Factors That Reduce The Risk of Hypertension
Among people with elevated blood pressure, approximately 90% have “essential” or “idiopathic” hypertension, for which the cause is poorly understood. This is the type of hypertension we are talking about when discussing nutritional supplements and lifestyle changes. Other types of hypertension include pregnancy-induced hypertension or hypertension clearly linked to a known cause, such as Cushing’s syndrome, pheochromocytoma, or kidney disease. Treatment of these types of hypertension, obviously, focus on targeting the underlying cause.
Hypertension should be evaluated by a physician, and extremely high blood pressureor rapidly worsening hypertension will almost always require treatment with conventional medicine. Even mild to moderate high blood pressure should be monitored by a health professional, regardless of the methods of treatment utilized.
High blood pressure can be controlled with with conventional drugs, and/or the use of natural substances if taken consistently, but this does not lead to an actual cure. Thus, someone whose blood pressure is successfully reduced, whether drugs, supplements, or by weight loss, avoidance of salt, and increased intake of fruits and vegetables would need to maintain these changes permanently in order to retain control of blood pressure. Left untreated, hypertension significantly increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.
By definition, hypertension is a type of cardiovascular disease characterized by elevation of blood pressure above the level considered normal for people of similar racial and environmental backgrounds. When blood pressure is taken on two or more subsequent days and reads 140/90 or above this is considered to be high blood pressure. Because it affects the entire circulatory system, hypertension can be detrimental to all the major organs, including the heart, brain, and kidneys. It may contribute to death from heart failure, heart attacks, stroke, and even kidney failure. One in five Americans (and one in three adults) has high blood pressure.
There are many things that can be done to control hypertension in addition to drugs. Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, exercising, eating less salt and, as you will see in a moment, increasing your intake of foods rich in certain flavonoids and phytoantioxidants, can be very effective. In addition, certain nutritional supplements have been shown to be important as well, including coQ10 or ubiquinol, omega-3 rich fish oils, calcium, fiber, vitamin E, and, with the doctor’s permission, mineral supplements such as potassium and magnesium. Herbal supplements such as garlic, hawthorn, hibiscus, reishi mushroom, European mistletoe, and olive leaf have been shown to be effective.
A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, focused attention on the role that flavonoid-rich supplements and foods can play in treating hypertension.
Flavonoids, also known as vitamin P, are a class of water-soluble plant pigments giving many plants vivid shades of yellow, orange and red. A high intake of flavonoids can help protect blood vessels from rupture or leakage, enhance vitamin C, protect cells from oxygen damage, and prevent excessive inflammation throughout the body. Symptoms indicating a possible deficiency of flavonoids would be: easy bruising, frequent nose bleeds, excessive swelling after injury and frequent colds or infections. Some sources of food that contain flavonoids are apples, blueberries, strawberries, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans and tomatoes.
The class of supplements referred to as phyto-antioxidants are rich in flavonoids. A supplement like PhytoTech™ Antiox Phyto Complex is a good example. This product from Willner Chemists is rich in flavonoid antioxidants from acai berry, goji berry, pomegranate, mangosteen, grape seed, grape skin and green tea.
A prospective study conducted in collaboration between scientists from the University of East Anglia (UK), Harvard School of Public Health, and Harvard Medical School examined the association between habitual intake of flavonoids and reduced risk of hypertension. The researchers analyzed data from 87,242 women from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) II, 46,672 women from the NHS I, and 23,043 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS).
Participants were followed for 14 years after which 29,018 cases of hypertension in women and 5,629 cases of hypertension in men were reported. The results revealed that the highest average intake of anthocyanins, predominately from blueberries and strawberries, (ranging from 16.2 to 21.0 milligrams per day) was associated with an 8 percent decrease in the risk of hypertension.
Even more impressive, the benefits increased to a 12 percent reduction in risk when the analysis was limited to people over the age of 60, compared with the lowest average intakes, which ranged from 5.7 to 6.8.
In conclusion the researchers wrote “Our data suggested that several specific classes of flavonoids were associated with blood pressure reduction, specifically anthocyanins, which resulted in a 12 percent reduction in hypertension risk in multivariate analyses.These data are important because anthocyanins are present in commonly consumed fruit, such as blueberries, cranberries, and strawberries, which can be readily incorporated into the diet.”1
Another flavonoid-rich substance that has been shown to be effective in treating hypertension is Pycnogenol®, a patented extract from the maritime pine. The hypertensive action of Pycnogenol was covered in a recent interview with Dr. Ron Watson, conducted by Dr. Richard Passwater:
Dr. Passwater: Over the last decade studying Pycnogenol, what would you say were some of your major findings on the extract?
Dr. Watson: Personally, I got convinced about the activity of Pycnogenol when I investigated its effect on borderline hypertensive patients. When we did the study here at the university in Tucson in the year 2000, patients with systolic blood pressures of 140 mmHg were considered borderline hypertensive and they didn’t take medication. This, of course, is different today. Anyway, after taking Pycnogenol for eight weeks, their blood pressures went down significantly, bringing it close to 130 mmHg.
We then investigated the effects of Pycnogenol on the blood platelets of cigarette smokers. Smoking causes platelets to get “stickier,” which is the reason why these people have a high risk for heart attacks. We found that Pycnogenol prevented platelets in smokers from getting sticky as effectively as aspirin. These results were truly amazing, also because Pycnogenol doesn’t cause the longer bleeding time that aspirin does.
Dr. Passwater: You have taken an interest in Pycnogenol for heart health both in your cardiac remodeling study and your most recent work on Pycnogenol reducing symptoms of cardiovascular risk factors in diabetics. Please elaborate on the findings.
Dr. Watson: Hypertension is a major side effect of diabetes, which can be considered a “heart disease” due to the frequency of such clinical consequences. As mentioned, we were the first to demonstrate the benefits of Pycnogenol for lowering blood pressure. Therefore, we tested diabetics whose hypertension was only partially controlled by pharmaceutical drugs. We found that Pycnogenol was so effective that their blood pressures were under good control and the need for pharmaceutical drugs for hypertension was dramatically lowered. Probably equally exciting is the point that adding Pycnogenol to their standard anti-diabetic regimens (which included the drugs glitazides and metformin) helped their blood glucose finally reach healthy levels. In the placebo group, none of these benefits were found.
In animal experiments, we indeed found that Pycnogenol is effective for counteracting heart failure in response to chronic hypertension. The pressure essentially develops from the heart, which needs more force to pump blood in hypertensive people. In turn, the heart chamber wall wears out and the heart gradually loses the ability to pump sufficient amounts of blood to meet the organ’s metabolic demand. This can turn into fatal problems. I am keen to show a protective effect for heart failure with Pycnogenol in humans.3
References:1 Cassidy A, O’Reilly EJ, Kay C, et al. Habitual intake of flavonoid subclasses and incident hypertension in adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010.2. NHIondemand.com Newsletters3. Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2011; for the full interview, go tohttp://www.wholefoodsmagazineonline.com/columns/vitamin-connection or read the Spring 2011 Willner Chemists Product Reference Catalog, at http://www.willner.com.