Hypertension is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other risk factor. The complications of high blood pressure (hypertension) have been documented for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians and Romans used leaches and blood letting to treat symptoms, while the ancient Chinese used acupuncture and herbs for complications such as dizziness, headache, tinnitus and irritability. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that blood pressure could be reliably measured and it was possible to identify and treat people with hypertension before they became ill. Effective medication was not developed until 1949 and still today medication targets the symptoms and not the cause, as in most cases the cause remains unknown. What is known however is that hypertension is is linked to genetic and lifestyle factors and increases the risk of stroke, chronic heart failure and kidney disease. For many people there are no early-warning symptoms until damage occurs.
The news isn’t all bad. Key lifestyle changes can make a big impact. 30 minutes of exercise most days, stopping smoking, losing excess weight, avoiding excess salt and restricting alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and one for women can reduce blood pressure and its complications. Hypertensive agents such as caffeine (tea & coffee), liquorice, ginseng, ginger, melatonin and St Johns wort should be avoided. Relaxation and meditation can help. Medication is required where addressing lifestyle factors alone is inadequate.
A number of complementary therapies have a role in hypertension and in some cases of borderline hypertension the need for medication can be avoided. In other cases it may eventually be reduced (reducing the unwanted side effects of some medications). Magnesium, coenzyme Q10, the DHA component of fish oil, the amino acid arginine and some herbs all have blood pressure lowering effects. Chinese medicine recognises a number of different patterns associated with hypertension and uses different herbs accordingly. After thousands of years acupuncture remains a valuable tool to “soften the vessels”, relax the body, reduce the effects of stress and contribute towards normal blood pressure. None of these treatments aim for instant results and long term management and lifestyle changes are essential to manage blood pressure and reduce the risk of associated life-threatening conditions. In summary good management should consist of a healthy lifestyle, medication when needed, appropriate complementary therapy and regular monitoring to ensure that effective care is being received.