Any tube with a fluid in it will exert a pressure. Like the garden hose, the amount of water being pushed through it and the flexibility of the tube will affect the pressure in the same way as a thumb held over the end. The more of the opening that is obscured the faster the water spurts out of the end. This is an indication of increased pressure. The arteries in the body act on exactly the same principles.

The heart pumps blood out into the aorta, exerting a pressure known as the systolic blood pressure. The aorta and other major arteries expand because more blood is pushed into them and the contractile muscles around the artery constrict for the same reason as a stretched rubber band will contract. The pressure exerted by these constricting arteries is known as the diastolic pressure. For example, 120/80 represents a pressure of 120mmHg due to the systolic push of the heart and a pressure of 80mmHg due to the diastolic constriction of the arteries.

High blood pressure may be variable. ‘White coat’ blood pressure is well established and describes the rise in blood pressure that occurs when an individual is subjected to a visit to the doctor’s surgery. Persistently high blood pressure on repeated visits needs treating but any fluctuation can be checked by a 24 hour ambulatory blood pressure monitor, which may show that the blood pressure only rises in situations of stress. This is extremely relevant to ensure that unnecessary treatment is not undertaken.

High blood pressure occurs for several reasons:

The development of atheroma in ageing arteries, those who smoke or who have high cholesterol levels leads to inflexibility in the arteries, which decreases the arteries’ ability to expand and also narrows the lumen. Liken this to placing half of your thumb over the end of a hose pipe and see how much further the water will squirt.

Increased weight requires the heart to beat with more strength to get the blood around the increased amount of tissue. The fat also constricts major arteries and causes the muscles to have to work harder, which requires more oxygen, again encouraging the heart to beat harder to pump more blood through. Carrying too much weight also increases the amount of insulin produced, which in turn increases sodium which is known to increase blood pressure.

A lack of exercise or sedentary lifestyle will cause a blood pressure rise. Exercise reduces adrenaline, oxygenates the body and works in several other biochemical ways to reduce blood pressure.

Adrenaline, thyroid hormones and the body’s natural steroids all control blood pressure and both dietary and stress factors that increase these will raise the blood pressure.

Dietetic factors such as salt, alcohol and caffeine all raise the blood pressure and a reduction or cessation of the use of these can bring the blood pressure down to normal limits.

Toxins or poisons such as cadmium and lead are known to raise the blood pressure, probably by a direct action on the centre in the brain that monitors and tries to control blood pressure, by increasing or decreasing the heart rate and opening or closing blood vessels around the body. Food allergies have been researched and shown to cause hypertension.

Recognizing high blood pressure

High blood pressure may cause symptoms ranging from headaches, dizzy spells, nose bleeds, throbbing1 in the ears or tinnitus, or it may be asymptomatic (no symptoms at all). Many people who do not check their blood pressure regularly may exist with high blood pressure and have no problems at all and have no increased risk of heart failure, heart attacks or strokes. A high blood pressure may indicate that the heart is working too hard, therefore heart failure or a heart attack may ensue; a raised pressure may fracture small or damaged arteries to cause bleeds, which, if occurring in the brain, will result in a stroke but other factors need to be present also.

It is important to put high blood pressure risks into perspective. You will read that high blood pressure increases the risk of a cardiovascular accident by anywhere from two to six times. This sounds like a great risk. However, if the chances of a heart attack or a stroke at a young age are 1 in 1,000 and high blood pressure may increase that to 6 in 1,000, then the odds are still low. In my opinion, and this will be hotly argued by most doctors and pharmaceutical companies, high blood pressure, whilst potentially dangerous, should not be made into the evil that it currently is. Basic naturopathic treatments can and usually do make a profound difference and drug medicine should be used only as a last resort. Long-term studies have shown that individuals with hypertension who control the pressure but do not take orthodox blood pressure lowering medicine do much better than those who take prescription drugs. I am sure this is because blood pressure is, like most signs or symptoms in the body, a warning about some aspect of lifestyle. Even those who have a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure may be found to have a specific trigger that needs to be eliminated. Simply dealing with the high numbers is not dealing with a cure. The intricate control that the body shows in controlling blood pressure through centres in the brain, the delicate balance of sodium and other electrolytes in the kidney, the strength of the heart and the nervous control of the vessels suggests that the body may know what it is doing when adjusting blood pressure. It may be that an individual needs to have a raised blood pressure for specific functions and it is only the persistently very high or sudden hypertensive (a condition known as malignant hypertension) that need to be treated.

Secondary hypertension ‘Secondary’ hypertension is found in approximately six per cent of all high blood pressure cases and is due to some underlying disease process such as a tumour, which produces adrenaline or thyroxine, or kidney tumours, which affect specific chemicals from the kidney that act to control blood pressure. Certain metabolic conditions, pregnancy and drugs such as the oral contraceptive may raise the blood pressure. Theoretically, but I think somewhat outside the definition of secondary hypertension, one might consider alcohol and tobacco to be a cause of secondary hypertension because these compounds do cause the problem. The volume of blood within the arteries will also be relevant to the blood pressure reading. The higher the salt content, the more water will be present through the process of osmosis.

Primary hypertension

Most high blood pressure has no orthodox disease causing it. It is called primary or essential hypertension and is generally treated immediately by Gps with an orthodox drug. Such drugs are diuretics (which remove water from the blood stream and thereby, like turning down the tap on the hose pipe, lower the blood pressure but they do nothing to answer the question why the blood pressure was raised in the first place), beta-blockers (which slow the heart rate or prevent arterial contraction), calcium channel blockers (which stop arterial muscle contracting) or anti-angiotensins (drugs that block controlling hormones that come from the kidney). High blood pressure does run in families but as I mentioned above there is probably some form of environmental or lifestyle trigger. It is important to note that geographical studies show that high blood pressure is far more prevalent in Western societies than in others. A prime example is the Negro race who have far higher blood pressure than Caucasians when living in the USA but in Africa high blood pressure is negligible. Studies have shown conclusively that the Western diet, high in refined sugars, caffeine and alcohol, is directly responsible.

Lose any excess weight through a slow, steady dietetic plan.

Remove salt completely from the diet.

Stop smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine until the blood pressure is normal and then reintroduce slowly, keeping a close eye on the pressure rise.

Increase exercise. Yoga has been shown to help control hypertension and is a must, regardless of any other aerobic exercise taken.

Investigate the possibility of cadmium or lead poisoning through specific blood or hair analysis.

Check for food allergies using a bioresonance technique or accurate blood test.

Stress reduction through biofeedback, hypnosis and counselling will all help to.lower blood pressure.

Calcium and magnesium taken in divided doses throughout the day as follows may help: calcium (200mg per foot of height) and magnesium (150mg per foot of height). These should be taken in the form of citrates or aspartame.

The integrity of the arterial vessels may determine the danger of hypertension and the recommendations in the section on arteriosclerosis should be reviewed .

If blood pressure is proving resistant, consider herbal treatment in the hands of a specialist. Crategus and Viscum album should be discussed.

Antihypertensive drug treatment should be considered only when the above measures have failed, and only if blood pressure is shown through 24hr monitoring to be persistently high, especially if the individual has a family history of stroke or cardiovascular disease, smokes, remains overweight or is taking the oral contraceptive pill.