Cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. For years we've known that the three major risk factors are elevated cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and high blood pressure. But the newest data and recently revised guidelines show that blood pressure (BP) numbers should be much lower than we previously thought and that even what used to be termed normal to high-normal signals future hypertension.

Hypertension, high blood pressure, afflicts one billion men and women worldwide. One in every five Americans has the problem, more than 50 million persons in the U.S. alone. By the time Americans reach age 55, an astounding 90 percent have elevated BP. Frighteningly many if not most don't even know that they're at risk. That's because elevated blood pressure has no symptoms. It's called the Silent Killer. In fact, most don't really understand what blood pressure actually is or what it means.

Blood pressure is a measure of the force of blood rushing through and pushing against arteries. Measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) systolic blood pressure, the top number in, say, 120/80, indicates arterial pressure as the heart beats, while the diastolic, the lower number, is the pressure between beats, while the heart rests. Increased pressure on our arteries damages those vessels and increases risk of heart attack and stroke.

According to guidelines issued by the Joint National Committee on Blood Pressure and Hypertension in 2003, ideally blood pressure should be no-more than 120/80. When blood pressure increases to a range of 120-139/80-89, the new designation is "prehypertension." Simply stated, that means a person at those levels are virtually certain to have the numbers gradually rise year by year and eventually become full-blown hypertension, 140/90 or more. That is, unless that person takes steps to bring the pressure down as low as possible. Indeed, risk of heart attack and stroke increase with each and every point of elevation. The higher BP rises the greater the risk.

Blood pressure testing in doctors' offices may be inaccurate owing to anxiety or other factors. For a diagnosis of hypertension, physicians should take measurements on three separate visits with patients seated with feet on the floor, back supported in a chair, and relaxed. Today's home BP monitoring devices have been shown to be as accurate or even more so than testing in a doctor's office. Select one with a cuff that goes around the upper arm rather than the wrist for greatest accuracy. I believe that home monitors should be as common in homes as bathroom scales.

Many in the medical community believe that the increased attention doctors now pay to blood pressure will result in more prescriptions for antihypertensive, blood pressure-lowering, drugs. And many doctors will, indeed, be quick to reach for the prescription pad. But those drugs all have the potential for mild to serious side effects including lack of energy, dizziness, frequent urination, cough, and sexual dysfunction.

Fortunately, the latest research shows us that we can, perhaps with the exception of severe cases of dangerous hypertension, control this risk factor naturally through reasonable lifestyle modifications and the use of some newly developed supplements clinically proven to be both safe and effective. Let's start with those lifestyle changes and how you can achieve them more easily than you might imagine.

Blood Pressure and Weight
Overweight and obesity predispose an individual to elevated blood pressure. It is important to try one's very best to attain an ideal, healthy body weight. As a simple rule of thumb, men should have a waist circumference, a belt size, no greater than 40 inches and women no more than 32 inches.

Weight loss is not easy but it can be achieved. As a first step, keep a daily journal of everything you eat and drink for a week. Read your journal and determine what foods and beverages are contributing excess calories and where you can cut back on those calories. Consider what I call pre-emptive snacking. Enjoy small, healthy snacks throughout the day so you never get so hungry that you overeat. Before heading out to a restaurant or party, take the edge off your appetite so you'll eat smaller portions.

Blood Pressure-Friendly Foods
Several studies have come to the same conclusion that those who eat the most fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, small amounts of lean meats, fish and poultry, and nonfat or low-fat dairy foods are least likely to develop hypertension. And by adopting that eating pattern one can significantly lower blood pressure, by as much as one might expect from a prescription blood pressure drug. The most well known of those studies is termed DASH, for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.

Physical Activity
The Greek physician Hippocrates said it hundreds of years ago, though in more elegant terms: move it or lose it! An essential part of a heart-healthy lifestyle involves physical activity. That doesn't necessarily mean going to the gym, jogging, or other strenuous exercise you may not enjoy. The goal is a mere thirty minutes daily of simply moving around actively. That might mean taking a brisk walk, going dancing, gardening, or any other activity. Another way to look at it would be to shoot for walking 10,000 steps a day. You can do that with three ten-minute walks, taking the stairs rather than the elevator, or parking the car at the farthest end of the parking lot.

Coping With Stress
We all have stresses in our lives, in our work, in our personal lives, and in ordinary, day-to-day activities such as driving in traffic. All stress and anger raises heart rate and blood pressure, and those rises can become permanent. We can't rid ourselves of all our stress, but we can learn to cope with it. One very efficient way is by increasing physical activity. Another is to take what I call mini-vacations, taking two minutes a few times a day, especially when stressed or angered, to simply close your eyes and concentrate on slow, rhythmic, deep breathing. Imagine your chest as a balloon you fill with air as fully as possible and then slowly deflate. Two or three minutes later you'll feel terrific.

Sail and Sodium
We've heard a lot about how cutting back on salt and sodium is essential to blood pressure control. But take that advice with the proverbial grain of salt! Yes, very high intake can raise blood pressure. And extreme restriction can lower it. But this approach isn't practical and many men and women are not sensitive to the effects of salt and sodium. By all means we should all practice moderation. But most of the sodium in the modern diet comes not from the salt shaker or the salt on the rim of the margarita glass but, rather, from processed and canned foods and from fast food restaurants.

Along with moderation, we can counterbalance sodium by increasing our consumption of the other mineral electrolytes--calcium, magnesium, and, especially, potassium. Shoot for a daily intake of about 4500 mg of potassium by eating more fruits and vegetables and by adding a teaspoon or two of salt substitute consisting of potassium chloride when cooking. Enjoy nonfat and low-fat dairy products or consider a daily supplement. Mushrooms and shellfish offer a lot of magnesium.

Not long ago, doctors told patients fighting hypertension to avoid alcoholic beverages entirely. Today the word is moderation. In fact, one to two drinks daily can actually improve blood pressure levels. One for women, two for men.

Don't Forget Cholesterol
Research shows us that as we reduce elevated cholesterol levels, blood pressure comes down as well. That's a nice bonus, fighting two risk factors at once. Limit saturated and trans fats in the diet. Eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and cereals. Enjoy plenty of the healthy fats including olive oils, nuts of all kinds, avocados, and fish that provide heart-protecting omega-3 fatty acids. For those with a genetic predisposition to make too much cholesterol--eighty percent of all the cholesterol in our bloodstreams is produced in the liver--a better alternative to statin drugs is larger-than-nutritional doses of the vitamin niacin that both lowers the bad LDL and raises the good HDL. The plant sterols called phytosterols are also proven to lower cholesterol; find them in supplements or in fortified foods.

Secret Weapons Against High Blood Pressure
Newly developed supplements have been clinically proven to dramatically reduce blood pressure levels, producing results as good as would be expected from prescription antihypertensive drugs without the side effects.

Sustained-release arginine is an amino acid that helps the body produce a gas called nitric oxide in the lining of the artery. Nitric oxide relaxes the artery, making it more elastic and flexible and thus allowing more efficient blood flow and resulting in lower blood pressure. A substantial body of scientific evidence proves the effectiveness of arginine in lowering blood pressure and improving blood flow. But most of the research was originally done with either intravenous, continuous flow administration in a hospital or massive dosages taken throughout the day; both approaches are impractical for everyday life. Then researchers learned they could achieve great results with a lower dosage of arginine in a sustained-release formulation. This keeps a constant level of the precursor of nitric oxide in the bloodstream. Eventually, I'm sure sustained-release arginine will be common in health food stores. For now, you can find EP Sustained-Release L-Arginine at or call 800.483.2532 for the best formulation at the most reasonable prices. Take three tablets in the morning and in the evening. Caution: ordinary, immediate-release arginine won't produce desired effects because it does not remain in the bloodstream.

The second, companion, element in blood pressure reduction without drugs is a newly developed and unique formulation of grape seed extract. For more than a decade, scientists have recognized the fabulous antioxidant benefits of the class of plant substances called polyphenols. In fact, the internationally prestigious American Journal of Clinical Nutrition devoted an entire 120-page, 17-article supplement, "Dietary Polyphenols and Health" along with its January, 2005 issue. Grape seed extract (GSE) is a particularly rich source of those polyphenols.

Animal research clearly demonstrated the ability of grape seed extract to improve endothelial function and to reduce atherosclerosis, the clogging of the arteries commonly known as heart disease. Those early studies also strongly hinted that GSE could lower blood pressure. But large amounts were needed for that effect.

Researchers at Polyphenolics Inc., a division of Constellation Wines U.S. in Madera, California, isolated the active component of GSE that lowers blood pressure and produced a unique formulation of GSE that concentrates that isolate. That newly developed supplement is MegaNatural-BP. Ordinary grape seed extract does not have the capability to produce the desired blood pressure improvements.

Much of the investigation into the benefits of MegaNatural-BP has been done at the University of California at Davis by professor of cardiovascular medicine C. Tissa Kappagoda. At the Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego in April, 2003, he and his associates presented the findings of three such studies. Dr. Kappagoda described GSE as "a powerful antioxidant" that has a significant effect on atherosclerosis by preventing cholesterol from accumulating in the arteries.

But more recently have come truly exciting breakthroughs in the use of GSE, specifically MegaNatural-BP, to lower blood pressure in two types of patients.

The first investigation, also done by the U.C. Davis team, involved twenty-four male and female patients diagnosed with what is termed "metabolic syndrome." This is categorized by at least three of the following conditions: abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, low HDL, hypertension, and elevated blood sugar. Thirty-seven percent of the adult men and women over fifty in the U. S. have metabolic syndrome, and are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Patients in that first study were divided into three groups of eight. The first got a placebo, the second was given 150 mg of MegaNatural-BP, and the third took 300 mg of Mega-Natural-BP. At the beginning and end of the one month study, blood pressure readings were automatically measured and recorded every hour for 12 hours.

While there was no blood pressure change in the placebo group, Dr. Kappagoda first announced at the March 26, 2006 meeting of the American Chemical Society, that participants in the other two groups achieved an equal degree of BP reduction, averaging 12 points (mmHg) systolic and 8 points diastolic. Those taking the 300 mg dosage also had a reduced level of oxidized serum LDL "bad" cholesterol. The higher the oxidized LDL to begin with, the better the improvement.

Dr. Kappagoda is now concluding a second investigation of the remarkable capabilities of MegaNatural-BP, this time with men and women diagnosed with prehypertension, with systolic levels of from 120 to 139 and diastolic BP of 80 to 89. Prehypertension is estimated to affect 31 percent of the entire U.S. population, 39 percent of men and 23 percent of women. Contrary to popular belief, those elevated blood pressure levels, now termed prehypertension, affect more than 37 percent of African Americans, 32.2 percent of whites, and 30.9 percent of Hispanics between 20 and 39 years of age--not just middle-aged and older persons. Dr. Kappagoda will present the results of this second study at the FASEB meeting in April.

Want to improve your heart health? Learn more about MegaNatural-BP and how to get it by visiting or call (866.308.7678). Again, standard formulations of grape seed extract will not be expected to lower blood pressure.

To start, I'd recommend taking the sustained-release arginine, three 350 mg tablets twice daily, and one 150 or 300 mg capsule of MegaNatural-BP grape seed extract a day. A list of the products containing MegaNatural-BP is available on the Polyphenolics Web site. Try them for six to eight weeks. Readers of my quarterly publication The Diet-Heart Newsletter got advance notice of my new book, The Blood Pressure Cure, and its program and began following that program. Many have sent letters telling me of wonderful results after taking the arginine and Mega-Natural-BP, with average improvements in systolic blood pressure of 8 to 12 points and lowering of diastolic BP by an average of 6 points. That's as good as would be expected from a prescription drug, without any of the possible side effects.

I'd like to conclude this report on a very sweet note. The polyphenolic compounds found in chocolate and cocoa have been clinically proven to improve endothelial health and to lower blood pressure. Enjoy a relaxing mug of steaming, fragrant Cocoa in the evening while winding down from the day, perhaps an hour or so before bedtime. Don't use the mixes that combine cocoa with sugar and various fats. Choose a brand of the darkest, richest cocoa you can find. The darker the cocoa the more polyphenols it contains, and it's the polyphenols that have been clinically documented to reduce blood pressure. Mix a heaping tablespoon of cocoa with eight ounces of nonfat milk and sweetener of your choice, heat on the stove or in the microwave, and enjoy.


By Robert E. Kowalski

Robert E. Kowalski is a highly trained medical journalist with more than 35 years of experience, specializing in health and medical topics. His best-selling book The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure sparked the awareness of cholesterol as a major risk factor for heart disease, remained on The New York Times best-seller list for 115 weeks straight, and was published in 24 languages in 35 countries. The completely rewritten edition, The NEW & Week Cholesterol Cure, was published in 2002. Kowalski's latest book, The Blood Pressure Cure, will be released by John Wiley & Sons in May, 2007.

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