Treating High Blood Pressure
By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.www.drfuhrman.com
Conventional Drug Therapies Are Dangerous And Ineffective!
High blood pressure is an epidemic in America. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), one in three adults— nearly 60 million—has high blood pressure (hypertension). Most of them (61 percent) are getting medical treatment, including the vast majority of Americans aged 65-75.
Unfortunately, conventional treatment is not nearly as effective as most people think. The AHA reports that about 40 million people do not have their high blood pressure under control. Furthermore, most of those on medications for high blood pressure still die of heart disease and strokes. It is well established that high blood pressure dramatically increases one’s risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. High blood pressure speeds up the rate at which arteries harden and become brittle and lined with plaque.
The cardiovascular system is not the only victim of high blood pressure. The eyes and kidneys also are affected because high blood pressure can cause blood vessels in the eye to break or bleed, which can lead to blindness. High blood pressure can narrow and thicken the blood vessels of the kidneys, leading to kidney failure. High blood pressure has an insidious effect on the brain and is a major cause of age-related mental decline.
Blood Pressure Readings
A new scientific statement released on-line by the AHA and the American Society of Hypertension encourages patients with hypertension to take regular readings with home blood pressure monitors, just as those with diabetes check their blood glucose levels. Readings in doctors’ offices are notoriously inaccurate.
Normal systolic blood pressure (the upper number) is 120 or below and normal diastolic blood pressure is 80 or below. These numbers are not arbitrary. One of the best ways to predict if a person is likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke is to check blood pressure. A person who achieves an average systolic blood pressure below 125 without medication is dramatically less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
Medication Of Limited Value
So there will be no misunderstanding, I want to reiterate: To avoid heart attack and stroke, the goal is not just to achieve a systolic blood pressure below 125. You must achieve it without medication.
The typical physician’s answer to hypertension is to prescribe medication. Instead, physicians should be teaching hypertension patients how to adopt the diet and exercise programs necessary for recovery. By prescribing medications instead of behavioral changes, they are tacitly endorsing the disease-causing lifestyle that results in almost everyone developing diseased blood vessels.
As a nation, we need to awaken to the fact that there is an economic love affair going on between doctors and the pharmaceutical industry. This illicit relationship prevents any serious attention being given to the powerful ability of lifestyle medicine to prevent and reverse hypertension (and a host of other serious diseases). People leave their doctors’ offices with the deadly misconception that their medical problem is genetic or the result of something else beyond their control, such as aging, and that the solution to the problem is to take expensive drugs for the rest of their lives.
Causes Of Hypertension
Let’s be perfectly clear. Hypertension is not caused by getting older, and only in rare cases can it be considered the inevitable result of your genes. Hypertension is a pathologic state caused by the nutritional ignorance that leads to a toxic diet. The conventional medical approach of offering medications rather than appropriate diet and lifestyle modification is shortchanging Americans. In my opinion, rather than saving lives, this conventional approach creates more chronic disease, heart attacks, and strokes, not less.
Effectiveness Of Treatments
Diet and lifestyle modifications are more effective against hypertension than drug therapy for three primary reasons.
First, dietary excellence, weight loss, salt avoidance, and exercise have a proven record of safety and effectiveness. If drugs to lower blood pressure were not available, more people would be forced to change their lifestyle in a favorable and cardio-protective direction. Rather than merely masking their blood pressure, like drugs do, the lifestyle changes would elicit a reversal of the blood vessel pathology along with additional dramatic life-saving benefits.
Prescribing medications based on the assumption that lifestyle changes are too difficult or ineffective essentially encourages patients to continue the disease-producing habits that caused the pathology initially. This continuation of bad habits allows the process that leads to hardened, atherosclerotic vessels to continue to create more damage until, inevitably, a stroke or cardiac event occurs, despite the medications.
Second, medications are not without side effects and risks. Drugs can cause problems of their own, including life-threatening allergic reactions. For example, an allergy to ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme) can cause dangerous swelling of the face and of the throat (angioedema) that can result in blocked airways. This is a life-threatening condition, and the patient needs to get to an emergency room immediately.
Thankfully, dramatic reactions such as angioedema are rare enough that they affect relatively few people. The “side effects” that concern me the most are the heightened risks of medical problems that affect everyone who takes hypertension medications. Let’s take a look at one such example—diuretics.
Diuretics taken to lower blood pressure have been shown to increase the risk for diabetes. Thiazide diuretics and beta-blockers appear to be associated with an increased relative risk for incident diabetes, according to a prospective analysis involving hypertensive participants in three large cohort studies.1 Diuretics also can reduce potassium levels in the body and cause heart arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm).You almost always take some extra risks when you use medications.
Third, the excessive lowering of diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) in the elderly and in those using medication to control significant coronary artery disease increases (not decreases) the risk of heart attack. Life threatening complications such as this from the overuse of blood pressure medications do not occur when blood pressure is lowered via nutritional excellence and exercise. Lifestyle modification is the best recipe for the control of high blood pressure!
I cannot overstress the importance of treating and lowering high blood pressure through effective non-drug options. The difference between my view and the more conventional medical approach is that I think the right type of treatment involves education and motivation that will enable people to adopt lifestyle modifications that work better than drugs at lowering blood pressure and protecting against heart attacks and strokes.
1. Gupta AK, Dahlof B, Dobson J, et al. Determinants of New-Onset Diabetes Among 19,257 Hypertensive Patients Randomized in the Anglo-Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes Trial-Blood Pressure Lowering Arm and the Relative Influence of Antihypertensive Medication. Diabetes Care 2008;31: 982-988.