High blood pressure and functional medicine

The Functional Medicine Approach to High Blood Pressure

One common test that people have when they visit their doctor for a checkup is measurement of their blood pressure.

Understanding High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure measurements determine the power that the heart uses to pump blood around your body. The reading is in two parts – systolic and diastolic. The first measures the pressure when your heart is pushing blood out into the arteries. The second measures the same pressure but between beats when your heart is at rest. 

Measured in millimeters of mercury, a normal reading would be 120 systolic over 80 diastolic (written 120/80 mmHg). You have elevated blood pressure if your reading is between 120 and 129 systolic and below 80 diastolic. 

High blood pressure ranges from 130 systolic or above and over 80 diastolic. A hypertensive crisis would be if you had a reading on or above 180/120 mmHg. 

Blood pressure can vary naturally during the day, for example, when we have exerted ourselves or are under stress (like when visiting the doctor). That’s why a physician will normally take several readings when high blood pressure is initially measured.

High blood pressure becomes a problem when it occurs chronically even when you are at rest. It can mean there is an underlying health issue such as coronary heart disease that requires medical attention. Reducing blood pressure also protects the arteries and prevents them from being damaged.

Conventional Approaches to High Blood Pressure Treatment and Management

The conventional approach to treating high blood pressure is through medication. This could include drugs such as diuretics, Angiotensin Converting Enzyme Inhibitors (ACEI) and calcium channel blockers. Alpha-blockers, for example, stop impulses from the nerves to the arteries and prevent them from narrowing. 

Medications are known for having side effects and for high blood pressure treatments, these can be quite serious, including dizziness, headaches and fatigue. Doctors will also, of course, recommend lifestyle changes such as a better diet and more exercise to help bring blood pressure under control.

The functional medicine approach to high blood pressure

The Functional Medicine Approach to High Blood Pressure

Functional medicine aims to focus on the cause of a medical condition rather than the symptoms. Conventional medical approaches can be quick to use drugs to control the associated symptoms rather than solving the underlying issue. 

For example, high blood pressure is sometimes a result of poor eating habits or smoking and drinking too much alcohol. A functional medicine approach looks for the underlying cause and will include a range of different tests to determine what is going on. 

The practitioner will consider the full medical and lifestyle history of the individual and use a patient-centered approach. There can be a wide range of triggers for high blood pressure including environmental and genetic causes.

Low levels of certain vitamins such as vitamin D and C, for example, can impact blood pressure and cause raised blood pressure levels. Exposure to high levels of mercury can have a similar effect. Low levels of potassium in relation to sodium also leads to high blood pressure. If someone is pre-diabetic they may have high blood sugar levels and a predisposition to chronic high blood pressure. 

The cause of high blood pressure is often different for each individual and, where conventional medicine provides a one size fits all solution, the functional medicine approach looks for the unique factors that are causing the condition. 

If someone is suffering from inflammation, for example, their high blood pressure may be a result of that particular health problem. Treating the inflammation and reducing it can in turn result in an improvement in terms of the patient’s blood pressure. 

Lifestyle interventions make a huge difference to many chronic conditions we suffer from in the modern world, including high blood pressure. For one individual that could mean adding more foods high in potassium. For another, it might be reducing their weight and living a less sedentary lifestyle

There’s a lot of evidence that regular exercise helps reduce high blood pressure. When combined with a healthy diet high in fiber, it can have an even more powerful effect. The added benefit of this functional medicine approach is that patients don’t have to overly rely on medication that comes with potential side effects.