This months article is guest written by Dr. Iris Crawford and covers alternatives to Anti-Hypertensive (Blood Pressure Lowering) Drugs.
I have been witnessing a mis-management of patients on dangerous combinations of medications without being monitored. For example, anti-hypertensive (blood pressure lowering) drugs interact, not only with each other (ie; the potassium-lowering effects of some diuretics, beta-blockers, and ACE-inhibitors), but also with over-the-counter medications such as NSAIDS (aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen) and antacids. Probably the most mis-managed anti-hypertensives of all are beta-blockers. Time and again I have seen patients on this medication with disturbingly low heart rates. This causes dramatic side-effects, poor quality of life and is just dangerous. I actually have seen a patient who passed out due to a dangerously low heart rate from a beta-blocker. This event caused a serious physical injury. Beta-blockers also have the added danger of risk of death when stopped abruptly, and many doctors do not educate their patients well enough in regard to this.
The good news is; high blood pressure, even stubborn cases, is easily treated with lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and stress reducing techniques, as well as natural medications that are safe and without dangerous side-effects. This may seem like a ho-hum topic to many patients since this information is widely available in alternative health magazines, books, and blogs. However, I recently discovered a new way to address poorly responding hypertension that is not related to stress. First, for those looking for the basic solutions in natural medicine I will summarize these here. I must warn you that my discovery may be so simple it is disappointing.
The first and most basic lifestyle factor I address is exercise. Even walking improves hypertension significantly. This should be done for 30 minutes 3-4 times per week for a minimal reduction in blood pressure over time or 30-60 minutes of walking everyday for a whole health benefit and a greater reduction of blood pressure. As far as dietary salt goes, I first recommend switching to natural sea salt which has trace elements that modify the action of sodium chloride. The absolute amount ingested may or may not need to be reduced. In addition to the above I do have patients decrease or eliminate caffeine if they use it.
Stress is, as we know, directly related to hypertension due to its effects on causing blood vessel constriction. Meditation and/or diaphragmatic breathing have been shown to lower blood pressure by as much as 10-15 points by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. There is even a machine that patients can buy that teaches them how to do diaphragmatic breathing called the RESPeRATE. A supplement plan to adapt the patient to stress, tonify the adrenals and the nervous system also can be implemented since sometimes we cannot change our circumstance but we can change the way we respond to them.
A healthy diet plan is crucial to any patient with heart disease. This (along with Diabetes) is the most widely researched area of diet related disease. A diet that is plant-based is the best for blood pressure and other heart health goals including healthy cholesterol levels. Less animal foods (including dairy) than the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.), with the exception of fish, and more fiber rich foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and moderate amounts of whole grains. Healthy oils and less saturated fat is another important component of a heart-healthy diet. Okay, we know all of this, let’s get to the good stuff!
Besides diet and lifestyle, natural medical approaches include the use of high quality supplements. First, I lay a foundation customized to the patient depending on his or her symptoms or complaints and other findings. This includes EPA from fish oil, I recommend at least 600 mg of EPA per day from a high quality fish oil (not Lovaza), multi-vitamin in capsule form, extra vitamin D, and possibly probiotics.
Many botanicals and nutrients have superb anti-hypertensive qualities. I would like to name a few in relation to pharmaceutical categories: natural beta-blocker; Passionflower, diuretics; Dandelion leaf and Parsley, calcium channel blocker; Magnesium, and ACE-inhibitors: amino acid therapy (ie; arginine, taurine, carnitine, etc.). Another powerful anti-hypertensive that acts on the central nervous system and can be used in more severe or unresponsive cases is low doses of Rauwolfia serpentina. Many doctors have been using this lately with any hypertensive patient however, I would be cautious since it is sedating and can exacerbate depression.
As a Naturopathic physician I am compelled to persist in finding the cause so when a patient was not responding appropriately to all of these supplements and led an impressively healthy lifestyle I was left scratching my head. I am not a doctor who likes prescribing a slew of pills, natural or no. I had my patient on the highest doses of Magnesium, CoQ10, Hawthorn, as well as a tincture of some of the above mentioned herbs including Rauwolfia! I also prescribed large doses of carnitine, taurine, and d-ribose. BP was still at about 130-140/80 off of the 3 prescription drugs (down from the 150’s on 3 prescription drugs). This was all in addition to a daily practice of deep meditation, I mean this patient was doing everything, it just didn’t make sense to me according to my training.
It was then that I focused on the amino acid therapy. Now, many people want to hear what the magic cure or silver bullet is but this is not how natural medicine works. It is usually a combination of things that cures a patient and is different with every individual. So I thought about the fact that if amino acid therapy works so well, having blood vessel relaxing effects, I wondered if my patient was not digesting protein well. This is where I got excited because when I prescribed a protein powder and protease enzymes, I saw the final reduction in BP I was looking for. This was such a great reminder to go back to basics and enhance processes that are so crucial to health. So whenever an MD or other healthcare practitioner colleague asks, “why do Naturopathic doctors focus so much on digestion?” we have an idea of how health begins with digestive vitality and can always be traced back to a lack of it!
Please talk to your doctor before making any changes to your current medication program. Please remember that sudden changes in blood pressure medication dosage can be very dangerous or even fatal.