The most commonly diagnosed medical condition in the United States is high blood pressure, or hypertension, and blood pressure medications are among the top 10 most commonly prescribed drugs. However, these medications can cause undesirable side effects. It’s better to address the underlying causes of high blood pressure—research shows diet and lifestyle changes are just as effective or even better than medications in lowering high blood pressure.
Why should you be concerned about high blood pressure? High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, diabetes and peripheral vascular disease. Thirty percent of the population has high blood pressure, and another 30 percent has pre-hypertension, or somewhat elevated high blood pressure. Men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure before the age of 45, but after 65 the ratio reverses. African Americans and Mexican-Americans are at an increased risk.
Instead of treating symptoms, address the actual causes of high blood pressure for lasting better health. Studies have shown that lifestyle changes alone can reduce risk of heart disease by a dramatic 90 percent. Lifestyle interventions influence the fundamental biological mechanisms leading to all chronic disease. For instance, regular exercise is one of the best ways known to control high blood pressure. Other important factors include a whole foods diet rich in plant fiber and low in sugar and sodium, maintaining a healthy weight (a BMI less than 25 is ideal), not smoking, and managing stress, such as through yoga, meditation, walking, and laughter.
In functional medicine, we look for why the person has high blood pressure rather than simply at what can be done to lower it; it’s a person-centered approach, versus a disease-centered one. Factors to consider include genetic predispositions, nutritional deficiencies, environmental triggers, and lifestyle habits, such as:
By addressing these and other factors, a functional medicine approach addresses the root cause of high blood pressure. Research has shown that up to 62 percent of high blood pressure patients were able to go off their anti-hypertension medications and maintain normal blood pressure by making diet and lifestyle changes. Eating a whole foods, vegetable-based diet and avoiding processed foods will help keep you sufficient and balanced in the right minerals to support healthy blood pressure.
Ask my office for more information on how you can address the root cause of your high blood pressure.
Did you know that approximately two-thirds of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related complaints? Stress is the body’s reaction to any situation that is demanding or dangerous. When we experience stress, the body responds by making adrenal hormones (such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol) that help your body cope. Commonly called the “fight or flight” response, this is where your blood pressure increases, your hands sweat, and your heart rate and breathing quicken. You’ve probably felt it during that big job interview, before a first date, during an argument, or being stuck in traffic when you’re running late.
Our bodies normalize quickly after responding to short-term stressors. But problems arise with chronic stress, such as financial worries, major life changes, job stress, or an ongoing illness. Other chronic stressors are not lifestyle related but instead metabolic: gut infections, leaky gut, food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances (low blood sugar, insulin resistance, or diabetes), anemia, autoimmune disease, inflammation, and environmental toxins are examples.
It’s no wonder adrenal stress is one of most common problems encountered by functional medical practitioners.
In chronic stress, the adrenal glands continually produce the hormone cortisol. Known as the “aging hormone” (ever notice how you look older when you are stressed a lot?), chronic high cortisol is linked to:
How do you know if you have adrenal stress? You may experience ongoing fatigue, energy crashes, difficulty recovering from long days or stressful events, headaches, difficulty falling and staying asleep, difficulty waking up, mood swings, sugar and caffeine cravings (do you need to refresh from the afternoon blahs?), irritability, lightheadedness between meals, eating to relieve fatigue, dizziness upon standing, gastric ulcers, and hypothyroid symptoms.
Everyone is familiar with classic stress-relief methods such as meditation, exercise, enjoying hobbies, and socializing, but there is much more you can do to support the body’s stress response.
One of the most reliable ways to buffer the damages of stress is to take adrenal adaptogens. These are a unique class of healing plants that support healthy adrenal function and help regulate the body’s stress response. Adrenal adaptogens include panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng (eleuthero), astragalus, rhodiola, ashwagandha, licorice root, holy basil (tulsi) and schizandra.
In addition to soothing inflammation and increasing energy and brain function, these herbs can also help the body and brain cope with stress. Although they come from the plant world, adrenal adaptogens are potent medicines that should be taken under the supervision of a trained practitioner.
There are other tools to add to your stress-reduction program. For example, phosphatidylserine can help normalize cortisol levels and protect the brain from the damages of stress.
Of course, one should always consider lifestyle habits when addressing stress. Below are lifestyle suggestions to help support healthy adrenal function and stress response:
Though we may live in a world of unrelenting stress, it is possible to successfully manage the body’s response through a combination of healthy lifestyle habits and herbal adrenal support.
For more information on how to identify and manage adrenal stress, contact our office.