Blood Pressure (BP)

‘The Global Burden of Disease’ is a report which was published in the medical journal ‘The Lancet’.  It was a huge collaborative effort of 486 scientists from 302 institutions in 50 countries.  All aspects of diseases affecting mankind are covered.  The importance of 67 risk factors and clusters of risk factors are compared globally.  The biggest global risk factor for disease is now high blood pressure.  In Ireland there are nearly one million people who have this problem.  It is believed that half of these do not even know they have a problem.  Of those that do, 57% are not on any treatment.  Of those on medicines 70% do not have  blood pressure reduced to a safe upper limit.  Blood pressure contributes to heart attacks and other heart problems such as palpitations, strokes, peripheral blood vessel disease, aortic aneurysm, kidney disease, cognitive impairment and dementia.

It is now standard policy to diagnose high blood pressure by wearing a monitor to track the blood pressure over twenty four hours.  Because once medicines are started, in most cases it is for life. It is rather strange that once the diagnosis is made the immediate tendency is the prescription of drugs.  However there is now growing evidence of non-drug strategies that are effective in lowering blood pressure.  Everyone with blood pressure problems should be aware of these possibilities.

It is very reassuring to see that Ayurvedic strategies for treating blood pressure are nowadays gaining credence and being validated by scientific research.   The association of cardiologists in the USA, the American Heart Association, on their website state that Transcendental Meditation has sufficient scientific evidence for TM to be considered as a treatment for high blood pressure.  They also mention that there is a 43% reduction for death and heart attacks for those practicing TM.

I had a patient who learnt Transcendental Meditation (TM) because he had been diagnosed with high blood pressure.  For three months he practiced the TM regularly and his blood pressure came back to normal.  I met him after the fourth month and asked him about his TM practise.  He had stopped it.  I asked why.  He said because he did not know whether it was TM that had reduced his blood pressure so he decided to stop.  Two days before this interview he had his BP measured to discover it was again raised.  Two years later he has hardly missed one session of his TM and his BP, which he regularly monitors, is normal. 

I met a couple.  Without him knowing, his wife had been keeping a chart monitoring his blood pressure and also monitoring his regularity of practise of TM.  When he was regular in his TM practice his BP was normal.  When he missed his TM his BP was raised.  She was doing this in order to persuade him to be regular as she could see the benefits.

There are now very many good published research studies which show that the regular practise of TM is as good as taking first line medicines for blood pressure.  What is surprising is that doctors do not know this and do not prescribe it.

Another strategy which Ayurveda would recommend as a treatment for raised blood pressure is diet.  A very similar diet to that Ayurveda advises is now receiving scientific verification.  In scientific language it is called the DASH diet –‘ Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension’ - and includes whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit and less animal products.

Exercise is another approach that works to help reduce blood pressure and again there is significant research to support this.

Weight loss is important for those who are obese.  Reduction of 10 kgs weight reduces BP between  5 and 20 mms Hg.

There are also dietary supplements which may be beneficial according to research.  For example garlic, omega-3 oils, magnesium and Co Enzyme Q10.

It is also wise to avoid caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs,  sugar in any form, animal food as much as possible, dairy, refined foods and saturated fats,.

Ayurveda knew about blood pressure thousands of years before the sphygmomanometer (which measures blood pressure was invented).  There were two types of blood pressure conditions described.  ‘Sirabhinodhana’ is raised arterial blood pressure and ‘dhamani pratichaya’ is raised venous blood pressure.  Moreover there are three causes described – a vata type, a pitta type and a kapha type.  The vata type is psychologically associated with anxiety, fear, stress and insecurity.  Pitta type is associated with judgement, criticism, anger, hate, envy and jealousy.  Kapha type associated with low mood and sluggishness. 

So the actual treatment for hypertension in Ayurveda is much more nuanced than the modern approach that uses medicine alone.  The appropriate routine and diet to balance vata, pitta and kapha can be used.  Also there are herbals which help.  A spa treatment which involves the continuous flow of oil over the forehead while lying relaxed is also useful. 

But the real beauty of Ayurveda is that the individualised program to reduce your blood pressure will enhance your overall health and quality of life.  This is a better strategy than helplessly submitting to a life time of dependence on drugs.  It may be that a medicine will still be needed.  But there is a possibility of controlling blood pressure naturally.  Also less drugs are likely to be needed if the above strategies have not fully reduced the raised blood pressure.