Menopause and high blood pressure
It is common to see an increase in blood pressure in menopausal women, however the exact causes of this are not yet fully understood. There are, on the one hand, circumstances wrought by menopause that may contribute to an increase in women’s blood pressure: for example, many believe that changing hormone levels during menopause brings on complications that can increase blood pressure.
In particular, many studies show that a decline in oestrogen levels may be a contributing factor towards hypertension. The reason being is that oestrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner layers of artery walls, which work to relax the blood vessels and keep blood flow at an optimal level. A decrease in oestrogen levels, therefore, may lead to hypertension.
Other factors which may lead to an increase in blood pressure for menopausal women include: stress, anxiety, bad diet, lack of exercise, family history, and smoking. These are common issues that can be found in both women and men, and whilst menopausal symptoms, such as stress, may lead to an increase in blood pressure, there are natural ways to remedy it. Nutrition, exercise, and general good health are accepted ways of maintaining blood pressure. Breaking this down, let’s look at some natural nutrients that may make a difference:
Red and purple coloured fruits such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries contain natural compounds called anthocyanins – these can protect against hypertension. Anthocyanins are thought to reduce blood pressure, and arterial stiffness: their ability to increase nitric oxide production may help to dilate the arteries, which can aid in lowering blood pressure.
Found in nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables, magnesium is thought to lower blood pressure through: dilating blood vessels; preventing heart muscle and blood vessel wall spasms, counteracting the action of calcium; which increases spasms, dissolving blood clots; which can prevent arrhythmia (irregular heart beat), and acting as an antioxidant against free radical damage; which may lead to inflammation. Current science at play also suggests high magnesium levels can aid the effectiveness of calcium and potassium.
In order for calcium to effectively lower blood pressure, it must be consumed in the right ratio to magnesium: too higher levels can lead to a depletion in magnesium, or too low may lead to an elevation in magnesium, and may cause the opposite effect. Similarly to magnesium, if the body’s calcium levels are low, arteries and blood vessels can constrict – causing blood flow to decrease and potentially increase blood pressure. By regulating the levels, blood vessels are able to contract and expand, allowing the blood to flow naturally. Additionally, calcium may aid the communication of signals in nerves and cells – which may also help to control blood pressure. How you should take calcium remains up for debate, however current research suggests the most effective method is through natural produce, such as: dairy produce, green leafy veg, nuts, and seeds.
Similarly with magnesium and calcium, there has to be a balance between the ratio of potassium and sodium in order for blood pressure to be stable: an excess of sodium, generally through eating too much salt, may cause arterial walls to dilate (widen), and increase blood pressure. Secondly, these two minerals can work together to control the amount of fluid inside the body, with potassium alone regulating sodium’s negative effect on salt levels – the right balance between the two can actually optimize the kidneys efficiency. There are suggestions that the more fluid the body retains, the higher the blood pressure can be. Therefore, it’s extremely important to get the right ratio of potassium to sodium to control this. Current science at play indicates the optimal ratio is 2:1 – potassium being the greater. Natural sources of potassium can be found in a good variety of produce, such as: fruits, vegetables, and beans.
Arginine (found in meats, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products, nuts, seeds, oats, and beans) can help increase levels of nitric oxide in the body. In blood vessels, nitric oxide is extremely important as it helps regulate the tone of the endothelium, a layer of smooth cells that line the inside of blood and vessels. If these endothelial cells become dysfunctional, they may cause the blood vessels to spasm, or constrict, which can lead to an increase in blood pressure.
Some flavonoids (found in many fruits, vegetables, chocolate, wine, and green tea) can prevent atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), and promote the relaxation of arterial muscles: allowing arteries to dilate, and for effective blood flow. Other flavonoids may help reduce LDL oxidation (damage from the non- beneficial fats which lead to high cholesterol levels), and prevent platelets (the part of the blood that helps to form clots) from sticking together.
Things to consider
Reducing things in your diet such as alcohol, trans fats, refined salt, sugars, and increasing wholegrains, antioxidants, and omega-3 may help to reduce high blood pressure.
Certain health conditions such as: diabetes or kidney issues, may lead to elevated blood pressure indirectly in addition to the menopause. Symptoms to be aware of which may need investigating are: headaches, palpitations, breathlessness, and nose bleeds.
Please exercise caution if you are on certain medication, as particular supplements should be avoided in some cases. It is advisable to inform your GP and Nutritional Therapist before commencing any supplementation due to possible contra-indications.