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High Blood Pressure Triggers and Treatments
New Research Reveals Underlying Cause

Lower your heart rate with a hand dynamometer.
Lower your heart rate with a hand dynamometer.

In the United States, approximately 108 million adults have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Heart attacks and strokes caused by hypertension, killed more than 472,000 Americans in 2017.

To start dealing with the problem, we first have to understand what's causing it. About 20 years ago, doctors could reliably point to several things that increased your risk of hypertension. Things like smoking, being overweight, too much salt in the diet or a lack of physical activity.

Seeing evidence of a link is one thing. Proving a link is much more difficult. This is an example of the medical opinion from WebMD in their article titled, “Causes of High Blood Pressure.”

In as many as 95% of high blood pressure cases in the U.S., the underlying cause can't be found. This type of high blood pressure is called "essential hypertension."

That quote is on the WebMD website as I write this article on May 31st, 2020... and it's been out of date since at least 1988.

The direct connection between high levels of salt consumption and high blood pressure was clearly established in the Intersalt study published in 1988.

There were 52 centers around the world where researchers tested and followed 10,079 men and women. Each center tested 200 people. Only four locations out of the 52 had salt intake low enough to meet the American Heart Association recommendation of 1,500 mg. of salt a day or less.

In the places where everyone took in low sodium, not a single case of high blood pressure was found. Even more amazing, older subjects had virtually the same blood pressure as participants in their teens. Think about that for a minute. The four locations where people didn't take in more than 1,500 mg. of sodium a day, there wasn't a single case of high blood pressure.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99% of Americans take in more than the recommended maximum of 1,500 mg. of sodium a day. As sodium levels increase, so do heart disease and strokes.

Now researchers have isolated another significant cause. It's a condition known as primary aldosterone. That's where your adrenal glands produce too much of the hormone aldosterone.

Here's how it works. The hormone aldosterone balances sodium and potassium in your blood. Too much aldosterone causes you to lose potassium and hold onto the sodium. The extra sodium causes water retention, which increases your blood volume and blood pressure.

For years doctors and researchers believed that the condition of primary aldosterone was rare. But in the May 2020 study called, “The Unrecognized Prevalence of Primary Aldosteronism,” researchers found it's so common, it may be one of the main causes of high blood pressure.

Researchers showed a direct link between how much extra aldosterone someone's body produced and how severe their blood pressure problems were.

What we need to do now is find ways of dealing with that problem. Fortunately, there are already generic medications that can block the bad effects of aldosterone. But there are also two non-drug ways to deal with the problem.

The first thing you can do is cut down on how much salt you eat every day.

Track your sodium intake for seven days. The find the items that have the highest levels of salt you can cut back on. That typically includes highly processed foods, packaged meals, sauces and canned soups. Swap out or eliminate the high sodium foods to get your total intake down to 1,500 mg a day or less.

The second thing you can do is squeeze something.

In 1992, a pulmonologist named Ronald Wiley conducted a handgrip exercise test. He had subjects squeeze a grip using just 30% of the maximum strength for two minutes. After a two minute rest, they squeezed with the other hand for two more minutes. Then they repeated the exercise.

This was done three times a week for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, the subjects systolic blood pressure (the number that appears on the top) was down by 12.5. The lower number, the diastolic was reduced 14.9.

Those results have been repeated and verified in dozens of experiments since the original. All you need to get started is a hand dynamometer and a few minutes to spare. There are several for sale under $20 on Amazon.com. If you want to live a longer healthier life, cut back on the salt and give a little squeeze.

Links to Studies

The Unrecognized Prevalence of Primary Aldosteronism - A Cross-sectional Study
Jenifer M. Brown, MD, Mohammed Siddiqui, MD, David A. Calhoun, MD, Robert M. Carey, MD, Paul N. Hopkins, MD, MSPH, Gordon H. Williams, MD, Anand Vaidya, MD, MMSc

Resting blood pressure reductions following handgrip exercise training and the impact of age and sex: a systematic review and narrative synthesis
Danielle C. Bentley, corresponding author Cindy H. Nguyen, and Scott G. Thomas

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