Adoption of healthier eating habits, quitting smoking, exercise and in most cases drug therapy are the fundamental tenants of the Orthodox approach to the management of essential hypertension.
Although drug therapy may always be a consideration, the holistic approach incorporates several other approaches with a much more vigorous focus on diet, lifestyle, stress management, nervous system function, toxicity reduction and energetic balance.
The idea of “healthier eating habits” as recommended by the orthodox school generally are meant to mean a low-fat, low sodium diet. Increased intake of grains, vegetables and fruit are also encouraged.
The dietary approach that I have found more beneficial goes somewhat against this general recommendation. I have found the Paleolithic form of eating, which deletes all grains, all dairy, all legumes and limits fruit consumption to one or two small servings a day, to be very effective in treating a wide number of conditions including hypertension.
Salt restriction/limitation is likewise recommended as in the Orthodox approach. Avoidance of all processed foods, particularly sugar is also a must.
Getting regular exercise is also an area of common ground between both schools of thought.
Several good medical studies have shown significant positive effects on blood pressure reduction with the regular use of mind/body techniques such as meditation, Chi gong exercise and (my favorite) focused, paced breathing techniques among others. All of these methods essentially induce the “relaxation response” and reduce stress hormones, reduce sympathetic nervous system overdrive and blood pressure among other measurable stress related abnormalities.
The avoidance of toxins, including cigarettes is a fundamental holistic recommendation. The concept of what constitutes a toxin and how one gets rid of it is definitely an area of difference between the Orthodox and holistic schools.
Nervous system imbalances, referred to as blocked autonomic regulation in the holistic world, are believed to be very close to the root causes of essential hypertension. Though this is a somewhat simplified explanation, elevated blood pressure primarily occurs due to constriction of the tiny muscles around blood vessels. The autonomic nervous system controls this function among its many other duties. Most of the drugs presently prescribed to control hypertension, in one way or the other block the constriction of these muscles by blocking autonomic function. From a holistic perspective, the focus of treatment is not to block a normal physiological reaction as prescription drugs do, but on trying to understand why the autonomic nervous system is doing this. Several common possibilities include nutrient imbalances, chronic emotional and physical stress, toxicity, energetic imbalances and others. These concepts and ideas are quite foreign to the orthodox school.
Another area unrecognized by the orthodox school has to do with what I referred to as “energetic imbalances”. Many healing traditions including traditional Chinese medicine, Indian Ayurvedic, Chiropractic and Homeopathy share a fundamental understanding of the human form as being more than just skin, bones, cells and chemicals. In each of these traditions a fundamental vital energy or force is defined and believed to serve as a foundation for the physical form. These “vital energies” which coexist with our more material components can also be imbalanced and ultimately cause symptoms on the physical level. Many times these imbalances influence the autonomic nervous system and in this way may adversely affect blood pressure.
There is certainly no doubt that essential hypertension is a very common condition which if left untreated results in significant health problems, death and disability. The fundamental aspects of treatment which include dietary and lifestyle modification, sodium restriction, stress reduction and exercise have universal appeal from both the orthodox and holistic medical perspectives. Failure of these approaches ultimately results in recommendations of drug therapy to bring pressures under control. Aggressive optimization of non medical approaches including several that are unique to holistic medicine offers a safe and effective alternative to drug therapy either as a stand alone approach or as a complement if drug therapy becomes necessary.