Hypertension: The Cause and the Cure
Julian Whitaker, MD
If you have high blood pressure, what can you do? First, you need to understand the underlying causes. Hypertension is not so much a disease as it is a reflection of the body’s response to dietary preferences, excess weight, and lack of exercise.
The major dietary factor is our lopsided ratio of sodium to potassium. Human beings evolved as hunter-gatherers, on a diet virtually devoid of sodium and very high in potassium. Consequently, the kidneys tend to get rid of potassium but hang on to sodium. Today, sodium chloride (table salt) is our primary seasoning, and our sodium-potassium balance is way off kilter. In response, doctors routinely promote an unpalatable low-sodium diet, but they ignore the other, equally important aspect of the ratio: increasing potassium.
According to a 2010 Dutch study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the effects of eating more potassium are “of similar magnitude to what can be achieved by lowering sodium intake.” The researchers suggested that this could be accomplished by eating more potassium-rich vegetables and fruits and replacing sodium chloride—especially in processed foods, our most abundant source of sodium—with potassium salt.
We’ve been doing that at Whitaker Wellness for years. In place of regular salt, we mix three parts potassium chloride (Nu-Salt or Morton’s Salt Substitute) with one part sodium chloride. Potassium chloride by itself has a metallic taste and doesn’t enhance flavor much. However, with this mixture, which provides a substantial amount of potassium, few people can tell the difference. My inspiration for creating this potassium salt combo was a Taiwanese study in which food preparers substituted salt with a 50–50 mixture of potassium-sodium chloride for a group of residents in an assisted living facility. Compared to a control group, these people had a 33 percent reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease. We also serve our patients lots of plant foods, plus 12 ounces of Low-Sodium V8 Juice per day, which adds an additional 1,260 mg of potassium.
Not everyone with hypertension is salt sensitive, but maintaining an appropriate sodium-potassium balance has a wide range of health benefits. Other dietary indiscretions that contribute to hypertension include excess sugar, starches, fat, alcohol, and, for some, caffeine. Onions, oats, garlic, soy, sesame seeds, pomegranate juice, and dark chocolate, on the other hand, are protective.
Another risk factor for hypertension is obesity. It’s hard to overestimate the importance of weight loss—as weight comes down, so does blood pressure. At the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, which is renowned for its emphasis on exercise, investigators evaluated the body mass indexes (BMIs) and fitness scores of more than 35,000 people. They found that excess weight had a far greater impact on blood pressure than cardiorespiratory fitness. Normal-weight individuals had an average systolic blood pressure 12 mm Hg lower than heavy people, even if they were only modestly fit. (The difference between the most and least fit groups was 6 mm Hg.
There are countless approaches to losing weight, but the most rapid and enduring, in my experience, is the mini-fast with exercise. Here at Whitaker Wellness, virtually all patients who go on the mini-fast lose weight, lower their blood pressure, and get off medications.
…And Take Supplements
We also rely heavily on nutritional supplements that help lower blood pressure, such as coenzyme Q10, magnesium, fish oil, vitamin D, antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, flavonoids like quercetin, and a Chinese herbal preparation called Balance 3. This well-rounded supplement program stimulates nitric oxide production and relaxes the arteries, reduces blood viscosity and improves circulation, protects the endothelial cells against homocysteine and free radical damage, and enhances overall cardiovascular health.
With this multipronged approach of mineral balance, weight loss, and appropriate supplements, the overwhelming majority of antihypertensive drugs could likely be eliminated—along with the side effects that accompany this misguided pharmaceutical approach.
Take Action, Not Drugs
None of these therapies are hard to implement. Granted, it takes a concerted team effort between patient and physician to make lifestyle changes, lose weight, and employ nutritional remedies, but all too often these proven modalities are glossed over. After all, it’s much easier to write a prescription than to impart the importance and particulars of a good diet, exercise, and supplement regimen.
Nevertheless, it is amazing to me that physicians are content to load their patients up on drugs. I also marvel at how often they ignore the established treatment guidelines and bypass inexpensive, equally effective medications such as diuretics, which cost $25–$40 per year, in favor of newer, heavily advertised brand-name drugs that run up to $600 annually.
According to the National Institutes of Health, if you get serious about weight loss, you could reduce your blood pressure by 5–20 mm Hg, and if you eat a DASH-type diet (high-potassium plant foods, low-fat dairy, reduced fat), you could expect to lower it by 8–14 mm Hg. Reductions incurred by sodium restriction would be in the range of 2–8 mm Hg; regular exercise, 4–9 mm Hg; and moderation of alcohol intake, 2–4 mm Hg. When you add the effects of targeted supplements on top of that, it’s a slam-dunk.
- To increase your potassium intake, eat copious amounts of vegetables and a serving or two or fruit per day and drink 8–16 ounces of Low-Sodium V8 Juice. To make “Whitaker Salt,” add three parts of potassium chloride (Nu-Salt or Morton’s Salt Substitute, both available in most grocery stores and health food stores) to one part regular table salt and use for all of your cooking and seasoning.
- Daily doses of recommended supplements are: coenzyme Q10 200–300 mg, magnesium 400–800 mg, fish oil 2–5 g, vitamin D 2,000–5,000 IU, quercetin 500–750 mg, and Balance 3 2–4 tablets. A good multi will provide adequate doses of antioxidants and B-complex vitamins. To order, call (800) 810-6655.
- Reference Card From the Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7). National Institutes of Health. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/hypertension/phycard.pdf
- Van Mierlo LAJ, et al. Suboptimal potassium intake and potential impact on population blood pressure. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(16):1501–1502.
- Wright JT, et al. ALLHAT findings revisited in the context of subsequent analysis, other trials, and meta-analyses. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(9):832–842.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.