Cold weather can make hypertension worse. TCM diet, herbs and accupressure can help over time - but if your blood pressure is high, do not stop taking your Western meds.
Solids expand in the heat and contract in the cold. The same applies to veins and arteries. The heart pumps harder to move blood through narrower blood vessels. So you should pay attention to your blood pressure in cold weather, especially if you have high blood pressure, hypertension.
Hypertension is clearly defined in Western medicine.
Normal is less than 120/80mmHg (millimeters of mercury); pre-hypertension is 120-139/80-90; stage one hypertension is 140-159/90-99. Stage two is higher. Hypertension requires medical attention, possibly medication.
The term high blood pressure is not found in traditional Chinese medicine, as the concept is relatively new.
Yet Chinese doctors have been treating hypertension as long as Western medics - but they treat the symptoms and resulting medical problems caused by insufficient blood flow to the brain and other organs.
These include dizziness, headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pains, irregular heart beat, vision problems, and so on.
Hypertension contributes to hardening of the arteries and to heart failure.
Early hypertension or pre-hypertension often has no symptoms.
As in the case of other conditions and disease, TCM regards unbalanced yin and yang energy as the main cause of hypertension.
Modern TCM identifies four categories of imbalance:
1. Gan yang shang kang (liver yang energy over active)
2. Tan shi nei zu (phlegm-dampness that blocks energy)
3. Yin xu yang kang (yang hyperactive, yin deficient)
4. Yin yang liang xu (deficient yin and yang.)
Dizziness and headaches are common to all four kinds of hypertension, but they also have different characteristics:
1. Over-active yang liver energy. Patients typically have flushed faces and red tongues. They are easily irritated and angered. Their pulse is strong.
2. Phlegm-dampness blocked energy. Patients often feel that their heads are heavy. Other symptoms include chest pain, flatulence, poor appetite, numb legs and chronic fatigue. Patients usually have a thick white coating on the tongue. Many overweight people fall into this category.
3. Hyperactive yang energy, deficient yin energy. Patients often complain of ringing in their ears, poor memory, sleep problems and/or heart palpitations. They are often irritable and frequently feel hot and thirsty.
4. Deficient yin and yang energy. Patients feel dizzy and experience vision problems; they feel weak and often have palpitations, shortness of breath; stools may be semi-liquid stools.
Patients faces and tongue are pale and they feel cold.
Of course, these different unbalanced energy situations require different adjustments to lower blood pressure, according to Dr He Yan, director of the Cardiology Department of Longhua Hospital attached to the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Everyone, however, should reduce salt and fat in their diets.
1. Removing heat from the liver is the priority for those with over-active yang energy in the liver.
Doctors recommend herbs like tian ma (rhizoma gastrodiae) and xia ku cao (spica prunellae), foods like celery, cucumber and green vegetables, and teas with chrysanthemum and gouqi (Chinese wolfberries).
2. Strengthening the spleen and eliminating dampness are essential to raise blood pressure of those with phlegm-dampness obstruction.
Yi mi (Chinese barley, or Job's tears), shan yao (yams), and hyacinth bean are recommended.
3. Nourishing yin energy to reduce pathogenic heat is the principle in treating hypertension with hyperactive yang energy and deficient yin energy. Chrysanthemum and gouqi can help reduce heat while jujubes, lily root and turtle can help nourish yin.
4. Patients with deficient yin and yang energies require nourishing both energies.
Gui fu ba wei wan, a Chinese patent drug consisting of eight herbs, is strongly advised as it nourishes yin and strengthens yang.
American Ginseng, worm grass (dong chong xia cao, also known as cordyceps and pinkroot), and lily roots can help.
Yet, Dr He cautions that Chinese medicine, including herbs, teas, and foods, take time to work.
Patients who are taking Western medication for high blood pressure should not quit while taking Chinese medicine.
"Hypertension can be very dangerous as it can lead to stroke and paralysis," says Dr He.
"Keeping blood pressure down and under control is the first priority for all patients.
He usually advises patients to take herbs to relieve dizziness and headache, and help protect organs that can be injured by high blood pressure - while they control blood pressure with Western medicine.''
Hypertension patients should eat a bland diet, stop smoking and not drink strong alcohol.
Exercise like jogging is good, but patients should avoid vigorous sports and try to keep a calm mood, especially in cold weather.
Acupuncture by professionals or acupressure by yourself can help relieve symptoms.
(Shanghai Daily December 18, 2007)