We are all been told that spiked blood pressure is dangerous, that it leads to strokes, heart attacks and other unpleasantries. Heart disease kills and it does it with a vengeance. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and hypertension is a contributing factor.
There is no shortage of medication for hypertension. One can choose from diuretics to beta blockers, calcium channel blockers or others. It makes no difference. They work. They work for the patient, the doctor and the manufacturer.
High blood pressure – common and costly
We know that about 30% of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure and we know that the percentage goes up with age. By the time we get 70 years old three quarters should expect to have elevated numbers.
Fortunately also three quarters of current population is under medical supervision and apparently our hearts are well taken care off. The prescriptions are flying in bulk into the pharmacies making patients, doctors, and big pharma happy. Between June 2011 and July 2012 Americans spent $US 2 billion on just one hypertensive medication alone, Diovan.[i]
If we are willing to spend that kind of money on health how we are dropping like flies from the heart disease? Are the drugs ineffective or maybe the whole approach is inept?
High blood pressure kills in America, but not in Japan
One day I was sitting in a conference listening to my fellow doctor presenting on kidney disease. Since kidney and blood pressure go together there was a brief period when he mentioned hypertension. And here it was. He whipped out a chart that compared deaths from high blood pressure in different countries. That was an eye opener.
Before this presentation I believed that high blood pressure is a merciless killer cutting down lives all over the globe with equal vengeance. I never questioned that assumption. Thus, when I saw the chart I was stunned. Apparently high blood pressure kills selectively, only in some countries, but not the others.
That’s right. The American or Northern European systolic of 160 mmHg will kill 140 people out of 10,000 in a year, but Japanese or Southern European systolic of the same value will kill only 25.[ii] Less than one fifth. What’s going on?
Spiked blood pressure isn’t deadly
Let’s start with this: high blood pressure does not kill. Otherwise everyone with high numbers will be equally in danger. But they aren’t. For example, physical exertion and weight lifting always causes a dramatic BP spike, more so when the weights are extra heavy.
If spiked blood pressure is deadly, than anybody lifting weights will do it only once, because an average leg press spikes BP to 320/250 mmHg. Some go even up to 480/350 mmHg.[iii] That’s insane! Yet, we don’t hear that leg pressers are dying in droves. So does high blood pressure kill or not?
The above may sound confusing. After all, your doctor is adamant in his stance. He will always offer you meds when your BP goes above 140/90 mmHg. Should you take it? If you are in North America or Northern Europe you should. And not only that. You should go for a hearing test as well.
One factor that makes all the difference
Have you thought why spiked blood pressure seems to affect one type of people but not the other? Have you thought why high blood pressure causes havoc in North America, but not in Japan?
One of the differences is elasticity of the arteries. Elasticity, flexibility, and expandability is the main factor that decides on the patient fate.
Inelastic arteries are like straws. They are stiff like PVC pipes in hardware stores. They can`t bend, bow, or twist. They cannot expand or contract. They are bad at buffering blood flow, exactly the job they supposed to do. When blood pressure goes up they cannot widen. They are fragile and marginally effective. They fail under pressure and when the numbers go too high they just crack and split. Inelastic arteries are dangerous.
Elastic arteries are different. Elastic arteries expand and contract on demand. They function well and aren’t prone to rupture. They are good at buffering blood pressure spikes and are good at redistributing blood. They do their job well at cushioning sudden blood pressure fluctuations.
Ok, so it is not just high blood pressure, but high blood pressure with inelastic arteries that we should really worry about. It is the combination of the two that is the biggest killer and this is the main difference between surviving and dying.
How’s your hearing test?
If you live in North America, or Northern Europe you may be scratching your head now. Since the mortality statistics are not favorable for these geographic locations would living there make your arteries stiff and calcified? Chances are, yes. And not due the fact that everyone speaks English, but due to a crappy diet and lack of exercise these regions are known for.
This is where the hearing test comes in handy. Loss of hearing may be the first warning sign of arteries being calcified. Research shows that declining hearing frequently goes with stiff arteries.[iv] This is not surprising given that ears require flawless microcirculation and good blood flow to function well. So if you are forced to spend money on heart medication and hearing aids.. we have a problem.
Can you touch your toes?
For those who can still hear well there are other ways to suspect arterial calcification. Did you know that body flexibility and arterial stiffening go hand in hand? If you can`t squat, touch your toes, or sit in a lotus pose you are stiff. You may not be a circus performer and you may not need to do toe to mouth trick, but you have to know flexibility has its merits. It makes hypertension less dangerous.
There is a straightforward correlation: flexible body means flexible arteries. You can`t have a subtle body if you grow PVC pipes inside. But can one un-calcify arteries, just by doing flexibility exercises? Apparently yes. One year of yoga can reverse 20% of arterial lesions.[v]
What’s the moral of the story? Should you worry about hypertension or drop your BP meds? None of that. There is a simpler solution: get moving and stop eating crap. High blood pressure does not kill. Crappy lifestyle does.
For more wisdom on fluctuating blood pressure refer to The Ultimate Guide.