‘The lower your blood pressure, the better off you are.’
That is a quote by Dr. Ramachandran S. Vasan of the Boston University School of Medicine, in an Associated Press (AP) story that I came across while catching up on some research this weekend. It’s the type of ‘one-step-too-far’ statement we see all too often in health care. And not only is this statement untrue, but it’s also potentially lethal to those who are unfortunate enough to believe it.
The quote appeared as part of a story on the most recent findings of the Framingham Heart Study. This landmark study has followed generations of suburban Bostonians for more than 50 years, and has brought us many important discoveries about heart health. But the media coverage of this one, which assesses the relative risks of borderline-high blood pressure, is misleading the public in a dangerous way.
We all know that high blood pressure is a serious risk to our heart health, which is defined as anything above 140/90 mm Hg (or millimetres of mercury, the unit of measurement a blood pressure cuff uses to assess your pressure.) High-normal blood pressure is between 130/85 and 139/89. The main finding of this study is that people in the high-normal range are two to three times more likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure than those with blood pressure readings below 120/80.
A resting blood pressure reading of 120/80 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) is within the normal range.
Low Blood Pressure Can Have Deadly Consequences
Low blood pressure doesn’t make you feel healthy – it makes you feel weak, tired, and light-headed. You may experience fainting spells, heart palpitations, and excessive sweating. When blood pressure remains too low for extended periods, it can cause damage to the liver, heart, and other organs. It can even cause death.
As with most health issues, the key lies in determining the root cause. The most common cause of low blood pressure is overly aggressive use of hypertension medications (more on that in a moment). But it can also be caused by several other underlying conditions. Low blood pressure (medically known as hypotension) can be a sign of an adrenal insufficiency, high levels of acid in the blood, serious blood infections like sepsis, low levels of oxygen in the blood due to asthma or pneumonia, and nervous system conditions like diabetic neuropathy. Heart conditions like arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, and cardiac tamponade (the build-up of fluid around the heart) can also cause low blood pressure.
Most people have no idea that their low blood pressure could be a signal of one of these potentially life-threatening conditions. And most doctors don’t think to tell them. This study is indicative of the prevailing attitude – while it provides specific ranges to define high, high-normal, and normal blood pressure levels, the ‘optimal’ level is defined as anything under 120/80. Let’s think about that for one second: If 20 points over is dangerous, how could any amount under be safe?
Low Blood Pressure – So How Low Is Too Low?
Part of the problem is that acceptable blood pressure levels can vary from person to person. In general, 90/60 is considered the bottom threshold for healthy blood pressure. Anything lower than that is in dangerous territory. But safe levels can vary – and sudden drops in blood pressure, even within the ‘optimal’ range, can signal problems. Some authorities recommend investigating any fall of 30 points or more for probable causes.
Which brings me back to the drug issue. Remember that anti-hypertensive drugs cause most cases of low blood pressure. The AP story reports that the results of this study might lead doctors to LOWER the threshold for treating blood pressure with medications. Following this advice, pharmaceutical companies will broaden their markets – and even more people will be at risk for dangerously low blood pressure and its potentially damaging results.
Low Blood Pressure – Keep Your Blood Pressure Within A Safe Range Naturally
I don’t mean to minimise the useful finding in this study – namely, that people in the high-normal blood pressure range are still at an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. If you fall in that range, you should consider different approaches to bringing your blood pressure down within the optimal range. Remember that many people are able to lower their blood pressure by watching their eating habits and exercising.
But if you need a little extra help, there are many natural therapies you can try. One of the most effective we’ve found is the Ayurvedic herb, arjuna. In animal studies, arjuna has been proven to reverse artherosclerosis, the build-up of cholesterol plaques that can cause high blood pressure. In human trials, it’s shown effectiveness in relieving angina and reducing blood pressure.
But whatever approach you choose, remember that there IS such a thing as TOO LOW. Even if your level is currently normal, you should remember to keep an eye out for sudden drops or abnormally low levels.
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