Tests for blood pressure are a routine part of medical checkups and over the years that’s become a concern of mine. Once your pressure gets much over 120/80 (and certainly when it’s over 130/90) you become a candidate for medical treatment and I’ve hovered at those levels, and occasionally slightly higher. That’s not terrible. But it’s too high.
In general, I’m pretty healthy. I’d score at least a B+ in many of the major self-care areas: diet, exercise, social connections, self-regulation, sleep, and so forth. This summer, I even ran a half marathon for the first time, losing 12 pounds and a couple percent of body fat in the process. It’s possible that with a more substantial investment in general health habits, my blood pressure numbers would come down. But that seems like too generic of a strategy, and too big a challenge to chase perfection. Though some might consider me a health “nut,” like all of us I have a few weak areas (for instance I’m known to indulge my sweet-tooth at times), and don’t expect perfection from myself. I want a targeted, practical approach, not a general one, to get my numbers under control.
My regular medical doctor, though she’s entirely in favor of improving diet, exercise, and other health habits, considers high blood pressure to be “idiopathic.” That means we don’t really know why it happens.
If a problem is idiopathic, it justifies the attitude that there’s no point in trying to address the underlying cause. We may as well just work to control the symptom. Any drug that lowers blood pressure (and there are many) will do.
This attitude is in direct contrast to the perspective I’ve been gaining through my study of functional medicine. The process of functional medicine dives deeper into the metabolism of health imbalances to discover causes often overlooked by the mainstream medical world. Factors that haven’t yet been graced by sufficient research dollars to emerge from the general soup of intriguing ideas, traditional practices, or tentative hypotheses to take a place as part of “regular” medicine.
That’s why I’ve committed myself to finding the underlying cause of my increased cardiovascular risk, and doing something about it. In the short run, I may even take a diuretic pill or another pharmaceutical product. I don’t want to create long-term damage to my blood vessels during the process of discovering a solution.
I ask my patients to make a long term commitment to improving their health. And that’s what I ask of myself, too. I’m determined to dig deeper to understand the reasons for my elevated blood pressure and find a way to work with my body’s inherent adaptive powers to get it under control.