Blood pressure is the force of the flowing blood pushing against the walls of the arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when the blood pressure rises and stays high over a period of time, causing damage to blood vessel walls. Hypertension is a dangerous condition because it often shows no symptoms, which means that a person can have it for many years before realizing it. If left uncontrolled, hypertension can lead to serious health problems including heart attack, stroke, brain damage, kidney damage, and blindness.
There are two types of hypertension, classified according to their cause. Primary or essential hypertension has no identifiable cause, and tends to develop gradually over many years. Secondary hypertension tends to develop more suddenly and is the result of another condition, most commonly kidney or thyroid disease, or is a result of taking certain medications. There are many factors that increase the risk of hypertension, some of which we can’t control, such as genetics, age, and race, and some of which we can control, such as long-term stress, obesity, smoking, high-salt diet, alcohol abuse and a sedentary life style.
Because diet, stress, and lifestyle play such important roles in the development of hypertension, they are key factors in managing and preventing it. Diet is an important factor, and lowering salt intake, eating less packaged and fast foods (which are high in sodium and fat), and eating fruits and vegetables regularly will all have a positive effect on blood pressure. Cutting back or cutting out smoking and excessive alcohol intake will also reduce blood pressure. Physical activity is a necessity in fighting hypertension; this can be as simple as a half hour walk every day. Managing stress and taking time to relax is also important because constant stress and emotional instability can cause blood vessels to contract.
In Western medicine the treatment of high blood pressure depends on the severity of it. Mild hypertension can be treated with lifestyle changes and relaxation. More severe cases require medication. Unfortunately, there is no real cure for hypertension, which means a patient usually has to take medication for life, and may also be dealing with side-effects for life.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) hypertension is also the result of emotional imbalance, poor nutrition and stress but in TCM there is a different view of hypertension. Western medicine approach considers hypertension to be a disease of the cardiovascular system. TCM takes into account the dysfunction of the whole body, which commonly involves the improper functioning of the liver and kidneys that may affect the function of heart. Emotional problems and stress may lead to improper liver functioning, whereas poor nutrition will have an effect on the stomach and spleen. High blood pressure and the symptoms are seen as the superficial aspect of the deeper underlying health condition, so treatment is not just to eliminate or alleviate the symptoms, but to treat the underlying cause, and to prevent further progression of other illness or disease associated by the disorder.
Acupuncture is used to help correct the improper function of the underlying problems in the body by returning them to their normal state. A German study in 2007 showed that acupuncture can indeed lower blood pressure, making it a safe and effective option for managing high blood pressure. Combined with the necessary lifestyle changes, acupuncture can help get the condition under control and can help to manage the condition without side effects, offering an alternative treatment for those who are looking for a more natural way to treat high blood pressure.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna, BC.