The Basics Of High Blood Pressure

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Eating right and exercising correctly can dramatically lower high blood pressure.

I’m talking about cutting back (or even getting off!) blood pressure medications in as little as a month after starting a program.

blood pressure vessel

It almost seems like blood pressure meds are worse than the high blood pressure itself.  Some of the side effects include:

  • Loss of blood flow to the genitals
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Nausea
  • Muscular weakness
  • Leg, foot, and hand cramps
  • Total body fatigue
  • Depression
  • Asthma
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Persistent cough
  • Skin rashes
  • Loss of sense of taste
  • Dizziness
  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • Swollen ankles
  • Anxiety
  • Anemia
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Heartburn
  • Nasal congestion
  • Excessive hair growth
  • Swelling of face (especially around the eyes)

And those are just some of the side effects of blood pressure medications!  Sounds like torture.

But what the heck is high blood pressure, anyway?

When most people think about high blood pressure, they visualize their blood vessels like little hoses: Too much pressure and the hose bursts.  BOOM, heart attack or stroke.

While that explanation may work for a 6th grade health class, the truth is that your blood vessels are more like the lock system in a canal.  There are a series of pumps and gates that help keep blood where it’s supposed to be.

canal locks europe

Just like how water flows downstream, blood in your body is constantly being pulled down by gravity.  The “locks system” (valves, really) help to prevent backflow down so your heart doesn’t have to work *quite* as hard.

A really cool trick is that blood vessels can actually constrict to help move blood around, they aren’t totally reliant on your heart and their valve system.

Say you stand up and all your blood rushes to your feet.  Your brain would like some of that blood since you suddenly got very dizzy.  Your heart pumps harder to send blood through your whole system.  Your lower body arteries constrict to help pump.  And the valves in your vein system prevent blood flowing back down in between heartbeats.  This all results in a bump in blood pressure and blood flows to your brain.

circulatory system

That’s the way blood pressure is supposed to work, keeping the pressure where it needs to be to ensure delivery of blood to whatever area of the body needs it, while still keeping blood flowing through all the rest of your systems.  Complicated and hard working.

No wonder blood pressure medications mess up so many of your body’s systems… All of your body’s systems need blood for fuel, oxygen, waste removal, etc.

It’s easy to start throwing your blood pressure control systems off balance.  A pound of fat has between one and seven miles of blood vessels.  Most of these vessels are teeny weeny capillaries that need a lot of pressure to send blood cells through.

Gain ten pounds of fat-> gain ten to seventy MILES more blood vessels to push blood through.  Not a fun job for your poor heart.

Contrariwise, lose ten pounds of fat -> lose ten to seventy miles of blood vessels, lower blood pressure, ease the burden on your heart.

Of course, body fat and increased blood vessel length isn’t the only thing that affects blood pressure.

Let your sodium/potassium balance get out of whack and you’ll retain water to dilute the sodium, which increases your blood volume, which increases your blood pressure.


Let sugar or nicotine cut up the insides of your blood vessels and platelets will start forming plaque that catches everything floating by which narrows your blood vessels which increases your blood pressure.

Let stress and anxiety hit you all day and your body will release fight-or-flight chemicals that will get your heart racing, and then… increase blood pressure.

Gaining weight, high sugar/fat diets, excess sodium, and stress all combine to make a perfect storm of rising blood pressure.

If you’re alive, your heart is still pumping and your blood vessels are still expanding and contracting to help send blood where it’s needed.  Sustained high blood pressure from any/all of the causes listed above will end up causing damage.

Time for something really scary: there are two big ways high blood pressure can damage your brain…

First, the pressure can burst small blood vessels that can’t take the strain.  Two of the places where this is immediately noticeable are the eyes and brain.  When the capillaries in your eyes start breaking (even slightly), vision starts to worsen.  When blood vessels burst in the brain, that’s what is called a stroke.  Brain cells then die from lack of blood.

Second, plaque can build up in the blood vessels feeding your brain, cutting off blood flow.  Brain cells then die from lack of blood.

clogged-artery atherosclerosis

High blood pressure damages all of your blood vessels though, not just the ones in your head.  The extra pressure damages ALL blood vessels and give plaque a chance to build up and block your blood’s progress.  Plaque buildup can cause kidney failure, lack of blood to the genitals, or a heart attack.

High blood pressure is very hard on your heart.  The extra work means extra wear and tear on the cardiac muscles.  This makes the heart walls stiffen and thicken so it becomes a less efficient and powerful pump.  Then blood starts flowing back into the heart and you can die from something called congestive heart failure.

Blood Pressure Numbers

Ideally, your resting blood pressure should be below 120/80.

The first number is your systolic blood pressure, the pressure made by your heart as it pumps.  The second number is your diastolic blood pressure, the pressure in your vessels between heartbeats.

blood_vessel hypertension stages

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure, and is broken into three main categories.  They are:

Prehypertensive: 120-139/80-89

Consider prehypertension as a warning sign that you need to start making changes in your lifestyle, nutrition, and exercise plans.  This stage is readily reversible back to a healthy range.

Stage 1 Hypertensive: 140-159/90-99

This is when a doctor will start prescribing blood pressure medications.  Risks of stroke and heart attack raise greatly.  Still reversible with a little more effort.

Stage 2 Hypertensive: 160+/100+

Stage 2 means you’re at serious risk of being main, crippled, or killed by your high blood pressure.  You need to be under a doctor’s care.  Can be brought back into normal levels but is much more difficult since strenuous exercise can’t be done.

If you don’t know what your blood pressure is, find out!  The machines at the pharmacy aren’t as accurate as a skilled human checking you out, but they’re better than nothing.  Get an idea of where your blood pressure is so you know if you’re at risk.

high blood pressure cuff

Some Simple Ways To Lower High Blood Pressure

The easiest and fastest way to lower high blood pressure is to lose extra fat.  As a bonus to losing weight, the dietary changes involved in a fat loss diet will actually lower blood pressure in other ways, so it’s a win-win situation.

Low intensity exercises like walking will burn extra calories while not straining your already overworked heart – but for more dramatic changes, start a resistance training workout as soon as your doctor gives you the go-ahead.

So, here are some simple ways to start losing weight and lowering your blood pressure:

  • Cut out grains, sugar, dairy, and soy.  Focus on lean meats and vegetables.
  • Cut out artificial sweeteners/flavors and other “foods” with chemical additives.
  • Take fish oil or krill oil.
  • Take magnesium supplements.
  • Lower your sodium consumption (easiest way is to cut out all processed foods).
  • Increase your potassium intake (fruits, vegetables, apple cider vinegar).
  • Drink green tea.
  • Drink more water.
  • Eat dandelion greens.
  • Eat fresh organic berries.

All the the suggestions in the list above are pretty simple and straightforward.  And they’ll WORK to lower your blood pressure, if you just do them!

(And if your blood pressure is in a healthy range and you want to keep it that way, these tips will work for you too)

high blood pressure damages organs

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