High blood pressure IS a silent killer.
It can sneak up unexpectedly with no symptoms, go unnoticed for a long period, and eventually provoke serious health problems.
As an Ayurvedic lifestyle consultant, I’m no stranger to hypertension. Many of my clients have come to me to treat this condition with Ayurveda.
In this guide, I want to share with you the most effective strategies and specific treatments and interventions to reduce your risk of getting it or mitigate its impact.
Let’s dive right into it.
What is Hypertension?
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a prevalent disorder that afflicts millions globally.
The pressure exerted by blood on the walls of our arteries is naturally dynamic, rising, and falling throughout the day. However, when this pressure remains persistently high, it can cause numerous complications, including heart disease and stroke.
There are two types of high blood pressure:
- Primary (essential) hypertension, for which no specific cause can be found but is generally linked to age, genetics, and lifestyle factors.
- Secondary hypertension, provoked by an underlying condition like kidney disease, endocrine disorders, or certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), birth control pills and hormone therapy, decongestants, corticosteroids, antidepressants, stimulants, and certain herbal supplements like licorice and some Chinese herbs.
It’s important to remember that hypertension is a silent condition. Many people don’t even realize they have it until a doctor diagnoses them. That’s why regular check-ups are so essential.
The following are the major risk factors associated with hypertension:
- Age: The risk of developing high blood pressure can increase as we get older. For women, the possibility becomes more prevalent after age 65.
- Being overweight or obese: The more you weigh, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels augments, so does the pressure on your artery walls.
- Physical inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle triggers excess weight, which places more pressure on the heart, causing it to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.
- Tobacco use: Smoking or chewing tobacco can immediately raise your blood pressure temporarily. Chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls, which can incite your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure. Secondhand smoke, too, can elevate your blood pressure.
- Excessive alcohol consumption: Over time, heavy drinking damages the heart. Having more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women may culminate in blood pressure.
- High sodium diet: A diet high in salt (sodium) induces hypertension, especially in those who are sensitive to sodium.
- Low potassium: Potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells. If you don’t consume or retain enough potassium, you may accumulate too much sodium in your blood.
- Stress: High levels of stress can lead to a transient increase in blood pressure. If you try to relax by eating more, using tobacco or drinking alcohol, you may only aggravate the high blood pressure.
- Chronic conditions: Certain chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney disease, sleep apnea, and some types of heart disease amplify the risk of hypertension.
Physical and emotional symptoms
Although hypertension doesn’t usually contribute to any noticeable physical symptoms, there are some subtle clues that can indicate its presence:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Blurred vision
- Mood swings
Modern medicine and hypertension
Modern medicine has made positive strides in the treatment of hypertension by including lifestyle as part of its recommendations.
The suggestions comprise a healthy diet, regular exercise, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption.
However, medications such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics, which are commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure and can be effective in reducing it, often come with serious side effects.
- Dry cough
- Skin rashes
- Loss of taste
- Increased potassium levels in the blood
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Kidney problems
- Cold hands or feet
- Slow heartbeat
- Weight gain
- Depression or sadness
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
These treatments are regularly necessary, but they are not a cure-all. Many people find themselves needing higher and higher doses of medication in order to maintain a balanced blood pressure.
The DASH diet
Although modern medicine typically emphasizes medications and invasive measures to treat disease, the DASH diet comes as a refreshing, holistic approach to treat hypertension and is one key precursor of using lifestyle medicine to treat this condition in the west.
The DASH diet is a dietary plan recommended by doctors to lower or control high blood pressure.
Its main principles are to eat fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium, magnesium, and fiber; whole grains, and lean proteins, like fish, poultry, and legumes. The DASH diet suggests consuming 6 ounces of meat (cooked) per day or less.
Nuts, seeds, and healthy fats from avocados, olive oil, and fish are also important for heart health.
According to DASH diet, we should limit sodium (up to 1,500 mg per day) and added sugar.
Moreover, it encourages portion control, consuming a variety of nutrient-rich ingredients, and minimizing processed and fast foods that are high in sodium.
An ayurvedic — more intuitive — approach
Ayurveda offers a more complete proposal to treat hypertension.
It views the condition as an imbalance between the mind, body, and spirit. It is this imbalance that needs to be addressed, not just the symptoms.
According to the science of life, hypertension is primarily a Pitta condition, reflecting the driven nature of fiery types, which contributes to inflammation and damage to the blood vessels.
Yet, this disease can occur to Vata and Kapha body types too.
Pitta, representing the fire and water elements, governs metabolism and transformation in the body, including digestion and blood circulation. A balanced Pitta dosha maintains a healthy heart function and proper blood pressure. Nevertheless, when Pitta is out of control, it can set in motion an array of issues, including high blood pressure.
Factors that can aggravate Pitta and contribute to hypertension include consuming hot, spicy, oily, and fried foods, overexposure to the sun, excessive physical activity, stress, and negative emotions such as anger and frustration.
When Pitta dosha (fire element) is out of balance, it increments heat in the body. This can catalyze a surge in blood pressure.
Symptoms of Pitta imbalance include:
- Redness in the face
When Vata dosha (air element) is aggravated, it intensifies the flow of energy throughout the body. This leads to hypertension and other issues related to circulation.
Symptoms of Vata imbalance include:
When Kapha dosha (earth element) is out of balance, it provokes an accumulation of toxins in the body, causing hypertension.
Symptoms of Kapha imbalance include:
- Excess mucus
Ayurvedic treatment for hypertension
Ayurveda offers a variety of treatments for hypertension. These include lifestyle changes such as proper diet, exercise, relaxation techniques, and herbal supplements.
Diet-wise, Ayurveda indicates a balanced, nutritious diet to keep the doshas in check. Similar to the DASH diet, Ayurveda promotes consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and reducing the intake of sodium and processed foods.
Herbal remedies can also be used as part of Ayurvedic treatment. Herbs like Ashwagandha, Brahmi, and Jatamansi have been traditionally used to reduce stress and support heart health.
Not only do these treatments help reduce blood pressure, but they can also help bring about a balance within the heart and mind.
Here are a few tips for each dosha:
Pitta dosha and hypertension treatment
Ayurvedic treatment for hypertension in individuals with a Pitta imbalance focuses on cooling and calming therapies. A diet rich in sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes can help pacify Pitta. This means consuming fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those that are cooling like cucumbers and melons, and avoiding hot, spicy, and fried foods.
Mind-body practices that promote relaxation and reduce stress, like gentle yoga and meditation, are also beneficial. Herbs such as Brahmi, which have cooling properties, can help Pitta and manage hypertension.
These are additional suggestions:
- Avoid spicy, sour, and salty foods.
- Eat cooling foods such as cucumber, coconut water, and yogurt.
- Practice calming activities such as yoga and meditation.
- Take cooling herbs such as Brahmi, Shatavari, and ashwagandha.
- Follow a Pitta-pacifying meal plan
An aggravated Vata can cause the heart and blood vessels to overwork, which results in high blood pressure.
Various factors can lead to this imbalance, including stress, an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive intake of stimulants like coffee, tobacco, or alcohol, and underlying health issues.
- Avoid caffeine, processed foods, and sugar.
- Eat warm, cooked foods such as soups and stews.
- Get regular exercise, but avoid strenuous activities.
- Take warming herbs such as ginger, ashwagandha, and turmeric.
- Follow a Vata-pacifying meal plan
Excess Kapha instigates weight gain and high cholesterol levels, both risk factors for hypertension. It can also cause water retention, fostering an increased volume of blood, which can put extra pressure on blood vessels. Kapha’s characteristic sluggishness may also precede a sedentary lifestyle, another risk factor for hypertension.
Furthermore, Kapha’s significance in the emotional realm can’t be ignored. Individuals with predominant Kapha dosha are prone to emotional eating, which contributes to weight gain and, consequently, hypertension.
- Avoid heavy, greasy foods.
- Eat light and dry foods.
- Engage in stimulating exercise.
- Take warming herbs such as ginger, turmeric, and black pepper.
- Follow a Kapha-pacifying meal plan
Lifestyle changes, such as regular physical activity, proper sleep, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol, play an essential role in managing hypertension. Mind-body practices like Yoga, Pranayama (breathing exercises), and Meditation can also support lower stress levels, promoting overall well-being and helping decrease blood pressure naturally.
By incorporating these simple Ayurvedic tips into your life, you’ll be well on your way to achieving a healthier and calmer heart.
What steps can you take, starting from today, to either reduce your high blood pressure or decrease your risk of developing hypertension?
While Ayurvedic principles can guide effective changes to manage high blood pressure, it’s crucial to follow your healthcare provider’s advice regarding medication and treatment plans. Always consult a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet, lifestyle, or supplement regimen.