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Treating Hypertension ‘Naturally’


High blood pressure treatment isn’t limited to drugs. Lower blood pressure naturally. Natural treatments such as meditation and diet can have a significant effect.


“Meditation, not medication,” is the advice Robert Schneider, MD, gives when it comes to high blood pressure treatment. It’s not his only advice, but it’s right up there at the top of his list.


Schneider, dean of the College of Maharishi Vedic Medicine at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, is also director of the university’s government-sponsored Center for Natural Medicine and Prevention, one of 16 such centers in the country. Schneider has been researching the positive effects of the ancient medical science of maharishi vedic medicine — of which transcendental meditation (TM) is key –for the past 15 years.


Citing statistics from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), Schneider says that about 50 million adults in the United States suffer from high blood pressure. If left untreated, high blood pressure can damage the kidneys and lead to stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. Heart disease and stroke are the first and third leading causes of death, respectively, in the U.S. (Cancer is second.)


High blood pressure (hypertension) is defined as systolic blood pressure — the top number — averaging 140 mmHg or greater, and/or diastolic blood pressure — the bottom number — averaging 90 mmHg or greater. The systolic pressure is the pressure of blood in the vessels when the heart contracts. Diastolic pressure is the pressure of the blood between heartbeats when the heart is at rest.


In the past 30 years, says Schneider, approximately 600 studies have been conducted worldwide on the effects of transcendental meditation on blood pressure. “TM is a simple mind-body technique that allows you to gain a unique state of restful awareness or alertness,” says Schneider. Studies have repeatedly shown it to be effective in easing stress, one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Though there are many kinds of meditative techniques, it is only TM, says Schneider, that has been studied and been proved to be effective in improving a range of risk factors for heart disease. Researchers believe that the deep rest achieved through TM sparks biochemical changes that help the body and mind reach a more balanced state, in turn triggering the body’s own self-repair mechanism.


TM involves the repetition of a word or phrase (known as a mantra) while seated in a comfortable position with the eyes closed. Most TM practitioners suggest it be practiced for 20 minutes a session, twice a day.


In a study led by Schneider and reported in 1995 in the journal Hypertension, TM was compared with progressive muscle relaxation as a means of controlling stress in older African Americans with high blood pressure. Of the 197 men and women (out of 213) who completed the screening, the reductions in blood pressure in the TM group were significantly greater than those in the progressive muscle relaxation group. TM reduced systolic blood pressure by more than 10 points and diastolic pressure by more than 6 points (compared with a 5 point reduction for systolic and a 3 point fall for diastolic with progressive muscle relaxation).


Schneider is conducting a study on the use of TM in the prevention of high blood pressure in African Americans (a population at significant risk for high blood pressure). The study is not yet complete, but preliminary evidence indicates that TM is useful for high blood pressure treatment and prevention, too.


Learning TM is not difficult, says Schneider, but it should be learned from a qualified instructor. “You need someone there to guide you, and to give you feedback,” he says. “Otherwise, you won’t get the full effect.” To find an instructor near you, call 1-888-LEARN-TM.


TM is not the only non-drug approach to high blood pressure treatment. The role of diet comes into play, too, says Lawrence J. Appel, MD, MPH, professor of medicine, epidemiology, and international health at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore. Of these therapies, most are related to diet and include reducing your salt intake, drinking alcohol in moderation, increasing your potassium intake, and overall, eating a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products.


Most evidence to date indicates that a diet high in salt can have an adverse effect on blood pressure, says Appel. Recent studies have also shown that a reduced salt diet can prevent high blood pressure in persons at risk for the condition, can help control high blood pressure in elderly persons who are on blood pressure medication, and can potentially prevent heart problems in overweight individuals.


According to Appel, salt intake should be limited to 2,400 mg per day; less sodium will reduce blood pressure even more in many people. To reduce the amount of salt you consume, the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute suggests these tips:


  • Buy fresh, plain frozen, or canned no-salt-added vegetables.
  • Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned or processed foods.
  • Use herbs, spices, and salt-free seasonings in cooking and at the table.
  • Cook rice, pasta, and hot cereals without salt. Cut back on instant or flavored rice, pasta, and cereal mixes, which usually have added salt.
  • Choose “convenience” foods that are lower in sodium. Limit frozen dinners, pizza, packaged mixes, canned soups or broths, and salad dressings.
  • Rinse canned foods, such as tuna, to remove some of the sodium.
  • When available, buy low- or reduced-sodium, or no-salt-added versions of foods.
  • Choose ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that are lower in sodium.
  • The NHLBI also suggests eating at least 3,500 mg of potassium a day, from foods such as yogurt, cantaloupe, spinach, and bananas. Potassium may help rid the body of too much sodium by acting as a diuretic.
  • Chiropractor Peter Cox, director of the Chiropractic Care Center of Charlotte in North Carolina, suggests chiropractic therapy as another means of controlling stress, and by extension, blood pressure.


Though chiropractors cannot directly affect high blood pressure treatment, many of the conditions they see — including misalignment of the C1 (or first) vertebra — can affect blood flow to the head and result in symptoms of high blood pressure, says Cox. “In treating misaligned vertebrae,” he says, “the treatment itself can often result in lowered blood pressure.”


However, not all experts agree chiropractic is an effective treatment. “From a clinical perspective, from what we know today, chiropractic care will have no direct bearing on lowering blood pressure,” says Henry Punzi, MD, FCP, author of Hypertension, Clinical Cardiovascular Therapeutics: Vol. 1, and a principal investigator in more than 60 cardiovascular clinical trials.


“There’s a misconception that hypertension is related only to stress, and that’s not always the case,” he says. While decreasing stress and anxiety may help overall general well-being, these measures are not going to be a specific treatment for blood pressure. “Hypertension occurs when pressure is high inside the arteries. Misaligned spines or blood flow to the brain … don’t really have an impact on blood pressure,” Punzi says.


Finally, if you want to lower your blood pressure — or keep it from getting high in the first place — get moving! A study published in the April 2, 2002, issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that aerobic exercise (such as 30 minutes of brisk walking a day) reduced blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure as well as in people who don’t.


Researcher Seamus P. Whelton of Princeton University and colleagues concluded that an “increase in aerobic physical activity should be considered an important component of lifestyle modification for prevention and treatment of high blood pressure.”


Stroke is a leading cause of death and severe, long-term disability.


Since managing high blood pressure, also called HBP or hypertension, is the most important thing you can do to lessen your risk for stroke, treatment for HBP can your save life.


What is a stroke?


Stroke is a disease that affects the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain.


A stroke occurs when a blood vessel to the brain is either blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke) or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). When that happens, part of the brain is no longer getting the blood and oxygen it needs, so it starts to die. Your brain controls your movement and thoughts, so a stroke doesn’t only hurt your brain. It also hurts the brain’s ability to think and control body functions. Strokes can affect language, memory and vision as well as cause paralysis and other health issues. 


How does high blood pressure cause a stroke? 


HBP damages arteries so they burst or clog more easily.


HBP can damage arteries throughout the body. Weakened arteries in the brain put you at much higher risk for stroke. 


HBP and Ischemic Stroke
About 87% of strokes are ischemic strokes. Again, they are caused by narrowed or clogged blood vessels in the brain that cut off the blood flow to brain cells.


Because HBP damages arteries throughout the body, it is critical to keep your blood pressure within acceptable ranges to protect your brain from this often disabling or fatal event. 


HBP and Hemorrhagic Stroke
About 13% of strokes are hemorrhagic strokes, which occur when a blood vessel ruptures in or near the brain. When a blood vessel ruptures, it can bleed into the deep tissue in the brain or in the space between the brain and the skull.


High blood pressure damages the arteries and can create weak places that rupture easily or thin spots that fill up with blood and balloon out from the artery wall (called an aneurysm). Chronic HBP or aging blood vessels are the main causes of this type of stroke. 


A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” occurs when blood flow to an area in the brain is cut off. As a result, the brain cells, deprived of the oxygen and glucose needed to survive, die. If not caught early, permanent brain damage can result.


Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases a person’s stroke risk by four to six times. Over time, hypertension leads to atherosclerosis and hardening of the large arteries. This, in turn, can lead to blockage of small blood vessels in the brain. High blood pressure can also lead to weakening of the blood vessels in the brain, causing them to balloon and burst. The risk of stroke is directly related to how high the blood pressure is.


How Does a Stroke Occur?


There are two types of stroke.


Ischemic stroke is similar to a heart attack, except it occurs in the blood vessels of the brain. Clots can form either in the brain’s blood vessels, in blood vessels leading to the brain, or even blood vessels elsewhere in the body which then travel to the brain. These clots block blood flow to the brain’s cells. Ischemic stroke can also occur when too much plaque (fatty deposits and cholesterol) clogs the brain’s blood vessels. About 80% of all strokes are ischemic stroke.


Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures. The result is blood seeping into the brain tissue, causing damage to brain cells. The most common causes of hemorrhagic stroke are high blood pressure and brain aneurysms. An aneurysm is a weakness or thinness in the blood vessel wall that causes it to balloon outward.


Signs of Stroke


If you experience any of the following signs you or a loved one are having a stroke, call 911 immediately.
  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Sudden blurred vision or decreased vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden inability to move part of the body (paralysis)
  • Sudden dizziness or headache with nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding words or simple sentences
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness, loss of balance, or poor coordination
  • Brief loss of consciousness
  • Sudden confusion


A transient ischemic attack (TIA), often called a “mini-stroke,” may be a warning of an impending stroke. It typically consists of the same signs and symptoms of stroke, but the symptoms are temporary. It occurs when blood flow to a certain part of the brain is cut off for a short period of time, usually 15 minutes or less. A TIA can occur anywhere from a few minutes to several months before a stroke. A TIA is a painless episode, but it is a warning that something is wrong. It should be treated as seriously as a stroke.


Are Strokes Preventable?


Up to 80% of all strokes are preventable.


Many risk factors can be controlled before they cause problems. Some controllable risk factors include:
  • High blood pressure (High = greater than 140/90)
  • Atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm)
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • High total cholesterol (greater than 200)
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol (more than one drink per day)
  • Being overweight
  • Existing carotid and/or coronary artery disease

To prevent stroke it is very important to take measures to lower blood pressure and cholesterol if they are elevated, control diabetes,quit smoking, get plenty of exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. People at risk for stroke and heart attack



Neuroprotection after cardiac arrest

A 2008 trial demonstrated that the pre-hospital induction of therapeutic hypothermia after cardiac arrest as soon as possible after return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) can achieve optimal neuroprotective benefit. The hypothermia cap was applied to 20 patients after out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, with a median of 10 min after ROSC. The median time between initiation of cooling and hospital admission was 28 minutes. No side effects related to the hypothermia cap were observed. The study concluded that “prehospital use of hypothermia caps is a safe and effective procedure to start therapeutic hypothermia after cardiac arrest. This approach is rapidly available, inexpensive, non-invasive, easy to learn and applicable in almost any situation.”


The use of hypothermia caps has also shown promise in inhibiting stroke paralysis. Studies are underway testing a combination treatment consisting of four drugs plus a hypothermia cap to try to slow the cell death that is triggered by an ischemic stroke.Ischemic strokes are caused when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain, and comprise roughly 80% of all strokes. The slowing of cell death is theorized to give the brain time to find an alternate blood supply through unblocked arteries, meaning patients may potentially avoid physical and speech impairments caused by ischemic strokes.


Numerous studies have also suggested that therapeutic hypothermia can provide safe and effective adjunctive treatment for migraine headaches. For instance, a 1989 study in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain showed 64.5% of 45 patients with migraine or migraine plus chronic daily headache evaluated use of a cold wrap for 20 to 30 minutes as mildly, moderately or completely effective. In a 1984 study using a frozen gel pack, 80% of migraine patients reported the pack was effective. Numerous over-the-counter hypothermia caps today offer therapy for headaches.