In Part 1 of this article, I described the roles of magnesium deficiency and insulin resistance in the high blood pressure equation. I also mentioned the scale of this health issue, which affects one in three adults.
I was recently a keynote presenter at the Australian Naturopathic Summit, where 400 practitioners gathered to hone their skills and share their passion. One of the speakers mentioned that high blood pressure was the world’s largest silent killer, as it was so closely linked to stroke, heart attack and several other degenerative conditions.
In this contribution, I will discuss other key players in the hypertension equation and we will look at treatment options that may be preferable to a lifelong prescription of blood pressure medication.
Let’s begin with the issue of high homocysteine. When Dr Kilmer McCully identified this issue in the 1970s, he was ridiculed by his colleagues. In fact, his career was sidelined for 20 years, as vested interests took exception to anything that competed with the cholesterol hypothesis. There was much money to be made in lipid-lowering pharmaceuticals, but the cure for high homocysteine yielded no such golden goose.
Homocysteine is an important workhorse amino acid. However, when its work is done, this nutrient must be successfully recycled, or it turns from an asset to a major liability. If the recycling fails, homocysteine becomes the most vicious of all free radicals. It was thought that this unstable molecule limited its wrecking ball fury to tearing lesions in our arteries. However, it is now known that this free radical can actually attack all organs. In fact, if your homocysteine levels are high in a blood test, this is a much greater guideline to potential heart health issues than cholesterol ever was.
I suspect that you are wondering how this recycling happens and why it can fail. Homocysteine is broken down into core components by a bodily process called methylation. Some of these component parts are re-used and some excreted. This process involves several key nutrients called methyl donors. These nutrients are inexpensive and they can not be patented. Hence, we have seen a massive marketing focus on lipid-lowering drugs for cholesterol, while many doctors have barely been made aware of a more important consideration. The methyl donors involved are vitamin B12, vitamin B6 and folic acid and, in their absence, recycling fails, and mayhem ensues. In fact, high homocysteine is now linked to depression, osteoporosis, headaches and macular degeneration, along with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and coronary heart disease (CHD).
Why So Many Are Missing the Three Key Methyl Donors
It is estimated that over 50% of people over 40, have excessive homocysteine levels. Why the huge level of vulnerability? As is often the case, it is all about diet and lifestyle. B12 deficiency is par for the course amongst vegetarians because good levels of B12 are not found in plants. Spirulina is the highest B12 plant, but a cup of this expensive supplement features the B12 equivalent of a fork full of steak or a half teaspoon of braised liver. B12 is also depleted by stress and alcohol and, most importantly, it is no longer derived from our staple food, bread. One downside of the green revolution hybridisation was the fact that the new mutant wheat plants struggle with the uptake of cobalt. Cobalt is the building block of B12 and many of us are now deficient in this nutrient.
B6 is often called the stress vitamin. In every country I tour, I make the same enquiry. I ask "how many of you can say, in all honesty, that you do not suffer anxiety you would rather be without?" On average, one person in fifty raises their hand. These are the lucky few who have something of value to share or, perhaps, they are just lying bastards. Hehe!
Finally, folic acid is what we remove in the outer part of vegetables and seed when processing or cooking. White bread has 85% less folic acid than wholemeal, for example, and white rice is similarly diminished.
How to Lower Homocysteine
Please check your homocysteine levels at your next general checkup. I had myself tested some years ago, after interviewing South African heart specialist, Dr Willem Serfontein. My levels were very high – in fact, they were 17 micromoles per litre. I was thankful to be alerted to this major health issue. I supplemented with high doses of the three B vitamins involved and monitored myself every month. It took six months to get down to 9 micromoles per litre. This is a bit of a wake up call for all supplementation. It often took many years to create the shortage, so it is unlikely you will fix it in a month. Here's what I took:
100 mg of B6 each day * – this is often called “the stress vitamin”, because we draw upon this nutrient when we are anxious. Unfortunately, anxiety is endemic is our strange, misguided culture. The level of peace and happiness we achieve in our short life is the measure of the success of that life. Stress is the opposite of peace and happiness.
1000 mcg of sublingual B12 each day * – many of us are lacking a synergist called "intrinsic factor" that governs the availability of B12 via our gut. Hence the sublingual alternative, where the B12 is absorbed via the tongue.
1000 mcg of methyl folate each day * – it is critically important that you avoid synthetic folic acid (like that added back to bread after the original is removed with processing). This man-made garbage has recently been linked to a range of health problems, including cancer.
A B-complex supplement each day * – it is important to be aware that B vitamins need each other for optimum functioning. They bounce off each other in a synergistic manner, so it is essential to combine a B-Complex with any singular B vitamin supplement.
So, to address a major issue like this, one would require four pills a day, for a minimum of six months. This is a proactive step towards problem-free longevity and robust health.
Clean Air and Vascular Health
It has been long understood that fine particle pollution sponsors CHD, but recent research has revealed a powerful link between the air you breathe and the constriction of your blood vessels. I had often wondered why the blood pressure readings of those in Asian cities are generally much higher. Singapore, particularly when the neighboring palm plantations are burning off, can be a most unpleasant place. Asthma levels skyrocket, but so does the plethora of conditions relative to hypertension.
Here are some strategies to help counter the problem created by fine particle pollution.
1) Fabulous fish – there is now considerable research suggesting that regular supplementation of fish oil supplements, or consumption of fatty fish, can reduce the impact of pollution. Fish oil is both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, and this dual action reduces the damage potential of fine particles. Fish oil is also a favoured supplement to reduce blood pressure.
2) Be prepared – there is a new Smoke Smart App that increases awareness of high pollution days, particularly related to ever-increasing bush fires. Hospital admissions for heart issues, and those associated with hypertension, spike dramatically during dust storms or bushfire events.
3) House plants to the rescue – NASA has conducted significant research into the air cleansing capacity of house plants. The very best of the bunch is the peace lily, as it has been shown to remove the five most common household pollutants from the air we breathe in our homes. Toxicologists have noted that the inside of a modern home is now more toxic than a large Chinese city on a bad day. Our plastic fantastic decor outgasses phthalates at 1% per year. Plywood, paints, carpet and chipboard pour out their chemical components, and treated fabric and furniture combine with household cleaners to complete the constant contamination. Peace lilies suck up and process the most abundant of these contaminants including formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, toluene and xylene. Other house plant essentials, each with their own unique, air cleaning capability, include the snake plant (Mother-In-Law’s Tongue), the rubber plant, the philodendron, the bamboo palm and Aloe vera. Aloe vera cleanses benzene, but it also doubles as a pain killer and a digestive tonic.
4) Purify your air – the very best air filters are called HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) cleaners. If you live in a city or near any other source of pollution, this is an essential investment.
5) Use common sense – ban the smokers, always use your exhaust fans, keep the car windows closed in the city, avoid aerosols, avoid diesel fumes on the farm, and always wear a mask when applying chemicals (or microbes).
The Taurine Spike
The amino acid, taurine, is more abundant in meat than plant food, so vegetarians can often suffer deficiencies. However, it can be a problem for all of us if we have exhausted our limited capacity to produce protease.
Protease is the enzyme responsible for breaking down protein into amino acids. According to Dr Edward Howell, we have genetically inherited limitations to the amount of enzymes our pancreas and liver can produce in a lifetime. If we consume large quantities of cooked or processed food, we are effectively drawing from a finite bank account. In the case of protease, this is not a good outcome. When we are unable to access amino acids from protein there are multiple negatives, and one of them can be a taurine deficiency.
Taurine is known to reduce high blood pressure. The most likely explanation relates to taurine's role in assisting cellular uptake of insulin – we discussed the link between insulin resistance and hypertension in Part 1 Taurine also assists with fluid retention, which has also been linked to high blood pressure. You will typically know if taurine deficiency is the root cause of your pressure problems because fluid retention is visibly obvious.
It is important that taurine is supplemented only when it is needed, i.e., let fluid retention be your guideline. Informed supplementation of taurine may be particularly important for women. A recent rat study involving injected taurine revealed significant blood pressure reduction in male rats, while there was actually an increase in blood pressure amongst the female rats.
Nitric Oxide – Better Blood Pressure and Sex
The discovery of nitric oxide, and its importance in our bodies, has generated three Nobel prizes to date. Quite simply, this important substance dilates our blood vessels to ease the flow of blood and oxygen. This has obvious importance for hypertension, but it can also be very important for a happy sex life. In fact, Viagra works by ensuring that there is an adequate supply of nitric acid to the genitals.
A common cause of low nitric acid is uric acid – hence, the common link between gout and high blood pressure. The most common dietary villain here is high fructose corn syrup from soft drinks. Americans consume, on average, more than 400 cans per person per year and this is a major driver of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes
Greens are the best dietary source of nitric oxide, so once again the mighty green smoothie shines as a wonder food.
Arginine is the amino acid required for nitric oxide production and supplementation of 3 – 5 grams of this amino acid per day* has proven a great tool to reduce blood pressure, while also spicing up your sex life.
There is also an increasingly popular, four-minute exercise regime called “The nitric oxide dump”, which facilitates better production and flow of this dilating stimulant. This simply involves 20 repetitions of four exercises, repeated in four cycles (i.e., repeat the cycle of four exercises, four times). The exercises are conducted as fast as possible, and the full cycle will take less than five minutes. Ideally, this regime should happen before each meal, three times each day with a total investment of 15 minutes. These exercises begin with 20 squats followed by 20 sets of alternating arm lifts. Then there are 20 low-impact, jumping jacks, concluding with 20 shoulder presses. Here is a video from Zach Bush, the originator of this concept:
High blood pressure is an undeniable time bomb in your system. It is thought to be our largest killer, yet it can be addressed and corrected with relative simplicity. We can choose to accept indefinite pharmaceutical intervention to manage the symptoms, or we can get back to root causes and solve the problem. Hopefully this two-part offering has provided the motivation and tools to reclaim responsibility for your own health. If so, I wish you every success.
** Disclaimer: This content is a personal view only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.