“Mr. Durden, you’ve had a heart attack”. Those were not the words that I wanted to hear, but as my wife was driving me to the emergency room of the hospital nearest to our home those were the words that I suspected I might soon be hearing. I had been experiencing symptoms of cardiovascular disease for three years but every test that I took in order to diagnose my chest pain came up negative. Even the EKG which the technician performed on me as I lay on a gurney in Room 41 was read by the machine as “normal”. The ER physician was not so sure, and the blood work confirmed that my heart muscle was indeed unhappy. The story of my heart attack, surgery, hospitalization and recovery I have already written. There is a side story however that I believe needs to be told in the hope that it will help somebody somewhere, and that is the tale of my high blood pressure.
Hypertension is what high blood pressure is called in the Medical world, and in 2013 the prevalence in America of hypertension in people 18 years of age or older was 28.6%. The population in America in that year, according to the Census Bureau and the World Bank, was 316.1 million souls. That works out to 90,404,600 people in America with hypertension, adjusted for how many of those people are over 18. Here’s where it gets just a little bit tricky. There are two measurements which constitute your blood pressure. The high number, called systolic, reflects the pressure of your blood in your arteries when the heart is in full contraction, ejecting the blood out through a large artery called the aorta at the top of the heart and sending it coursing through increasingly smaller channels until it gets to every microscopic corner of your body. The low number is called the diastolic, and this number reflects the pressure of the blood in your arteries when the heart is at rest, filling up the chamber in the left side with good, oxygen-rich blood returning from the lungs and preparing to send it out into the system with the next contraction. These two numbers, displayed as X/Y in which X is systolic and Y is diastolic, is what we call your blood pressure.
Now we get a bit more technical but bear with me; this stuff’s not as complicated as you might think. According to the American Heart Association normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Prehypertension, or a sort of warning stage, is systolic of 120-139 OR diastolic of 80-89. The first stage of hypertension is systolic of 140-159 or diastolic of 90-99. Stage two is systolic of 160 or higher or diastolic 100 or higher, and hypertensive crisis is, well, anything higher that all of that other stuff. Now that you know these things, you know when to look for help, and I strongly suggest that you check your blood pressure periodically and act accordingly.
I was bouncing between prehypertension and stage one for many years. My mother had to deal with hypertension for over thirty years and I assumed that I had inherited that gene from her, along with my good looks and sweet disposition. Mom took a bunch of pills to control her hypertension (among other things) but I really did not want to follow in her path. Winston Churchill, after all, scorned doctors and lived to be ninety with hypertension. He smoked cigars, ate and drank whatever he wanted, and defeated the Nazis with a little help from his friends. Couldn’t I do that too? Apparently not, and when I emerged from the hospital ten days later with a bright red zipper running down my chest and some brand new plumbing on the backside of my heart I carried with me a bag of pills that I was directed to take morning, noon and night.
This was not my thing, but then neither was falling onto my face dead before I hit the ground my thing. The pills were very successful in keeping my blood pressure down; too successful in fact. My pressure two weeks after my surgery was so low that I was readmitted to the hospital for fear that my new arteries were leaking. An adjustment of my medication was all that was needed to set things right. No modification was successful however in correcting the light-headedness which afflicted me as a side effect. I could walk about well enough, but everything was fuzzy; my balance not what it should be. I am an alternative medicine guy and this side effect plus other possible effects that were listed on the prescriptions and on the internet drove me to contact my naturopathic doctor in order to see what could be done to replace my pharmaceutical medications with more natural approaches, and a successful plan has been worked out.
It would take a long time to describe each medication and its effect, and how each naturopathic alternative was particularly applied to perform the desired control without side effects, so I am going to cut to the chase, just give you the verbs, get to the bottom line, etc., etc. But before I do that I will tease your curiosity into reading further by saying that my average blood pressure for the last two weeks is 121/65, and that is without any prescription medication. What follows is how I have accomplished this.
My treatment plan is simple; diet, exercise, and supplements. I will begin by describing briefly the supplements. First, and most important I think, my doctor makes up for me a tincture of a substance called rauwolfia. This is made from the root of a plant from India, I believe. It is a bitter, unpleasant tasting liquid of which I administer two droppers orally twice each day. In addition I take magnesium in a form specified by my doctor, and these are the primary supplements that address my blood pressure. I take other supplements to address the general health of my body, which in turn will be passed on to the heart; various vitamins such as C and D, antioxidants, Co Q 10, fish oil, nattokinase (a substitute for aspirin) and red yeast rice, which is the natural source of statins which are prescribed in their pharmaceutical form for the control of cholesterol. Everything that I take has been recommended especially to me by my doctor, and I do not recommend that anybody wing this on their own. I don’t think you can find rauwolfia on the shelf anyway.
My diet is paleo with some modifications. I eat primarily meat and vegetables, and I know that this would make my conventional cardiologist cringe. Fat, I believe, is not a bad thing. The trick is to eat good fats. I will not write much about this but suffice it to say that there are many schools of thought about the role of fats in the diet and dangers of fat and cholesterol. Books have been written on the topic, and I suggest that you read some. What I do shy away from however is sugar in whatever form I find it. Our society and our diet is saturated with sugar, and what’s worse, chemical sugar substitutes.
Sugar is a primary source for inflammation in the body, particularly of the lining of the arteries which causes the breakdown of those linings, which cholesterol then tries to heal by laying layers on the damaged arterial walls. At least that’s what some folks believe, and I’m one of them. Also, sugar really monkeys with the pancreas, and that organ has to work overtime to regulate the tidal waves of sugar that sweep in from the mouth on a depressingly regular basis in America from obvious sources; candy, sodas, pastries and so forth. But sugar also invades our overtaxed bodies in the form of grains like corn and rice, breads, pastas and white potatoes, and finally in fruits and especially dried fruits, although fruits in very limited quantity have many other redeeming factors. I have, for the most part, removed these things from my diet. Oh, and then there’s processed anything. Any form of chip or wafer, spread or sauce, or canned or packaged ‘food’ with more than five ingredients, any one of which contains more than four syllables or a single ingredient which cannot be pronounced, DONT EAT IT!
So that leaves chicken, fish, pork and beef, leafy greens and other vegetables other than white potatoes and easy on the root vegetables. I have just begun to reintroduce legumes into my diet and we shall see how it goes. I love pinto beans but there is an issue with a substance that they contain called lectins. I believe that this issue may be controlled by much rinsing in the soaking and first boil phase of cooking them, but if this turns out to be a problem they will have to go. I have found this to be a limiting diet it is true. Nevertheless it is one that is easily doable and I am maintaining a decent weight for my height and I consider the payoff to be well worth the sacrifice.
The final leg to my program is exercise, and that one will not require much description. I walk three to four miles three to six times each week. I am often busy with after-work events and this can cut into my walking, but one hour after work is sufficient for me to put in three miles on a treadmill in the basement of my workplace. I prefer walking outside but since I live in the Pacific Northwest, that can be a cold and wet prospect. I prefer walking because it is easier on my old joints and if the treadmill is on an incline, or an outside route with hills is selected, the workout can be just as effective as would be a run.
So there you have it. This is my story of how I gained the upper hand on years of hypertension which included a heart attack. I want to reemphasize that this is a very individualized program devised for me by my doctor, and that anybody else might need some other formula for success or may even have to turn to conventional pharmaceuticals to manage their health. There is no judgement here. My point is that alternative medicine is a viable option for many of those 90 million people in America with some level of hypertension, and I want to let them know about it.