Would you believe that more than a third of all Americans suffer from high blood pressure? No, we didn’t just come up with those statistics. According to the American Heart Association, one in every three adults suffers from high blood pressure. These figures are scary, aren’t they? Well, with the fast-pace of the society we live in, where we want to have everything on the go, it could be worse. The sad part, however, is that most medical interventions aren’t as effective.
First, let’s shed some light on high blood pressure/ hypertension.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure refers to the force of blood which pushes against arterial walls as the heart pumps blood. This flow is necessary for life – for oxygen to reach the cells in all parts of the body. When taking pressure readings, the stethoscope records the systolic and the diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure is the pressure of the heart when it is beating and pumping blood. Diastolic pressure is the pressure of the blood when it is resting – that is, the pressure between heartbeats. Diastolic pressure, is, basically the resistance to blood flow in the blood vessels.
Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80mmHg. Any value above or below 120/80mmHg spells trouble.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has the following guidelines for the diagnosis of blood pressure issues.
- Prehypertension is systolic pressure between 120-139mmHg and a diastolic pressure ranging from 80 to 89mmHg.
- Stage 1 hypertension is when the systolic pressure lies between 140-159mmHg and the diastolic pressure ranging from 90 and 99mmHg.
- In stage 2 hypertension, the systolic pressure is above 160 while the diastolic pressure is above 100. [Source]
Why are we wary of these numbers that indicate high blood pressure?
Simple – it is dangerous to make the heart work harder than necessary when pumping blood. The high pressure exerts extra stress on the heart, which causes the arteries to harden. This could lead to stroke and heart failure. With all the pressure on the heart muscle, the heart has little resting time.
Unfortunately, in most cases, high blood pressure isn’t noticeable until when it’s too late. This is why the medical fraternity calls it a silent killer. Even when finally diagnosed, patients have to live with the disease making subtle/ drastic lifestyle changes to keep the numbers around 120/80mmHg.
Types of high blood pressure
Primary/ Essential High Blood Pressure
This type of hypertension doesn’t have an identifiable cause. The term essential is used because it develops gradually as one grows old. Primary high blood pressure results from a genetic predisposition an individual may have.Age and race also play a role in essential high blood pressure. [Source]
Secondary high blood pressure
This blood pressure comes from an underlying condition. It appears suddenly. Some of the medical conditions associated with secondary hypertension include kidney problems, adrenal gland tumors, obstructive sleep apnea, thyroid problems, illegal drugs, alcohol abuse, or medications like birth control pills, decongestants, and over-the-counter painkillers.
Why are we looking at essential oils as the possible treatment for hypertension?
First, there is no cure for high blood pressure. Even with prescribed medication, you will suffer some ugly side effects. Yes, some medications will help keep the pressure low but they will not find the underlying cause of the condition.
Essential oils, on the other hand, are natural products from Mother Nature with active ingredients that enhance good health. How? When you apply essential oils on the skin, the active ingredients penetrate the skin cells through all the hair follicles, the fat and the sweat glands and into your body fluids.
Once in the body, the essential oils do the following:
- They enhance digestion
- Promote natural healing
- Boost immunity
- Enhance growth of new healthy cells in the body
- Enhance elimination of toxins
They also get into the airways where oils absorbed in the lungs oxygenate the blood.
Some of these essential oils include:
- Cedarwood essential oils
- Tea Tree Oil
- Bergamot Essential Oil
- Rose Essential Oil
- Clary Sage Essential Oil
- Frankincense Essential Oil
- Sweet Marjoram Essential Oil
- Jasmine Essential Oil
- Lavender Essential Oil
- Lemon Balm Essential Oil
- Valerian Essential Oil
What causes high blood pressure?
Even though there is no definite cause of high blood pressure, the following are the main factors that increase your risk of getting high blood pressure:
- High salt intake
It’s been said time and again that too much salt increases your risk of high blood pressure. Perhaps you still wonder, how? Well, your body requires a specific but small amount of salt every day. Salt, as you know is sodium chloride, and sodium is essential for the maintenance of electrolyte balance in the body. Unfortunately, intake of excess table salt means that your body has to take in extra water to dilute the salt. Subsequently, your body will have to get rid of the excess water and in doing so, it will make the heart work harder. Eventually, this causes high blood pressure. [Source]
A cigarette is full of chemicals, and none of the chemicals in that puff is good. The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the inner lining of the arteries. The arteries become narrow, and this increases your blood pressure over time. [Source]
When stressed, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol. Cortisol stimulates production of ‘fight’ and ‘flight’ hormones because the body senses danger. These hormones increase the flow of blood (oxygen and glucose) to muscles. The heart rate rises too. One of these muscles is the heart muscle. With the increase in heart rate and the need to pump more blood, the blood pressure spikes.
Cortisol also narrows the arteries and epinephrine increases heart rate exerting pressure on the heart to pump blood faster. Continual arterial pressure due to stress leads to damage of the arterial walls as well as the buildup of plague. These are the ideal ingredients for heart attacks. [Source]
An increase in weight makes it harder for blood to move around the body. There is also the case of the extra fat deposits collecting on arterial walls meaning that the arteries get stiff and thick. They lose their elasticity, and there is a need for higher pressure for blood to reach all organs.
Similarly, obesity causes hypertension by putting extra pressure on the kidneys. When squished under fat, the kidneys feign death unless the blood pressure is high to keep them going. Kidneys play an important role in controlling high blood pressure. When another factor changes the kidney’s ability to carry out its duties with ease, then it fills the deficit by asking for extra pump pressure.
The other reason why obesity causes hypertension is because of its effects on the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system that controls blood flow throughout the body and along the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system controls sodium levels and water retention. Obesity interferes with this system resulting in hypertension. [Source]
- Genetics and family history
Some people are genetically predisposed to high blood pressure. In most cases, this happens when the gene interacts with lifestyle factors. Smoking, alcohol use and lack of physical activity increase the risk of high blood pressure if genetically predisposed. [Source]
- Kidney damage
The kidney filters wastes and extra fluids from the body. In the case of kidney damage, these functions stop as well. When this happens, the excess fluids have to pass through the arteries putting pressure on the arteries and the heart, causing high blood pressure. [Source]
What are the risk factors for developing high blood pressure?
- Age: you have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure as you grow old.
- Race: Blacks have a higher predisposition to high blood pressure compared to whites.
- Sex: women or more likely to develop high blood pressure compared to men [Source]
- Use of birth control pills
- Drinking alcohol excessively
Management of high blood pressure
- Use of essential oils
As mentioned earlier, essential oils travel through the bloodstream where they impact their health benefits. While there are different pathways to which they impact their body, including their interaction with the limbic system, which helps manage high blood pressure.
- How does this limbic interaction work?
When inhaled, the odor molecules in oils travel to the brain and the limbic system specifically [Source]. Besides being the emotional center, the limbic system plays a big role in controlling the blood pressure, heart’s rate, stress levels, breathing, memory, and hormonal balance.
The Best Essential Oils for High Blood Pressure
- Cedarwood Essential Oil
This is a primary essential oil for management of high blood pressure. It is rich in sesquiterpene cedrol which stimulates the limbic (region of the brain) system when inhaled. The limbic region is the center of emotions, and when stimulated, cedrol produces sedating effects. The pineal gland also produces melatonin which lowers stress levels. Every hypertensive patient needs to relax for their pressure not to spike. [Source]
- Bergamot Essential Oil
The crisp and refreshing smell of this citrus-based essential oil is the main reason for its use in cosmetics. But, that isn’t all bergamot oil is good at; this aesthetically appealing oil has incredible medical benefits too. [Source]
Inhalation or diffusion of bergamot essential oil lowers high blood pressure. Perhaps this is the reason why most people who practice aromatherapy using this oil have few blood pressure issues. The oil doesn’t just lower the blood pressure, it slows the heart rate too (all within the normal, acceptable rates).
Bergamot essential oil alleviates stress, uplifts the spirit and boosts mood. When you sniff or inhale the oil, your nose releases neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin thanks to signals from the olfactory gland. These neurotransmitters are feel-good hormones, and they will trigger your happy bone. In a high-stress environment, studies show that inhaling this oil for about 15 minutes will calm your anxiety. [Source]
Finally, bergamot oil not only reduces pressure in the blood vessels, but it also curbs emotional hunger and eating by boosting production of dopamine which reduces the impulse to reach for comfort foods.
- Rose Essential Oil
If you have ever used essential oils, then you know that this essential oil has significant calming effects. It turns out that that isn’t all that rose essential oil does, rose essential oil has cooling and anti-inflammatory effects meaning that the oil can relax your whole body. Rose essential oil also increases blood circulation, and this helps in lowering high blood pressure. [Source]
- Marjoram Oil
Though many of us know little about this Moroccan Essential Oil, it relieves stress and also boosts mood. For many decades Marjoram oil has been used in treating hypertension because it can dilate blood vessels lowering blood pressure.
Thanks to its high alcohol levels, Marjoram is an excellent analgesic. It also warms the body calming down emotional disorders and creating a balance in the nervous system. [Source]
The woody and the spicy aroma makes this oil a good remedy for depression. It also helps curb emotional eating.
Studies show that Sweet Marjoram oil alleviates myocardial oxidative stress. This oil is, therefore, effective in lowering blood pressure and reducing symptoms of heart attacks. Even Indian Ayurvedic medication systems show extensive use of Sweet Marjoram oil in the treatment of depression and hypertension. [Source]
Besides these benefits, this oil has therapeutic benefits which include hormonal support, improved brain functioning, and reduced muscle cramps/ aches.
- Clary Sage Essential Oil
This essential oil has magnificent health benefits ranging from improving blood circulation, naturally relaxing arteries and nerves. These lead to lowered blood pressure.
Clary Sage essential oil also boosts metabolism by increasing blood supply to organs and muscles. A study by the Department of Basic Nursing Science in the Republic of Korea showed a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure in women who inhaled the oil. The reduction in diastolic blood pressure was also notable as was the rate of respiration. This test was for women with urinary incontinence, and the results showed that Clary sage was effective in reducing blood pressure even more than lavender oil.
Clary Sage is also effective in lowering stress and symptoms of depression. Note that lowering depression leads to lowering of the blood pressure associated with the condition. [Source]
- YlangYlang Essential Oil
The main medicinal properties of this essential oil include being an antidepressant, a sedative, an antiseptic, an aphrodisiac, an antiseborrheic, a nervine, and a hypotensive. The scent of YlangYlang soothes the mind and the body relieving stress and tension. It also causes a marked decrease in blood pressure when inhaled. Stress and tension also decline with the use of this essential oil. [Source]
A research report in The Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation confirmed that YlangYlang Essential oil lowers high blood pressure and heart rate. [Source]
- Frankincense Essential Oil
This oil has powerful calming effects and not only does it lowers stress levels, but it also helps to regulate the heart. You may need to increase the amount of oil you use for you to manage your blood pressure. Fortunately, it is atonic, and its benefits will increase with time. It regulates a healthy heart beat and heart rate while easing out hypertension and stress. [Source]
Frankincense oil is common in Egyptian ceremonies where it promotes peace of mind while reducing stress levels.
Oh, did you know that in Egyptian ceremonies (Occidental Cultures), they burnt resin and diffused Frankincense oil to promote calm and peacefulness of the body and mind! [Source]
- Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil towers high on the list of essential oils with medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Its efficacy is felt through its significance in managing high blood pressure even when it feels unmanageable. It is a natural healer, and besides helping you finally sleep, lavender essential oil reduces stress and tension. You can also use it to treat headaches because of its analgesic properties. [Source]
Studies on impulses of individuals/ patients who inhaled lavender oil before and after an EEG revealed that lavender oil could reduce blood pressure, heart rate and also increase the relaxation wave in the brain. Inhaling lavender oil also makes you alert and feel more refreshed. [Source]
- Jasmine Essential oil
This deliciously sweet essential oil can trigger feelings of Euphoria. It is an excellent analgesic, and an antidepressant that calms nerves boosts mood and make you feel a little more positive. Jasmine essential oil also contributes to striking a balance with your emotions hence alleviating depression and anxiety, contributing factors for high blood pressure. [Source]
- Tee Tree Oil
The oil is an extract from a plant native to Australia. It has calming effects on the nervous system. It also works as an effective antidepressant, analgesic, and an anti-inflammatory agent. It lowers blood pressure by relieving stress, improving circulation and reducing heart rate. Frequent massages using tee tree oil increase release of oxytocin into the blood. Oxytocin naturally reduces stress lowering blood pressure. [Source]
- Valerian Essential Oil
It has calming effects on the nervous system where it relaxes the sympathetic nervous system if tense. While relaxing the sympathetic nervous system, it counteractively stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. These two mechanisms send signals to the brain asking the body to relax/ rest. Valerian essential oil also eases insomnia, heart palpitations, hyperactivity, and tension in the nerves. It is, therefore, the best oil to use before turning in for the night. [Source]
How to use essential oils for high blood pressure
- Bath: adding a few drops of essential oils to your bath water will help lower your blood pressure by making you relax.
- Massage: a relaxing massage with diluted essential oils also help in management of high blood pressure
- Diffusing: you can use an aromatherapy diffuser to feel the benefits of essential oils.
Wrong Essential Oils For Persons With High Blood Pressure
While we have a long list of all the essential oils that you should be taking to manage hypertension, we also have a list of essential oils you should avoid. It is important to note that even though essential oils are great, some have ingredients which are potent and could result in adverse side effects. These are:
- Rosemary oil
- Thyme oil
- Black pepper oil
- Peppermint oil
- Cinnamon oil
- Olive oil
Other ways of managing high blood pressure
Other than essential oils, you can use or do the following things to keep your blood pressure around 120/80mmHg.
Eat the right foods
There are several superfoods for the heart which aren’t as boring as you image. The foods include:
- High fiber foods – of course, this has to top the list. Whole fiber foods help in staying healthy by slowing digestion and keeping obesity at bay.
- Dark chocolate – this is a great superfood for the heart. Cocoa is rich in phenols which help in reducing high blood pressure.
- Omega-3 foods – these foods help in balancing cholesterol in the blood. They also encourage the formation of good cholesterol while discouraging the formation and accumulation of bad cholesterol on arterial walls. Clogged arterial walls increase blood pressure, and by consuming omega-3 rich foods, you prevent or lower high blood pressure. Foods rich in omega-3 oils include chia seeds, salmon seeds, beef, or flax seeds.
- Low sodium foods – as mentioned above, high intake of salt (sodium) leads to hypertension. For this reason, you should reduce your salt intake. It is advisable that you limit your daily salt intake to about 1700mg per day.
- High potassium foods – potassium is an important element in nervous stimulation and signal transduction. The relaxation and contraction of heart muscles, as well as the arterial walls, depend on potassium. Therefore, you can boost the performance of the heart by eating potassium-rich foods such as melons, bananas, and avocados.
Foods to avoid
- Caffeine which can raise your blood pressure by about 10mmHg.
- High sodium foods
- Omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats
Besides foods, you should also consider making some lifestyle changes. Some of these changes include:
- Quitting smoking
- Getting physically active and losing those few inches off your waistline. Some of the best exercises to help lower blood pressure include jogging, walking, swimming, cycling or dancing.