When it comes to your blood pressure readings, the numbers you should strive for could be quite confusing.
What was acceptable yesterday may not be good today.
Is your doctor trying to push you too low (overmedicating), or is he giving your blood pressure too much slack, thereby increasing your risk of dying from stroke or heart attack?
Years ago, doctors relied on a crude formula of systolic blood pressure: 100 plus a patient’s age, to determine whether blood pressure was within acceptable limits or needed to be lowered.
This method resulted in dangerously high “acceptable” blood pressure levels for many middle aged and elderly people. Gradually, the standard turned into a universal cut-off level of blood pressure that was between 140/90 mmHg to 150/100 mmHg, at which a doctor would recommend a lifestyle change or medical intervention.
Eventually, the target was reduced to 140/90 mmHg for healthy adults and 120/80 mmHg for adults with kidney-related disease or diabetes.
Lower is Better
Recent evidence from a National Institutes of Health study has convinced medical researchers to once again lower their recommendations regarding safe blood pressure levels.
The long-term study, which began in 2009, is known as the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial or SPRINT, and has confirmed what many doctors have learned through years of clinical practice. According to John Kostis, director of the Cardiovascular Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, he said: “the lower the better and the earlier the better.” This means that the best way to prevent strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular events would be to take aggressive and swift action as soon as high blood pressure is detected, regardless of the patient’s age.
Focusing on systolic blood pressure – the upper number of the blood pressure ratio represents pressure in arteries during heart contraction, SPRINT researchers sought to find out whether reducing this value to a maximum of 120 mmHg would offer any benefit to adult patients. These patients would be aged 50 years or older, with hypertension and who were considered to be at risk in developing heart or kidney disease.
Results were overwhelmingly in favor of the lower blood pressure levels. By comparison, a systolic of 120 decreased heart attack, heart failure, and stroke rates by nearly a third and risk of blood pressure-related death by close to 25%, when compared to the standard 140-mmHg systolic pressure.
So, how did SPRINT researchers accomplish their goal? The standard dose of any of the five classes of blood pressure drugs produces about a 10-mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure and, statistically, doubling the dosage of a single drug would provide less than a 50% additional return. When there is a large gap between actual and ideal systolic pressure, it becomes necessary to mix and match drugs and dosages. As a result, to bring their systolic pressure down to 120 mmHg, some SPRINT participants required as many as four different medications.
The Inevitable Controversy
However, not all experts agree on the cardiovascular benefits of using multiple blood pressure drugs. According to biostatistician Dr. George Howard from the University of Alabama at the Birmingham School of Public Health, your risk of stroke may even rise if you take multiple blood pressure medications. This can be an increase of as much as 33% with each additional drug.
This evidence opposes the SPRINT results. Additionally, with more drug prescriptions comes the increased risk for side effects and adverse drug interactions. So, while SPRINT provides doctors with a protocol and rationale they can use for potentially improving the health and lives of their patients, it may not be without risks.
Since hypertension is largely a preventable, lifestyle-related disease, it usually responds well to dietary and lifestyle changes. Experts continue to emphasize the need to stop smoking, get regular exercise, maintain a healthy body weight, and consume alcohol in moderation.
These changes offer a win-win scenario, ensuring fewer medical complications while improving overall health.
So, what is the best natural approach to lower your blood pressure without medications?