Hypertension: What do all the blood pressure numbers mean? And what can you do about it?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is an issue for many in our community, country and around the world. 1 in 4 Canadian adults (4.6 million) between 20 and 79 has high blood pressure. Another 20% of Canadians aged 20-79 are in the pre-hypertension range (systolic of 120-139 and diastolic of 80-89) (2).
The prevalence of hypertension between men and women is similar around 20%. In the 70 to 79 age group both males and females were 3 times as likely to have high blood pressure (approximately 70%) (2).
Keeping your blood pressure under control is one of the most important things you can do to extend your lifespan.
But what do all the blood pressure numbers mean?
At some point, all of us have had our blood pressure measured, but do you know what is actually being measured? Let me take a moment to explain.
Blood pressure is given to us as a number over a number.
For example, we are told our blood pressure should be 120/80 mmHg. The 120 is our systolic blood pressure, 80 is our diastolic blood pressure and mmHg stands for millimeters of mercury, which is the unit that blood pressure is measured in.
The top number, your systolic blood pressure, is usually the higher number of the two. The bottom number, diastolic blood pressure, is the smaller number of the two. This is why:
- Systolic blood pressure refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart (while the heart is beating, how much pressure is being created).
- Diastolic blood pressure refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart muscle is between beats or at rest (while the heart is resting, how much pressure is maintained).
Not every human will have a blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg and that is completely normal!
A normal reading would be systolic blood pressure reading between 90 – 120 and a diastolic blood pressure reading that is between 60 – 80. It is also important to note that all of these measurements are taken at rest and averaged out over a couple of readings.
If you go to your medical doctor and your blood pressure is elevated, you may get some information about lifestyle factors that you can do to reduce your blood pressure (which I will go over below) but it is very likely you will be prescribed medication. Here is a list of the most commons medications used for treating blood pressure:
- ACE inhibitors that block substances that tighten blood vessels
- Alpha-blockers used for relaxing arteries
- Beta-blockers used to decrease heart rate and block substances that tighten blood vessels
- Calcium channel blockers act to relax blood vessels and decrease the work of the heart
- Diuretics decrease the amount of fluid in your body causing you to urinate more and decrease blood volume
If your blood pressure is very high, then some of these drugs can be very effective at lowering your blood pressure, but please remember that all drugs have side effects so you need to be aware of what side effects come with your particular medication.
A Cochrane review analyzing the effect of antihypertensive drugs in the treatment of adults with mild hypertension, concluded that the research does not support that these drugs reduce the likelihood of mortality or morbidity (i.e. death) (1). Mild hypertension was defined as blood pressure of 140-159 mmHg systolic and/or diastolic pressure of 90-99 mmHg.
So, what can you do to reduce your blood pressure, naturally?
A – Diet
- Reduce sugar consumption, especially sweetened beverages like soda.
- Potassium consumption is associated with lower blood pressure.
- Eating cold water fish 3 times a week– DHA in the fish has been shown to effectively reduce blood pressure.
- Magnesium – in the form of nuts, seeds, spinach, beet greens – when taken with potassium has been shown to have a positive effect on blood pressure.
B – Chiropractic care
A study in 2007 showed that in 50 individuals who had been diagnosed with high blood pressure showed a decrease in their blood pressure following 1 specialized upper neck adjustment. The decrease was equal to taking two blood pressure lowering drugs at once. The reduction in blood pressure continued into the eight week after the adjustment (3).
C – Lifestyle
- Weight loss – excess body fat can raise blood pressure and reducing it can lower blood pressure.
- Exercise can help lower blood pressure immensely.
- Sleep – Correcting sleep apnea or just getting more sleep can reduce your blood pressure. Overall, poor sleep quality increases the risk that you’ll develop high blood pressure.
- Sunlight – Exposure to ultraviolet light increases the production of nitric oxide in our body which is a vasodilator –this helps blood vessels to relax which in turn lowers blood pressure.
Remember, keeping your blood pressure under control is one of the most important things you can do to extend your lifespan and we would love for you to live a long and healthy life.