Many questions have come in on the subject of blood pressure and the cardiovascular system in general. In Part 1, we will look at ways to help the body support healthy blood pressure through the use of herbs. This is, in no way, meant to encourage individuals to stop taking their medication; it is for informational purposes only.
There are a number of factors that can affect blood pressure. Here we will be looking at when blood pressure readings are high and stay that way.
Stress. We actually need some stress in our lives to activate our nervous system so that our body can respond if it is put in a dangerous situation. So if someone is chasing you down a dark alley, your autonomic nervous system kicks into high gear. Blood pressure rises so that it can nutrients to your muscles and brain more quickly. Now, if we were only occasionally under high levels of stress, this response would be healthy. However, as an ongoing lifestyle issue, the result is that for many people, our blood pressure levels stay high because our body thinks we are always under attack. Using an analogy, our bodies’ pilot light should run around 2-3, but under stress it goes to 8-9. If we constantly ran our home furnace at an 8 or 9 all the time, we’d soon have to buy a new one. But for many people, a ‘pilot light’ 8 or 9 is the norm.
One of the ways the doctors of old would help to reduce high blood pressure caused by stress, was to give their patients what are known as “nervines”. The number one nervine given by doctors in western culture up until the last century, was the root of Rauwolfia (a/k/a Indian snakeroot). Rauwolfia serpentina (Apocynaceae family) has been around for thousands of years and was mentioned as far back as 1,000 BCE in Hindu texts (Weiss, Weiss’s Herbal Medicine). Rauwolfia can be taken in tea, tincture or pill form, however, it is not recommended for long-term use. It was considered the fastest acting hypotensive drug in its day.
For long-term use, other, less potent, and more, gentle herbs (or in the case of mistletoe, a parasite which grows on deciduous trees) were used. This list includes mistletoe (Viscum album), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), bacopa (Bacopa monnieri), damiana (Turnera diffusa), gotu kola (Centella asiatica), milky oats and oat straw (Avena sativa), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), passion flower (Passiflora incarnata), schisandra (Schisandra chinensis), American skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and linden leaf and flower (Tilia, spp.), to name just a few! With the exception of bacopa and motherwort, the rest make lovely teas and can be combined in any fashion. The benefit of bacopa, gotu kola and schisandra is that they also fall into the class of herbs known as “adaptogens”. This means that they help to strengthen the adrenals, which is where our “fight or flight” hormones and neurotransmitters such as epinephrine and norepinephrine are released.
Next time we will discuss ways to protect the structure of the cardio-vascular system, namely the arteries and the veins. Thanks!