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The Best Way to Reduce Blood Pressure

The Statistics



In the United States, one out of every three adults (that’s nearly     70 million people) has high blood pressure, also known as “hypertension.”



It’s estimated that over 1,000 people die each day from complications related to having high blood pressure.

          Of all the people in the United States who have high blood pressure, only about half have it under control.  Half of those who don't have it under control are taking medications, but they aren't working.  The other half of those who don't have it under control aren't aware of the fact that they have high blood pressure.

         Among those who have their blood pressure under control with the use of medication, many suffer from unpleasant side effects such as nausea, headaches, dizziness, impotence, and fatigue, as a result of the medication.

How Do You Reduce Blood Pressure?

          High blood pressure constitutes a serious and potentially life-threatening epidemic.  Isn’t there anything that can be done to effectively lower blood pressure – without debilitating side effects?

          Actually, yes.  There are many things that have been shown to effectively lower blood pressure.  The list is long and covers a lot of territory.  The following are some of the things on that list:

  • Lose weight
  • Do lots of aerobic exercise and regular strengthening exercises
  • Do yoga and Qigong
  • Eat more celery (4 stalks a day), garlic, pomegranate juice, bananas, beets
  • Eat less fat, sodium, and sugar (including sugar substitutes)
  • Drink less alcoholic and caffeinated beverages
  • Increase overall dietary fiber
  • Stop smoking
  • Do carefully supervised fasting
  • Try herbs like Valerian
  • Take supplements like magnesium, CoQ-10, calcium, grape seed extract, olive leaf extract, Vitamin C, fish oil, arginine
  • Learn slow breathing
  • Check for sleep apnea
  • Do biofeedback or neurofeedback training
  • Try acupuncture
  • Reduce stress levels
  • Listen to slow, relaxing music
  • Laugh more!
  • Get more support (loneliness raises blood pressure)
  • Reduce depression and anger

          Research shows that if people did just a few of these things – such as losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier food, reducing salt intake – each year we might save over 100 billion dollars in health care costs nationally, and have over 300,000 fewer deaths.

If We Know What Works, Why Don’t We Do It?

          For several reasons.

The majority of doctors interviewed say that they've given up recommending lifestyle changes because they've learned from experience that people won't make those kind of changes.

And even our doctors do tell us, the fact is we do find it difficult making lifestyle changes, and may be more inclined to pop a pill.

But even if we’d like to do something other than take medication, the list of possibilities can be overwhelming and very off-putting.

What makes it even more confusing is that there’s more to it than just implementing the right habits.  People have high blood pressure for many different reasons, and so it’s up to each person to find the remedy or remedies that are right for them.

Salt and High Blood Pressure

          As an example, most people have heard that reducing salt is a good way to lower blood pressure. A 2010 report in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that if Americans ate just one half a teaspoon less of salt each day, each year there would be: 

  • 32,000 fewer strokes
  • 60,000 fewer new cases of coronary heart disease
  • 54,000 to 99,000 fewer heart attacks
  • 44,000 to 92,000 fewer deaths

        Dr. Mimi Guarneri, a medical doctor who practices integrative medicine, tells about a patient who came to her with high blood pressure after seeing six other physicians, each of whom prescribed a different medication.  By the time he came to her he was taking multiple medications with no reduction in his blood pressure.  As was her habit, she sat him down and asked him to describe his day to her – what he ate, what he did, how he felt, etc.  At one point, he mentioned that he was in the habit of drinking bottled water with added electrolytes – about eight bottles a day.  Dr. Guarneri stopped him right there, advising that he immediately stop drinking the electrolyte-enriched water (which has added sodium) and come back to see her in two weeks.  When he returned two weeks later, his blood pressure was normal.

          We know salt can have a powerful effect on blood pressure.  But there’s a catch – the benefit of reducing salt intake applies only to people who are “salt-sensitive.”  And many people are not “salt sensitive.” They can eat salt without raising their blood pressure - in fact, if they were to reduce their salt intake by too much, it could actually lead to other kinds of health problems.

Stress and High Blood Pressure

          Another source of confusion has to do with the relationship between stress and high blood pressure.  Researchers have been arguing about that relationship for years and there is still no consensus.

          Dr. Samuel Mann, a physician at the Hypertension Center in New York has an interesting theory. He believes that only about 25% of high blood pressure is caused by stress. And those 25% who do have stress-induced hypertension probably aren’t the ones you’d think.  They’re not people who are visibly anxious or angry.  They’re people who repress their emotions – who have what Dr. Mann calls “hidden emotions”.  That would include people who’ve just been through a stressful event like losing a job, a serious injury, or automobile accident, and when asked how they feel say, “I’m fine, no problem, you just have to move on.”

                                          A Case of Hidden Emotions

     K.C. was a married, 35 year-old father of two who suffered from severe headaches and blood pressure that was so high it was considered to be life-threatening.  His health insurance company had paid out more than $2,000,000 in treatment over a period of three years. He had been examined at three major medical centers more than 20 times, and had numerous tests performed to determine the cause of his problems, but all of the tests had come out negative. And throughout his three years of treatment, K.C. insisted he had never experienced any significant distress or trauma with regard to home, work, or social relationships.

     Before the onset of his symptoms, K.C. had been an excellent student, a leader in college, and a very successful salesman who was on the fast track to a top executive position with a major national corporation. But as a result of his symptoms, he had become, in his own words, an “invalid,” barely able to perform simple housekeeping and child-care activities.

     The turning point for him was a series of biofeedback sessions with a psychologist specializing in psychosomatic conditions.  With K.C. hooked up to various biofeedback devices, the psychologist looked for spikes in the readings that would indicate stress. The highest spikes occurred when K.C. talked about his relationship with his wife.  During the course of the biofeedback treatment, he came to realize that he had been harboring a great deal of intense anger toward his wife that he was completely unaware of.  With that recognition, his blood pressure dropped down to normal – without the use of any medications or other treatment apart from the biofeedback – and his headaches stopped altogether.

Remembering to Breathe

          By now, you may be wondering what all this has to do with the theme of this site – remembering to breathe.

          Well, what is it that can help you sort through the long lists of possible remedies and help you figure out which one(s) are right for you?  How can you know whether your high blood pressure is being caused not by physical things but by “hidden emotions” when, by definition, they’re hidden from you? 

          Ultimately, it involves developing your mid-prefrontal cortex, your MPFC – the part of your brain that’s responsible for, among other things, your level of self-awareness and your capacity for self-regulation. 

          With regard to hidden emotions, when your MPFC is well-developed, you’ll have enough self-awareness to recognize how your emotions are affecting you (hopefully without needing to spend two million dollars.)

          It’s a little trickier when it comes to finding the right physical remedies (diet, exercise, etc.) because many people don’t experience any symptoms related to their high blood pressure.  However, with a well-developed MPFC, you’ll have the discipline and the clarity it takes to try different things and keep track of which ones make a difference.

          So by “remembering to breathe” – that is, by using the techniques on this site to help you activate your MPFC and give you access to the core experience of calm, clarity, ease, and contentment - and by getting the support you need to do integrate these practices into your life, it will be so much easier to make the lifestyle changes that will help you reduce your blood pressure.

          And by the way, using the heart-centering techniques to develop your heart intelligence, or simply evoking the qualities of the core, are both effective ways of lowering blood pressure.

Don’s Experience with High Blood Pressure

           It was in 2004, during a routine visit to my doctor, that I discovered I had a dangerously high blood pressure of 160/100.  In the first three months after discovering it, I lost 25 pounds, developed a regular exercise routine designed to reduce blood pressure, and did many other things as well. Between 2004 and 2007, I tried five different kinds of medication, four stalks of celery a day, at least three different breathing exercises, two different yoga routines, calcium, potassium, and magnesium supplements, and lots more.

          Nothing worked. 

          By the spring of 2007, I was feeling fluish at least four or five days out of the month, and felt on the verge of the flu for the entire two months of April and May.  By early June, I suspected that the medication had something to do with it, and just stopped cold. (WARNING! Don’t do this if you’re taking medication.)

          Fortunately (very fortunately), nothing bad happened.  In fact, my blood pressure dropped within a day, to an average of about 138 over 87, and stayed in that range for the next year.  One year later, thinking I needed to get it still lower (normal is 115/75 to 120/80), I started on medication again. Within two months, I was in the emergency room with a blood pressure reading of 190/120, and eight months later, ended up again in the emergency room, with a reading of 230/130.

          Four years later, I’m on a very small dose of medication, and my blood pressure averages about 125/80.  We'll be adding a page in the near future where I'll describe how I did it (and what I’m doing to get it still lower and – possibly – to get off medication altogether).  (Hint: you already know it has something to do with remembering to breathe!)