovascular system in many other ways, such as by decreasing inflammation, decreasing the tendency of platelets to stick together unnecessarily, reducing blood fat and reducing the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
EFA Complete Px contains all the necessary essential fatty acids for optimal cardiovascular benefits: GLA, 750 mg; EPA, 900 mg; DHA, 600 mg. If you take an omega supplement that has only EPA and DHA, for example, you could deplete GLA in the cells. The formula also includes d-Gamma tocopherol, an antioxidant that prevents stress in the cell membranes. Six capsules per day is the recommended dose.
3. Resveratrol Px. Compared to Americans, the French have a much lower rate of cardiovascular disease, despite having a cuisine that often emphasizes ingredients high in saturated fat. One reason is that French culture encourages the use of wine, which contains the plant compound resveratrol. The protective qualities of resveratrol make it a must in any cardiovascular protection program, but there’s more. There is promising scientific research that suggests it may help slow aging in general and, in particular, the aging process of the vascular system; and it may help with the reduction of bodyfat and the gaining of muscle mass.
There are two basic forms of resveratrol, trans-resveratrol and cis-resveratrol. Only the trans form is active in humans; cis-resveratrol offers no benefits. As such, Reserveratrol Px contains only the pure form of trans-resveratrol. Dr. Houston says research suggests that the optimal dosage is 250 mg, and that the product works best when combined with 25 mg of quercetin and 25 mg of calcium magnesium phytate. One capsule a day will provide the exact dosage of these three compounds.
Unless otherwise recommended by your physician, a 30-day supply of these three supplements consists of two bottles of VasculoGuard Px (300 capsules, 150 per bottle), one bottle of EFA Complete Px (180 capsules) and one bottle of Resveratrol Px (30 capsules). As the demand for these products is exploding, it’s best to purchase at least a two-month supply when ordering.
Living off the Cuff
When Dr. Houston treats a new client for hypertension, he offers them the following three approaches: 1) to be treated with standard medicine, 2) to be treated with natural treatments, including nutraceuticals, or 3) a combination of both approaches. He says all of his clients have selected either the mixed or natural approach, and then, as they’ve become convinced the nutraceuticals are safe and appropriate, most have switched to just the natural treatments (as a bonus, the natural approach usually costs much less than treatment that relies on drugs. And he stresses that dieting and supplements are not enough – dealing with hypertension involves adopting several health lifestyle habits such as maintaining an ideal bodyweight, regular exercise and avoiding tobacco products.
The advice provided in this article, which is also detailed in Dr. Houston’s book, will help anyone suffering from hypertension. But don’t go it alone. Dr. Houston says the best approach is to see a doctor first before beginning any treatment program for hypertension. And if you do have hypertension, discuss with your doctor the ideas presented in this article and as discussed in more detail in Dr. Houston’s book. Be sure to get your blood pressure checked regularly, not just with those convenient blood pressure devices found in drugstores but by a trained health care professional.
Hypertension is a killer, and unfortunately there are millions of Americans who either are unaware that they even have the disease or are not dealing with the disease properly. The good news is that for most of those with hypertension, there are natural, nonprescription approaches that may work just as well as conventional drugs. So don’t risk your health any longer – take a proactive approach with your health and beat hypertension!