Your body gives you all kinds of messages when it becomes out of balance. You get a headache when you become dehydrated, sore muscles when you’ve worked out too hard, and an upset stomach when you’re stressed out. This is true with high blood pressure, too; it’s your body’s way of telling you that something in your lifestyle needs your attention.
Blood pressure is a term to describe the strength of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries as it’s pumped by your heart. If that pressure is high, over time it can damage your arteries, heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. It can also significantly increase your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, or stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control report that about a third of Americans have high blood pressure. Also called hypertension, high blood pressure is measured by how hard your heart is working to pump blood. It’s recorded as two numbers; the first is the pressure when your heart is beating (systolic), and the second is the pressure when your heart relaxes in between beats (diastolic). High blood pressure is defined as a reading of 140/90 or higher. A blood pressure measurement in the neighborhood of 120/80 is considered to be healthy.
There are a number of classes of medications that work to lower your blood pressure. However, many patients with hypertension struggle with the idea of taking them long term or want to avoid side effects associated with these drugs. This is where acupuncture and Chinese medicine may be able to help.
Lowering Your Blood Pressure with Chinese Medicine
When it comes to lowering your blood pressure, Chinese medicine has a lot to offer. Acupuncture can be a first line of treatment for hypertension. It affects every system in your body to help bring it back into balance. Researchers have documented that acupuncture increases the circulation of endorphins in your brain, which is a neurotransmitter that suppresses pain and produces a feeling of calm and relaxation. In addition, scientists are learning that acupuncture can reduce ischemia (blockage) around the heart that occurs when the blood vessels become blocked. It also decreases adrenaline, a stress hormones that raises your blood pressure and heart rate when you become stressed.
Chinese herbal medicine may also be used in effectively treating high blood pressure. These herbs are not one size fits all. Rather, they are prescribed in combinations that are best suited to your specific needs. That’s because each patient is unique and comes with their own set of circumstances and health history. Furthermore, in Chinese medicine, there is more than one pattern of imbalance that may the underlying cause of your high blood pressure. Fortunately, there are a number of herbs in the Chinese formulary that may be used to treat high blood pressure, and they can be prescribed to suit your needs.
Most practitioners of Chinese medicine are also trained in dietary therapy, and nowhere is diet more important than in treating hypertension. Your practitioner will likely counsel you on what foods are best suited to your particular situation. However, you may also be directed to avoid fatty, greasy, very spicy foods, and foods that are energetically warm that may contribute to your high blood pressure.
What You Can Do
There are a number of causes of high blood pressure, and one of the most common is stress. However, your genes, diet, age, levels of exercise, and lifestyle choices such as smoking also play a role. The good news when it comes to high blood pressure is that lowering it may be within your control.
The following are some steps that you can take to help lower your blood pressure:
- A good place to begin is to take a good look at the stress in your life. Take some time for yourself, step away from stressful situations, and spend some time doing the things you like to do. Sadly, when you’re feeling the most stressed is the time when it’s hardest to step away. Make your health a priority by getting your stress under control.
- Eating healthfully is also an important step in lowering your blood pressure. Make it a goal to eat more plant-based foods and less red meat, fatty foods, and unrefined carbohydrates.
- Decreasing your salt intake may also help. While cutting salt doesn’t help everyone, about a half of patients with hypertension are salt sensitive and would benefit from decreasing the amount of salt in their diet.
- Alcohol can raise your blood pressure, so limit your intake to one drink per day or less.
- If you’re overweight, losing even a few pounds can have a positive impact on your health. Research has shown that as little as a 5% loss in your body weight can significantly lower your blood pressure.
- If you’re a smoker, now is the time to quit smoking. Doing so can significantly lower your blood pressure.
If you have hypertension, your body is sending you a signal that something in your life is out of balance and needs to change. High blood pressure can be life-threatening if it’s not managed. Fortunately, there are a number of steps that you can take to get your blood pressure under control, and Chinese medicine can be an important part of that process.
Cindy Chamberlain is an acupuncturist in Overland Park, KS and the founder of Eastern Healing Solutions, LLC. She is licensed in Kansas and Missouri and has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine since 1996.