Nutritional deficiencies are very common in the general population and may be even more prevalent in people who suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure) and cardiovascular disease. Optimal nutrition–including vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, coupled with weight loss, increased exercise, smoking cessation and moderate restriction of alcohol and caffeine–can help prevent and control nutritional deficiencies in many patients.
An integrative approach that combines sound nutrition and lifestyle changes with proper pharmacologic agents as recommended by your cardiologist or primary health care provider, is the best way to regulate blood pressure in most patients.
Hypertension is the consequence of the interaction between your genetic makeup and your environment (referred to as ‘your lifestyle’). Humans have evolved from a pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer society to a commercially-based agricultural society yielding highly processed, packaged foods. These foods are generally devoid of quality nutrients. Our genetic makeup is 99.9% the same as our Paleolithic ancestors, yet our vitamin, mineral and antioxidant intake is vastly different.
Poor nutrition, coupled with rising rates of obesity and sedentary lifestyles, has resulted in an exponential increase in nutritionally related chronic diseases. Diets higher in sodium, lower in potassium and magnesium, low in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and high in saturated and trans fats, have contributed to an increased incidence of cardiovascular disease, hypertension and high cholesterol. These diet and lifestyle deficiencies can also lead to injury and damage to the blood vessel wall (called the endothelium). The normal endothelium promotes smooth muscle relaxation, inhibits platelet aggregation (clotting) and limits adhesions from autoimmune reactions. The dysfunctional endothelium is stiffer and prone to adhesions resulting in inflammation, oxidative stress and autoimmune reactions. This will eventually lead to a narrowing of the blood vessel wall lumen and promote plaque formation–much like a clogged pipe.
You have probably heard of the terms ‘oxidative stress’ and ‘free radicals’ as they pertain to health. Oxidative stress is well documented as a leading risk factor for hypertension. Oxidative stress results when free radicals damage components of a cell including proteins, fats and DNA. This can result in inflammation and premature aging of your blood vessels walls and other tissues contributing to hypertension. Hypertensive patients have impaired endogenous and exogenous antioxidant defenses. Antioxidant deficiency and excessive free radical production have been implicated in human hypertension in numerous studies.
Tiny components of cells known as mitochondria are where oxidative damage takes place. Coenzyme Q10 (CO-Q10) is a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger. It is capable of lowering vascular resistance and blood pressure, thus protecting the myocardium and blood vessels from injury. Other antioxidants capable of decreasing oxidative injury to blood vessels and other tissues include alpha lipoic acid, L-Carnitine, N Acetyl Cysteine, D- ribose and Vitamin C which are available as supplements.
Increased dietary intake of potassium and magnesium and a reduction in sodium has been shown to reduce blood pressure. The average person in the USA consumes around 5000mg of sodium per day with some areas as high as 15,000-20,000mg per day. A normal and healthy intake is around 1500mg per day. High sodium consumption increases ratios of sodium to potassium and sodium to magnesium. This results in stiffer and more rigid blood vessels and higher blood pressure.
Several studies demonstrate that omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, primarily EPA and DHA, can also significantly lower blood pressure. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in cold water fish including salmon, cod, sardines and anchovies. These studies found that taking 3 or more grams of fish oil daily may reduce blood pressure. The beneficial role of omega-3’s in most all cardiovascular disease is well established. This is primarily due to their natural ability to reduce the molecules that cause inflammation.
One of the emerging topics for nutritional treatment of high blood pressure is the use of L-arginine. L-arginine is an amino acid that does not require a prescription. It is the primary precursor for the production of a molecule called nitric oxide (NO). NO has numerous cardiovascular effects to improve endothelial function including reducing vascular tone (dilates blood vessels) and thus lowering blood pressure. There are studies that indicate consumption of 10grams of L-arginine daily can significantly decrease blood pressure. Although this dose of L-arginine appears to be safe, no long term studies have been done to date.
Other nutritional supplements important for maintaining healthy blood pressure including Vitamin D, Taurine, aged garlic, hawthorne berry, vitamin E, resveratrol, curcumin, green tea extract, probiotics and Vitamin K2 MK7. Keep in mind that the same destructive processes of inflammation, oxidative stress and autoimmune activation that cause premature aging in all other body tissues, are the same that cause premature aging and damage to your blood vessels. Ask your health care provider before stopping or changing any medications you are currently taking. Remember to be proactive and informed about your health.
Dr. John Dixon can be reached at the Natural Medicine Group 760.776.0022
Resources: 1) Houston,Mark; Therapeutic Advances in Cardiovascular Disease, 2010 2) University of Maryland Medical center website. 3) Hypertension Institute website, Nashville TN. 4) Loscalzo, Joseph; (circulation) circ. journals.org