High blood pressure - otherwise known as hypertension - is characterised by constantly elevated blood pressure beyond the normal value of 120/80. When the heart pumps it creates pressure in the arteries - this is called blood pressure (bp).
Blood pressure readings measure both systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the maximum pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries when the heart contracts, whereas the diastolic pressure is the minimum pressure exerted on the walls of the arteries when the heart is relaxed.
Classification of Hypertension
Systolic (mmHg) Diastolic (mmHg)
Normal 120 80
High Normal 130-139 85-89
High blood pressure
Stage 1 140-159 90-99
Stage 2 160-179 100 - 109
Stage 3 180 + 110 +
Note: Always seek advice from a health professional
In 90% of cases there is no obvious cause - this is known as 'essential or primary hypertension'. Risk factors which increase your chance of developing primary hypertension include: stress (major cause); excess alcohol and salt intake; obesity; lack of exercise; atherosclerosis and excessive cholesterol; hereditary (family history of hypertension); old age; poor diet.
When there is an underlying pathology then this is known as 'non-essential or secondary hypertension'. Secondary hypertension is a complication of other diseases e.g. kidney disease, endocrine disorders, narrowing of the arteries, and some medications such as steroids or the pill. Pregnancy can also cause high blood pressure. This article will focus on primary hypertension.
If hypertension is left untreated it can lead to a range of health problems including: arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries); kidney damage; stroke; heart attack.
If your blood pressure is very high see your gp.
Although in 90% of cases there is no obvious cause, dietary factors and lifestyle play a significant role in regulating blood pressure.
- Reduce salt intake
- Reduce alcohol
- Stop smoking
- Eat porridge - eating oats helps to lower cholesterol levels.
- lose weight if this is a factor
- Increase fruit and veg in diet
- Reduce caffeine consumption - tea, coffee etc
- Avoid trans fatty acids
- Eat oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna and trout.
- Add garlic to your diet
Identify and reduce causes of stress where possible. relaxation techniques (Deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation may be beneficial)
A medical herbalist tailors the prescription to suit an individual's needs. When treating heart conditions herbalists will use a range of herbs which support the cardiovascular system in different ways. For example, plants which reduce blood pressure may be used - these include hypotensives and diuretics; cardiotonics may be used to support heart function; plants which help to prevent the build up of fatty deposits in the arteries may be used; and plants which reduce stress and support the nervous system may also be used. The herbs chosen depend on the patient and therefore no two prescriptions are the same. For example, if two people came to see an herbalist about high blood pressure both would have different prescriptions.
The first patient may have high blood pressure associated with high cholesterol, and present with no symptoms. Therefore the prescription would include herbs to reduce blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.
The second patient may have a very stressful job, difficulty sleeping, headaches and high blood pressure and therefore the prescription will not only include herbs to reduce blood pressure, but also herbs to promote sleep, reduce stress and reduce tension.
Treatment Strategy which may be used by an Herbalist
Hypotensives- hypotensives lower blood pressure -
Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn), Achillea millefollium (Yarrow),
Peripheral vasodilators - these help to decrease blood pressure by dilating the peripheral vessels.
Diuretics - to help rid the body of excess fluid and thus lower blood pressure. -
Taraxacum offcinale fol (Dandelion leaf), Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
Nervines - useful if a person is stressed or anxious which as discussed can contribute to high blood pressure
Scutellaria lateriflora (Skullcap), Tilia europa (Lime flowers),
Cardiotonics - these strengthen and tone the cardiovascular system
Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn)
It is always important to remember that some herbal medicines should not be taken alongside certain drugs. For example, do not take hawthorn if you are on heart or blood pressure medication and Dandelion leaf should not be taken alongside ACE inhibitors. Therefore, a consultation with a medical herbalist is recommended.
NOTE: Seek professional advice, especially if you are taking blood pressure medication.
Crataegus monogyna - Hawthorn flowers
Viscum album - Mistletoe