There is no naturally normal value for blood pressure (BP), but if yours is higher than that level deemed risky, you need to do something about it or face the possibility of some nasty consequences, such as stroke or cardiac episode, both of which can kill you—and are preventable. During each beat of the heart, pressure varies between a maximum, called systolic, and a minimum, called diastolic. The systolic pressure is the force that pushes blood out of the left ventricle; diastolic pressure refers to the heart at rest. The word diastole means dilation.
High blood pressure can cause arteries to become harder and thicker. Sometimes that can cause a bulge, an aneurysm, a weak spot in the artery that is subject to rupture, resulting in hemorrhage and probably death. Aneurysms don’t disappear by themselves, so some kind of invasive procedure might follow, depending on size and location. Copper deficiency is associated with aneurysm risk, so you might want to look at your diet, particularly if it’s high in zinc, the element some believe will improve male health and performance. But assuring copper sufficiency won’t necessarily prevent an aneurysm caused by elevated BP.
If the heart has to work harder to pump blood against the elevated pressures in the vessels, the heart muscle can get thicker, which makes it even more difficult to pump blood. This is the onset of heart failure, which may or may not be easily treated. In fortunate instances, a thickened heart can revert to normal size. Effects of continued high BP may involve the kidneys, brain and eyes. In polls, most people would rather die than face blindness (Giridhar, 2002) (Pfizer, 2008), which can result from hypertensive retinopathy.
There is no known cause of essential hypertension, but risks have been identified to include salt intake, obesity, race, physical activity, stress, heredity and diet. Secondary hypertension may be related to kidney, endocrine or neurological dysfunction. Medications, such as amphetamines and decongestants, can elevate blood pressure, as can alcohol. What is termed “normal” BP is a systolic pressure less than 120 mmHg and a diastolic pressure less than 80 mmHg (120/80). It takes a visit with your physician to determine your personal baseline and to work out a protocol if one is deemed necessary. That might include a medication besides a dietary intervention to address overweight.
Because cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of mortality in the economically developed world, much attention has been given to it. Diet and lifestyle are significant influences on cardiac risk, and may instigate abnormal lipid profiles, insulin resistance, diabetes and other pathologies suggestive of their impact. Of interest in the management of CVD risk factors are omega-3 fatty acids. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are considered essential; the body is unable to synthesize them. The conversion of the mother omega-3 and omega-6 fats, alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid, to longer-chain fatty acids, EPA/DHA and arachidonic acid, is terribly inefficient. Because omega-6 fats are held to be a dietary excess by virtue of a regimen high in processed foods and cheap supermarket oils, omega-3 fats, as fish oil, have received considerable interest. Fish oil is rich in EPA and DHA, the former having cardiovascular attributes and the latter having cerebral and retinal activity. Together, these fatty acids have induced moderate reductions in blood pressure at doses approximating 3 grams a day in both treated and untreated persons with elevated BP (Abeywardena, 2011). The mechanism explaining the activity is uncertain, but appears related to improvement in vascular endothelial function, one of these being reduction in stiffness. To address concerns about fish oil’s effect on LDL cholesterol, it is noted that the change in LDL particle size from small to large is a benefit (Ibid.).
One characteristic of hypertension is thickening of the arterial wall. In an animal model of hypertension, arterial thickening was attenuated with DHA treatment and the blood pressure decrease was compared to that induced by a beta blocker. Though only conjectural, other mechanisms by which fish oil lowers BP may involve activation of potassium channels (Toshinori, 2013). It is also possible that the anti-inflammatory compounds encouraged by fish oils ameliorate BP through a hormone-like effect that works in conjunction with the fatty acids’ blood-thinning character. Doses here approach 3 grams a day (Cabo, 2012).
In a twelve-week comparison/contrast trial pitting the omega-6 safflower oil against fish oil, the latter was found to offer significant benefit in reducing blood pressure in subjects with mild hypertension (Radack, 1991), while introducing no adverse changes in plasma lipid values. Including this with sixty-nine other random trials, researchers agree that available evidence indicates that inclusion of EPA/DHA in one’s diet reduces both systolic and diastolic BP at doses of at least 2 grams a day (Miller, 2014). Joining a fish oil protocol with a weight loss program, where applicable, wrought a 13 point drop in systolic and a 9 point drop in diastolic numbers in a cohort having a body mass index in excess of 31.0, the point at which obesity is defined (Bao, 1998).
If you take a prescription medication to keep your blood pressure controlled, don’t just stop it in favor of the fatty acids in fish oil. Doing so risks damage from BP rebound, which can cause serious damage to an artery. If you experience unwelcome side effects from your meds, talk with the doctor and look for an alternative drug. There certainly are enough of them on the market. Integrating fish oil with a BP drug is not generally a hazard, and may even be a boon. On the other hand, if BP falls too low, you can get dizzy, especially after standing from a sitting position. Essential fatty acids exist in the realm of complementary medicine, which is meant to complement, not necessarily to replace, conventional modalities in treating a variety of physical maladies. Hypertension is one that is relatively easy to manage.
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Omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure by directly activating large-conductance Ca2+-dependent K+ channels
PNAS March 4, 2013. Published online before print March 4, 2013
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