Hypertension. It’s one of the leading causes of disability or death due to heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure in this country. Heart disease and stroke remain the first and third leading causes of death, respectively. Expenses related directly or indirectly to the treatment and detection of hypertension approach $10 billion yearly.
Despite these facts, an estimated 50 million American adults (25% of all adults) have high blood pressure (BP), yet only 68% are aware of their condition and only 27% have it under control. Two million new cases are diagnosed each year. The risk of hypertension increases with age in both men and women. Before age 55, more men than women have it and the reverse is true for those over the age of 55. African Americans have significantly more risk of developing high BP than Caucasians and Mexican Americans. Disheartening statistics.
For most, optimal BP is 120/80 mm Hg or less. The systolic pressure (top number) measures the force that blood exerts on the artery wall as the heart contracts to pump blood, while the diastolic pressure (bottom number) measures the force when the heart relaxes to allow blood flow into the heart. BP is considered high when systolic blood pressure is greater than 130 or diastolic blood pressure is greater than 85.
In most cases of hypertension, proper vasodilation (relaxation of blood vessels) is compromised; a condition that requires the chemical, nitric oxide (NO). Produced by the cells in the lining of the blood vessels, NO secretes into the smooth muscles of the blood vessels, causing them to relax. If deficient in NO, blood vessels can become constricted, reducing blood flow and leading to high BP.
When blood flow is restricted, platelets may clump, inflammation and homocysteine levels increase, and it may even initiate the early stages of atherosclerosis, stroke, or congestive heart failure. Vessel stiffness and rigidity are also related to angina, erectile dysfunction, and peripheral vascular disease.
L-arginine, a non-essential amino acid, is the precursor for the production of NO, therefore, necessary for healthy blood flow. Though it is produced by the body (i.e., “non-essential”), it appears that sufficient doses of L-arginine from food or supplementation are still required for adequate NO production. To ensure proper vasodilatory function, large doses of L-arginine, over sustained periods of time, are necessary. Although L-arginine reaches peak concentrations quickly, within an hour, both L-arginine and NO diminish rapidly, thus are no longer at effective levels.
A sustained-release formulation of L-arginine is found in Perfusia-SR from Thorne Research. This delivery method overcomes L-arginine’s tendency to spike and then diminish, by slowly releasing and maintaining consistent blood levels for longer periods of time.
Several studies have been conducted on L-arginine, one of which specifically reviewed the effects of Perfusia-SR on BP and blood vessel compliance. This study followed 29 participants with normal to mildly elevated blood pressure. A total of .1 g (1050 mg taken twice daily) of sustained-release L-arginine (perfusia) was taken for one week. Systolic blood pressure was reduced in 62% of all participants, all having a 4-point average reduction. Diastolic blood pressure was reduced significantly in 69% of all participants. In the 10 participants who were borderline or hypertensive, there was a significant 11-point average reduction in systolic pressure. Diastolic reduction was insignificant in this group.
There was also a significant increase in large artery compliance, meaning that the blood vessels became more elastic— an important effect since arteries that are stiff are more likely to be constricted, increasing BP.
In other studies, L-arginine was shown to improve blood flow. One study of participants with high cholesterol showed that 6.6 g of L-arginine daily significantly improved blood flow within one week. Several other studies showed it improved intermittent claudication (narrowed or blocked arteries, which cause pain in legs when exercising) and helped reduce pain when walking.
OTHER APPROACHES TO REDUCE HYPERTENSION
Potassium is one of the most important minerals for hypertension. It is well documented that a diet low in potassium and high in sodium is associated with hypertension.
There have also been several studies indicating magnesium (Mg) may help lower blood pressure and may even prevent hypertension due to its relaxing effect on the smooth muscles of the blood vessels. A recent study showed that taking magnesium in amounts as low as 365 mg per day with beta blockers can significantly reduce BP compared to taking beta blockers alone. Thorne’s Magnesium Citrate provides an excellent source of highly available magnesium, offering 140 mg per capsule. To determine the appropriate dosage of magnesium, take increasing amounts of magnesium daily, only until it causes loose stools, and then decrease dosage by one capsule.
» OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Increasing your intake of Omega-3s can also lower BP. Recent research suggests that the Omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), signals blood vessel muscle cells to relax, resulting in vasodilation. In one study, participants with hypertension used omega-3 oils to reduce total cholesterol and blood pressure and increase HDL (good cholesterol).
A diet low in saturated fat and high in complex carbohydrates is recommended. This diet includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, onions, garlic; is rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium (carrots, spinach, alfalfa, mushrooms, lima beans, sweet potatoes, avocados, broccoli, and most fruits); and restricts salt.
More than one-third of the U.S. adult population is obese, presenting a significant risk factor for hypertension. Stress management and relaxation techniques such as meditation, can help control BP. One study found nearly 70% of patients with mild to moderate hypertension using stress-reduction techniques were able to lower their medications after six weeks; after one year, 55% required no medication.
Proper supplementation, as well as lifestyle changes, including diet, exercise, and stress management, has been used successfully. The message is clear: Relax … and avoid becoming a statistic.