Life Extension Magazine August 2003
The New Guidelines For Hypertension
By Dr. Edward R. Rosick
It has become very interesting to watch mainstream medicine's reaction to the burgeoning interest in anti-aging medicine over the past decade. The American Medical Association (AMA) continues to bury its collective head in the sand when it comes to new and exciting research in the anti-aging field. It's only when mainstream medicine is faced with a mountain of overwhelming evidence (as in the case of folic acid protecting against birth defects) does it finally concede that perhaps there is some merit in what the anti-aging and holistic medicine proponents are saying.
Since we are fortunate to live in a free country, organizations like the AMA can believe and say what they want. The trouble is that when a respected mainstream medical organization pronounces something worthless, the majority of physicians and therefore their patients, often tend to believe these status-quo pronouncements. And when the pronouncement is about something vitally important, words can literally cost people their health or even their lives.
Hypertension-the silent killer of millions
For decades, the U.S. government has been putting out health guidelines that have been by and large advocated by mainstream medicine. One of these guidelines concerns the 'optimal' level of blood pressure. High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects over 50 million people in the United States and contributes to the death of almost a quarter million people a year.1
Hypertension, often called 'the silent killer', since its devastating health effects take place insidiously over a period of decades, affects both men and women. It is estimated that two million new cases of hypertension will be diagnosed each year in the United States. While hypertension can strike any person at any time of their life, it's more commonly seen in older individuals-over 70% of American women and 50% of men over the age of 70 have hypertension. Other risk factors for developing hypertension include high cholesterol levels, smoking, obesity and diabetes.1
How high is too high?
The pressure that a doctor takes when they place a sphygmomanometer around your arm is a result of the force of blood against blood vessels in the body. Doctors record blood pressure as two pressures-the systolic pressure (the force of blood in blood vessels as the heart contracts) and the diastolic pressure (the force of blood in blood vessels as the heart relaxes between beats). For many years, mainstream medicine guidelines defined normal blood pressure as systolic pressure of 130 or below and diastolic pressure of 85 or below. High normal was defined as pressures of 131 to 139 systolic and 86 to 89 diastolic. Hypertension was defined as blood pressure at or above 140 systolic over 90 diastolic.
The 'new' guidelines for hypertension
The problem with the above guidelines for blood pressure is that what was considered high 'normal' (i.e., 139/89) and even normal (130/85) is too high for optimal health. For years, Life Extension magazine has been informing its readers that failure to keep their blood pressures below 120/85 could result in serious health problems such as strokes and heart disease.2,3 Yet year after year, the government and the AMA kept reassuring the public that their blood pressure was within normal limits, and therefore, within a 'healthy' range, even if it was well above 120/85.
Fortunately, albeit at far too late a date, new government guidelines have recently been published which state that blood pressure should be considered normal only if it is at or below 119/79.4 Those with blood pressures of 120/80 up to 140/90 are now considered 'prehypertensive' and are encouraged to take immediate measures to decrease their blood pressure, such as daily exercise, decreasing salt in their diet and consuming no more than two alcoholic drinks a day.
What causes high blood pressure?
Before natural strategies for controlling hypertension are discussed, it's worthwhile taking a few minutes to discuss hypertension in more detail. Hypertension is generally referred to as one of two types: essential or primary. It's still not known what causes essential hypertension, the type that accounts for 90% to 95% of high blood pressure, but current lines of research indicate that significant factors include a complex interaction between genetic, environmental and other variables. Secondary hypertension, a much less common type of hypertension, is high blood pressure caused by known medical conditions, such as kidney disease, pregnancy or sleep apnea.
Hypertension can damage your brain, heart, kidneys and more
At first glance, it may seem like having blood pressure that's elevated 10 or 15 points above normal should not be that big of a deal. When blood pressure is only elevated for a few months, as in pregnancy-induced hypertension, then it really isn't of much concern. The problem arises when blood pressure is elevated over a period of years and decades. During that time, hypertension can cause significant damage to blood vessels that supply life-nourishing oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body. The brain, heart, kidneys, along with all other major body parts can all suffer irreparable harm from long-term elevation in blood pressure.
It's important to remember that even an elevation in one of the pressures (systolic or diastolic) can have disastrous long-term health consequences. Isolated high systolic pressure, which is the most common form of high blood pressure in older adults, is thought by many to be a significant indicator of heart attacks and strokes in people middle-aged and older. Isolated high diastolic pressure is a strong risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, especially in younger adults.
Treating high blood pressure only with prescription medications can be expensive and may cause potentially dangerous side effects. With over 50 million Americans having high blood pressure (and with the new guideline, that number is sure to rise), pharmaceutical corporations have introduced a large number of medications to combat this deadly health condition and in fact, studies have shown that a significant portion of prescribed medications in the U.S. are anti-hypertensives. With drug costs rising at an annual rate of at least 12% a year since 1993, patients, especially the elderly, can end up spending thousands of dollars a year on prescription medications to control their blood pressure. While the majority of prescription drugs (including diuretics, calcium channel blockers and ACE inhibitors) that are used to control hypertension work well, they can have troublesome to potentially deadly side effects, including hyperglycemia (high blood glucose), tinnitus (constant ringing or buzzing in the ears), kidney damage and heart failure.
Hypertension can be controlled naturally
For people with hypertension who are hesitant to use expensive prescription medications with potentially significant side effects, there are recognized non-drug strategies that may significantly help in controlling high blood pressure. Just by incorporating lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes, smoking cessation and weight loss, blood pressure can be brought down and controlled in a significant number of people.
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