Hypertension or high blood pressure is a very common disorder in Western society. It is virtually unknown in less developed cultures, indicating that it is very much linked to the way we live. Hypertension is closely linked to metabolic syndrome – where fat is deposited around the trunk area and there is blood sugar instability caused by diet and insulin resistance.
There is much that can be done with herbs and lifestyle adjustments. A diet high in anti-oxidants, low in sodium and sugar, will do a great deal to reverse the damage. It is of course very important that if you are already on medication for hypertension you do not alter the dose or stop taking it without proper consultation and monitoring. With good liaison and a slow and gradual approach it is may be possible to reduce the dosage and in time even come off allopathic medication altogether.
As we age, we tend to become more rigid in our bodies. Muscular tension in the walls of the arterioles reduces the available capacity in the cardio-vascular system, leading to raised blood pressure. Herbal antispasmodics can help through relaxing the muscles and opening the peripheral circulation. Dioscorea villosa (Wild yam), Viburnum opulus (Cramp bark) and Tilia x europea (Linden flower) are particularly effective.
Interestingly since the state of the body tends to influence the state of the mind (and vice versa), as the body becomes more relaxed people often feel able to let go of rigidly held attitudes and routines, and to try something new.
Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) is traditionally used as a cardiovascular tonic and is virtually a specific for hypertension. It has the amazing ability of enabling the heart to beat more strongly and steadily in the presence of less oxygen, making it useful as a support where the coronary arteries are compromised in some way. There is a wealth of scientific information to support this. For example a study in Japan looked at the effect of hawthorn on eighty patients suffering from mild congestive heart disease due to ischaemia or hypertension. Those receiving 180 mg/day of 5:1 hawthorn extract showed a significant improvement. (Iwamoto M, Ishizaki Tand Sato T: Planta Med 1981; 42(1) 1-16).
Flowers and leaves can be used, as well as the berries and each year I gather kilos of each to use here at the clinic.
Sometimes it can be helpful to reduce the amount of fluid in the body using diuretics. If the total volume of fluid circulating is reduced the blood pressure will lower. Taraxacum officinale (Dandelion leaves) have the useful property of producing gentle diuresis whilst supplying high levels of potassium. As well as guarding against potassium loss through diuresis (a potential problem with diuretics) high levels of potassium can be useful for the treatment of elevated systolic pressure in the elderly.
We all know that stress and anxiety play a great part in maintaining raised blood pressure so it is important to try and incorporate relaxation into one's daily routine. Meditation, yoga and exercise can work wonders. Herbs such as Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap) and Valeriana officianalis (Valerian) can be very effective, especially when combined with the antispasmodics mentioned earlier.
Peripheral vasodilators are used herbally as well as allopathically. One of my particular favourites is Achillea millefolium (Yarrow). As well as encouraging the peripheral circulation, Yarrow helps to support the integrity of the blood vessels, helping to guard against stroke and stasis of the blood in the lower limbs.
Losing weight will often reduce blood pressure more effectively than any other treatment, so if you are carrying excess weight it will be a good time to start to tackle this. Although weight loss can be daunting, we are able to provide support, advice and encouragement throughout the process. Some herbs are reputed to help with aspects of weight loss but really there is no magic pill. However there is nothing more motivating than feeling better and more full of energy to enjoy life.
Please remember that with all herbal treatments it is very important not to self medicate if you are already taking allopathic drugs. You need to consult a properly qualified herbal practitioner who can take into account the potential for interactions between the herbs and the allopathic treatment.