As an acupuncturist and alternative health practitioner, one of the most common questions I would get was, “Do you treat high blood pressure?” When I first started practicing, I was surprised to see that at least half of my patients over 60 were on high blood pressure medication, sometimes on multiple medications.
Little did I know, as a young acupuncturist, that in fact, I would be treating a lot of high blood pressure patients.
Let me preface this article by letting everyone know that high-blood pressure is a serious condition, and that if you are taking medication to control it, do not stop taking it without the approval of your doctor.
Unfortunately, most modern people believe that when you get to a certain age, some health conditions are just inevitable and that the only solution is to take a pill (just like perhaps your parents did).
I have good news about this, and I have bad news.
The good news is that you have been brainwashed to think that high blood pressure is inevitable—that it’s just part of getting old—and that you are powerless to do anything to stop it. The bad news—you have been brainwashed to think that blood pressure is inevitable—that it’s just part of getting old, and that you are powerless.
Little does he know, but a 38 year old man who gets a diagnosis of mild high blood pressure has a choice. Not all doctors tell him he has a choice (the ones who do, by the way, are amazing doctors), but he does.
His choice—to use this diagnosis as a wake-up call and make some simple lifestyle changes, and get back to normal, vibrant health. Or, to do nothing and wait until the high blood pressure becomes severe enough so that he has no choice but to take antihypertensive drugs to control it.
By the way, if he goes that latter way, the drugs will have side effects, and because he is not making any dietary or lifestyle changes, he will continue to get worse. He will require more medication for his high blood pressure and he will most probably develop other issues.
In other words, if he chooses the latter route, he is making a terrible choice.
So, here are some things you can do if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure.
The majority of my patients with high blood pressure are overweight. It certainly would make for an interesting health article if this solution involved complex biochemistry and computer algorithms.
But the fact is, it’s very simple. When this patient loses weight, the high blood pressure goes away. Case closed. Multiple studies (and my clinical experience) prove this.
No follow-up is needed, no pills are needed, and no pharma executives are putting their kids through college because of your high blood pressure problem.
For those of you who like to see these research studies, just Google “weight loss and high blood pressure” and take a look at the many studies that show this connection.
As I’ve discussed before, the primary way to lose weight is not to join a gym or buy a fancy hi-tech bicycle (although these are good things to do, don’t get me wrong).
The primary way to lose weight is to simply change your diet. This means reducing processed foods and eating more whole foods, and not using foods to deal with tough emotions (“emotional eating”).
The book I recommend for those of you who would like to learn a health way to eat is called The Perfect Health Diet by Paul Jaminet and Shou-Ching Jaminet.
For those people who are not overweight and still have high blood pressure issues, usually, stress is to blame. Again, for those of you who like to read research studies, just Google “blood pressure and stress” and you’ll see the studies that show that stress increases blood pressure.
In English, we have even incorporated this idea into our English when we say, “This guy makes my blood pressure go up” or “she makes my blood boil.” We intuitively know that stress, frustration, and anger affect our blood pressure. In summary, we are geniuses.
Clinically, I was able to see the connection between stress and blood pressure again and again because I practice acupuncture, which is very effective in reducing blood pressure.
How? Acupuncture works by balancing the autonomic nervous systems. In other words, when needles are inserted into the body, the body gets out of “fight or flight” mode and into “rest and digest” mode. This is why patients say they never feel more relaxed than when they get acupuncture.
And this is also why patients with high blood pressure noticed that their high blood pressure decreased after getting acupuncture regularly. In some cases, the patient came to me expressly for the purpose of reducing high blood pressure. In other cases, patients who came to me for other reasons (like acid reflux or anxiety), saw that their blood pressure went down after multiple treatments.
The great thing about blood pressure is that it is not subjective, i.e., it is measurable, and if someone’s blood pressure goes down after four weeks of acupuncture sessions, you know have succeeded. You don’t have to verify it with a special app or call your doctor. And with regular acupuncture, which is helping to train the body deal with chronic stress, I found that blood pressure stays down.
Of course, besides acupuncture, there are other ways to reduce your stress. One of the best ways to do this is to find the sources of stress and eliminate them. Get a new job if you hate your boss. Talk to a trusted counselor about how to control your temper if you have a temper problem.
If you’ve gone to the source of the issue and resolved it, your high blood pressure will most probably resolve itself. It can be helpful also to do guided visualizations or meditations which you can easily find on YouTube.
Having a sense of community, friends to talk to, and a spiritual life are also very important in dealing with stress and therefore reducing high blood pressure.
Should I Reduce Salt?
Unfortunately, while most people still are not aware that 90% of high blood pressure cases (my estimate based on my clinical experience) can be eliminated through weight loss and stress reduction, there is still a high blood pressure treatment that everyone knows about and implements, even when they don’t focus at all on weight or stress.
And that’s focusing on salt intake.
This sort of reminds me of people who want to be financially prosperous who, instead of focusing on education and hard work, focus on faithfully buying lottery scratch-off games at their local drugstore.
At the turn of the 20th century, experiments on lab animals showed that very high doses of refined salt cause increases in blood pressure. Since then, the idea that the primary strategy to decrease high blood pressure is to reduce salt intake entered the psyche of people around the world.
I don’t know, maybe someone has a problem with the refined salt industry and wanted them to suffer.
The truth is that we need salt to live, and that eating unrefined salt (which is what your ancestors ate, and which is full of other minerals you need), is actually quite beneficial to your health (remember, those studies were done with refined salt, which is not so good for you).
Dr. John McDougall, MD, calls salt a “scapegoat” and cites studies that show that blood pressure can increase, but only slightly, with elevated salt intake, and other studies that show that reduced salt intake can in fact be bad for your cardiovascular health (see more here: https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2008nl/aug/salt.htm).
Another important thing to realize about salt is that we have things called kidneys which regulate our sodium blood levels, so unless you are ingesting massive amounts of salt, you don’t need to worry about salt intake.
The take-home about salt: eat unrefined sea salt and don’t focus on this as a solution to your high blood pressure problem.
“H” is for Hope
So, another way to look at high blood pressure is that there are things that you can do to heal from it. There is hope!
Just lose weight, reduce your stress, don’t believe anyone who tells you that it’s inevitable
If you are currently on blood pressure medication, the solution is the same—reduce your weight (if you are overweight) and your stress (if you are stressed).
Just to review what I’ve mentioned above, you can do both by working on your diet, starting to exercising, and finding a practice that relaxes you (like meditation or getting a new job).
Typically, patients who take these steps find that their blood pressure starts going down (i.e., it goes below normal) after a week or two. When you see this, speak to your doctor, who will usually be very happy to put you on a reduction schedule of your meds and knows how to do this in a way that keeps you safe.
Stay positive and you will get there!