I recall reading some time back an article on blood pressure guidelines from the United States. Drug company lobbying ultimately set the limits whereby someone would be defined as having high blood pressure requiring treatment with their products.
The limits were lowered (I don’t have the exact data handy sorry) but in summary, the results of the lowering, increased the market for blood pressure medications; in the USA, this tripled from 12 million to 36 million consumers.
Drug companies figured out that simply changing the levels by which someone is defined as having high blood pressure, is cheaper than actually innovating and developing a new drug. By lobbying the authorities as to what level defines high blood pressure, and therefore requiring doctors to prescribe drugs (or face accusations of negligence), they can multiply their profits without lifting a finger.
Normal blood pressure is defined as 120/80. High blood pressure or ‘hypertension’ is defined as over 140/90. Most hypertension is called ‘essential’ hypertension which is to say that doctors have no idea what causes it. A small percentage is called secondary hypertension, and this can be caused by an underlying condition, such as kidney failure.
The idea that blood pressure in most cases, ‘just happens’ and precious little is done to find out why is an indictment on medicine. The drug companies who have research budgets don’t care, they only care about selling a drug to lower it. It would be a blow to their bottom line if there was something fairly simple we could do to prevent it, and so there is nowhere near enough research in that direction. The business model is you go to your doctor, they take your blood pressure in the 15 minutes you have with them, and that is just long enough to prescribe a drug.
There are known factors that cause hypertension, such as salt, obesity, lack of exercise etc. I personally am salt sensitive, and it is darn hard to reduce salt in your diet. Food manufacturers are a major part of the problem. As an example, a couple of cheese and marmite sandwiches can blow your recommended salt allowance for a whole day. Salt is in the marmite, cheese and large amounts in bread. To avoid salt you basically have to buy all your food raw, which means avoiding nearly everything that comes in a packet. The truth is that salt sells. It makes things taste better and that’s why it’s added to pretty much everything.
Beyond salt (which is an obvious cause), I suspect that eventually research will confirm (if we didn’t know so already) that our modern environments and diet is basically killing us. There are too many things to list that we know are harmful to our health, some I have written about before, but I would bet there are some really nasty surprises waiting for research to uncover, which could one day prove the link to high blood pressure- or a combination of them.
In the meantime, there are a couple of things you should know. Firstly, blood pressure meds can have major side effects including links to major diseases later on in life. Unfortunately, if you have really high blood pressure you need to be on them, at least until you can find another way to control it. If you don’t, you can damage your organs such as kidneys and heart. You can also have a stroke, and you don’t want to go there.
If you have high blood pressure, get a good doctor. I know you are probably happy using your GP who you have been to for 30 years and ‘he’s a nice guy’ but I can’t overstate the importance of a second opinion. Just when you thought medicine was a science, based on sound scientific principles i.e. two people with the same condition should get the same treatment – exactly, that’s simply not the case. Two GP’s will very likely give you two separate opinions and completely different drugs.
Get a home blood pressure monitor. Advice from the Mayo Clinic is to use one with the soft inflatable cuff, not the hard ones you often find on machines sold in New Zealand. The instructions will almost certainly not tell you how to measure it properly, have your doctor show you exactly how to fit it and take it in with your visit and compare it to their readings. One important point, record it sitting down, feet flat on the floor with your arm out the side resting on a pillow on a desk (for instance) at heart level. That’s how to take it. Blood pressure should be measured several times and an average result taken. When I get measured at the doctor my first result is through the roof, it drops up to 40 points in 3-5 minutes. That’s called ‘white coat hypertension’ i.e. you don’t like being there, you are on edge and your blood pressure reacts accordingly.
Now for the good news, and the inspiration for this article… A major new study was released in December, based on clinical outcomes, and it states that for people over 60, blood pressure should not be treated with drugs unless over 150/90 , up from today’s 140/90. Even kidney patients get a rise to 140/90 up from 130/80. This is very significant. It was an expert panel who assessed all the data and found there was no advantage to treating below these limits. Do your own Internet search for ‘new blood pressure guidelines’ for more information. Don’t stop drugs without talking to your GP in any case, but at least you can ask questions armed with some real knowledge.
On the supplement front, Fish Oil and Co-Q10 are both very useful and both found in our Lester’s Oil. Co-Enzyme Q10 is the star of natural products that lower blood pressure. Lifestyle changes are also essential and I will detail these in a future article.
Daniel King, MSc (hons)