Blood Pressure Meds and Natural Alternatives

Linda J. Dobberstein, Chiropractor, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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Blood Pressure Meds and Natural Alternatives
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently released a landmark study that showed forced intensive lowering of blood pressure may save lives. It made headline news across the country. It is likely that physicians will use this study’s information to give individuals multiple prescriptions for blood pressure management. Although blood pressure medications can force blood pressure lower, they are not risk free and they do not target the actual causes of high blood pressure. Understanding what causes high blood pressure and how to improve blood pressure function is essential for anyone dealing with hypertension.

SPRINT Blood Pressure Study

The NIH study SPRINT (Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial) was performed to see if intensive management of high blood pressure could significantly reduce rates of heart disease and lower death rates in adults 50 years and older who had hypertension. The study involved over 9,300 adults, started in the fall of 2009 and was to be completed in December 2018. The study was recently stopped by NIH in order to release the results.

Systolic blood pressure is the top blood pressure number. Diastolic blood pressure is the bottom number. Normal systolic blood pressure in adults is considered anything below 120. Prehypertension is considered 120-139. Hypertension or high blood pressure is 140 and higher.

The SPRINT study’s preliminary findings showed those who had a systolic blood pressure forced down to 120 mm Hg as opposed to those who had a blood pressure of 140 mm Hg and less medications had about 33 percent reduced rate of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. The risk for death decreased about 25 percent in those who were treated more aggressively. NIH was so excited about this that they stopped the study to publish the results. Standard treatment for achieving a systolic pressure of 140 was two medications. Aggressive treatment was achieving a blood pressure down to 120 with an average of three medications.

The full study results are actually not completed yet. It will take several months for information to be tabulated. What has not been published yet is the effect of blood pressure medications on kidney disease, cognitive function, and dementia. Unfortunately, many of the side effects of aggressively lowering blood pressure with several medications may not be evaluated in this study.

Common side effects of blood pressure medications include severe fatigue, memory problems, loss of zest for life, swelling, increased sweating, skin problems, low heart rate and more. Not only do these medications have often terrible side effects, but they also deplete nutrients that are essential in managing the concern at hand. Loss of magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium, several B vitamins, and iodine occurs with several of the popular medications.

The SPRINT study follows on the heels of the ACCORD trial. The goals of the ACCORD trial were to aggressively lower blood pressure and reduce cardiac risk in diabetics. The study participants did experience lower blood pressure but multiple health symptoms occurred followed by medical complications. Forcing blood pressure numbers downward may seem like a good idea especially when the blood pressure is life threatening. However, healthy blood pressure levels are much more than medication management.

Causes of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and other health problems. An estimated one in three people in the United States has high blood pressure. The problem is a growing worldwide problem for many reasons. Lifestyle changes are a major reason. Lack of physical activity, sedentary lifestyle, alcohol and tobacco use, and a diet of processed, low quality foods filled with salt and bad fats are factors that plague modern life. Aging, stiffening of arteries, obesity, race (African-Americans have a higher risk), chronic stress, and family history are common causes of hypertension. Other causes may include chronic kidney disease, adrenal tumors, hyperthyroidism, heart disease, and diabetes.

Digging Deeper with Hypertension Causes

When a patient sees their physician for blood pressure elevations, the office visit often ends with a statement like, “you need to exercise and lose weight, improve your diet, reduce stress and alcohol intake, and stop smoking. Here is a prescription for another blood pressure medication.” Certainly these are important factors, but sometimes you have to do more detective work. Many other factors powerfully affect blood pressure. Given “fast food” medicine and the prescription pad, it is likely many issues are terribly ignored and overlooked.

Drugs that Cause High Blood Pressure

Several medications actually cause elevated blood pressure. Examples include NSAIDs (Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin, Naproxen, Aleve, and Naprosyn) and several cough and cold medications that contain NSAIDS and pseudoephedrine or Sudafed. Other medications like migraine, birth control (estradiol containing), immunosuppressants, older anti-depressants (tricyclics and MAO inhibitors), and some weight loss meds cause elevated blood pressure. Many medications deplete the very nutrients needed to manage blood pressure. A common example is acid blocking meds (proton pump inhibitors) that deplete magnesium.

Heavy Metal Toxicity

Heavy metal toxicity is a commonly overlooked cause of elevated blood pressure. Mercury and cadmium are especially problematic. Mercury is commonly found in many environmental sources, foods, and water supply. Mercury toxicity is associated with hypertension, coronary artery disease, heart attacks, carotid artery obstruction, strokes, atherosclerosis, and kidney disease. Mercury exposure causes oxidative stress, inflammation, blood clots, vascular smooth muscle dysfunction (stiff arteries), endothelial injury, cholesterol problems, and mitochondrial problems.

Cadmium concentrates in the kidney, so it is more of a kidney problem that causes the high blood pressure rather than heart or vascular problems. Cadmium is a metal commonly found in cigarettes/tobacco and in our food supply. Mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals interfere with the COMT gene which regulates adrenaline and dopamine. This causes elevated blood pressure not due to disruptive mental or psychological stress. Genes related with detoxification are negatively impacted with these heavy metals. This causes sodium retention, blood sugar and cholesterol problems, and zinc deficiency, which drive blood pressure up. Taking diabetic and cholesterol lowering meds like statins will force these numbers down, but does not address the heavy metal toxicity causing the problem in the first place.

Heavy metals like mercury, cadmium and others have an affinity for sulfur bonds. They bind onto sulfur-containing antioxidants like NAC, lipoic acid, and glutathione, affecting major antioxidant enzyme pathways. This binding causes further oxidative stress and inflammation, including vascular inflammation. Depletion of these fundamental antioxidants occurs and provokes a higher need for other antioxidants like selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc. The heavy metals bind onto the sulfur bonds and incapacitate the very things that are needed to remove them further depleting other antioxidants. The problem snowballs if nutritional health remains depleted or stressed. Heavy metals can be measured through hair, urine, blood, and nails.

Recent research shows that curcumin is a powerful blood-pressure-lowering nutrient able to reduce cadmium-induced hypertension and vascular dysfunction. Curcumin helped improve artery flexibility and reduced oxidative stress. The bioflavonoid quercetin has been shown to protect against oxidative stress induced by mercury.

Chronic arsenic exposure has been shown to increase pulse pressure or the gap between the top and bottom blood pressure numbers, but not hypertension. This is a different blood pressure problem. A person can have more than one problem present, i.e. high blood pressure from mercury and an imbalance between the top and bottom number because of arsenic as these are common heavy metal toxins. Having a large gap between the blood pressure numbers is another sign of cardiovascular stress.

Plastics, Endocrine Disrupting Compounds, and Hormones

New research shows that plastics or phthalates exposure in children and adolescents causes increased blood pressure. The journal Hypertension affiliated with the American Heart Association found that children ages 6 to 19 years of age who had higher levels of different phthalates in their blood stream, had significantly higher blood pressure.

Bisphenol A (BPA) continues to be under intense scrutiny for damaged health. Add in hypertension as a result of BPA exposure. A systemic review study showed individuals with higher levels of BPA were more likely to suffer from hypertension along with diabetes and obesity. Animal studies show that chronic estradiol exposure provoked inflammatory genes which led to high blood pressure. Other studies have shown that excess estradiol and androgens like testosterone also cause hypertension.

Feeling Stiff?

If you feel stiff after sitting for an extended period of time or upon getting out of bed it may be an indication that other parts of your body are stiffening up too. Research has shown that poor flexibility is linked with stiff arteries. Stiff arteries reflect a decrease in the blood vessels (arteries) ability to expand and relax with contraction. Insufficient magnesium and vitamin D may be at the root of the stiffness problem as these are very common nutritional deficiencies that cause stiffness. Sitting, a sedentary lifestyle, and stiffness are a deadly combination. It is crucial to add physical movement and exercise several times a day to improve artery flexibility and blood pressure.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Several mineral deficiencies cause elevated blood pressure. These include calcium, magnesium, and potassium which provide essential support for fluids in and out of cells and cellular electricity.

Salt Sensitivity

Excess sodium intake is a common reason for elevated blood pressure. Fast food diets, eating out, and low quality foods often have higher sodium content. These same foods often have low levels of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Salt sensitivity may be an early reflection that you need to increase potassium and magnesium intake.

Animal studies show that salt sensitivity and sodium retention is associated with high levels of oxidative stress in the kidneys. Salt sensitivity appears closely related with antioxidant status, quenching inflammatory free radicals deep within the filtering system of the kidneys. When there is high salt intake and insufficient antioxidants, high levels of very damaging free radicals occur (superoxide and hydrogen peroxide) in the kidneys which reduces blood flow, causes sodium retention and then blood pressure elevates.

A shift in redox balance between nitric oxide and reactive oxygen species (ROS) occurs, so the kidney tissue becomes further inflamed, mitochondria may be damaged, and blood flow is reduced. Quenching ROS and balancing the redox agents before damage is too extensive is fundamental. Helpful antioxidant and redox supportive nutrients to consider include PQQ, r-alpha lipoic acid, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, quercetin, curcumin, and resveratrol.

Several other nutrients have been found to support healthy blood pressure. These include arginine, vitamin C, probiotics, cocoa flavonoids (very dark chocolate), garlic, and beets.


If you have elevated blood pressure, think about the last time your doctor looked at these variables, if ever, and then consider your health. Pushing more medications does provide a solution to lowering blood pressure. If the check engine light is turned on within the car dashboard and you remove the fuse this too works to remove the signal that something is wrong. It does nothing to solve the underlying problem. If you have to be on medications to force the numbers down, then work on your health simultaneously.

One in three individuals now has blood pressure problems compared to just a few decades ago. This problem is affecting our children and young adults at alarming rates. It points to our lifestyle, toxins, physical inactivity and levels of inflammation that we face in today’s world.

Blood pressure elevations do not reflect a medication deficiency. Nor will taking medications fix these lifestyle and environmental toxin problems. Common sense health is all about managing these modern factors. Fixing the problem has to start with you making choices. Follow The Leptin Diet and eat richly-colored vegetables and fruits, limited grains, quality proteins and fats. Get up and be active. Healthy detoxification and inflammatory stress reduction is supported by nutrients like magnesium, coenzyme Q10, resveratrol, chlorella, curcumin and lipoic acid. These nutrients can be used with the medications while you are working on these other factors. It is possible to get to the root causes of high blood pressure and restore healthy function. Take charge of your health today!

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