We hear a lot about blood pressure, don't we? Don't eat a lot of salt! Or your blood pressure will go up!
Exercise! Or your blood pressure will rise and you'll die of a heart attack or stroke or something.
Oh, and don't stress, man, or... well, you know.
Blood pressure is one of those universally scary things we know we have to control - particularly as we get older - or bad things will happen.
But beyond that many of us are fuzzy. Like what's with low blood pressure?
Turns out it's not a bad thing except when it's really down there. Then you can pass out from getting up too fast or faint in scary circumstances.
Turns out salt and sitting around all day aren't the only risk factors. Another one is alcohol. Sigh. And gender. Surprise, surprise.
What the experts say
"Stress is a clinically significant factor, but we have to put it into perspective. There are more potent factors that cause hypertension: age, gender, family history and lifestyle things like drinking too much alcohol, which is more of a risk for women than men. Then there's eating too much salt, and obesity. Males are more likely to be affected before age 65; post-menopausal women have a higher frequency of hypertension than men. Ten per cent of men 18 to 35 are hypertensive versus 2 per cent of women. If you are using standard blood pressure medication, there is a risk using herbal remedies because many haven't been tested for components and concentrations and we don't know what the interactions are."
SHELDON TOBE, associate professor of medicine, U of T; researcher, Heart and Stroke Foundation, Toronto
"Specific areas of the feet relate to different internal organs and systems of the body. A reflexology treatment would reduce stress and improve circulation of blood and lymph. If you have better blood supply to the muscles, that helps them reduce tension and open up. It helps the body with what we call peripheral vascular return, helping the blood get back from, say, the legs and arms into the body, which is a tough thing for people with blood pressure problems if the heart is working overtime to push the blood through blocked arteries.
KATHERINE DOWNEY, reflexologist, reiki practitioner, Toronto
"In Chinese medicine, hypertension is associated with liver yang rising, liver fire. From a mind-body perspective, this describes people who keep things in and their blood rises or boils. Often, these people are control freaks. Acupuncture works very well. I would look at stress management . If you don't address why stress is there in the first place, you can fix it but chances are it will return."
KALEB MONTGOMERY, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto
"High blood pressure is a minefield. I've heard raucous debates where people say nobody should be above a 120 systolic no matter what and that anything above 80 or 85 diastolic deserves treatment, and others say this is absolute nonsense. I'm treading dangerous ground because I'm giving you a ballpark: anything over 140 systolic and, say, 90 diastolic certainly bears watching. There are issues of when to medicate as opposed to proposing lifestyle changes. High blood pressure can damage delicate blood vessels or cause vessels in the retina or elsewhere to burst. It can lead to stroke. It can most predictably produce organ damage, especially to the kidneys.'
DANIEL OSMOND, professor emeritus, department of physiology, University of Toronto
"Diet will come into the picture, and so will stress. For this we would use tranquilizing nervine herbs such as lemon balm , lavender and camomile , though some people have a reaction to the latter. Hawthorne berries , leaves and flowers tend to be blood pressure normalizers. Most people with hypertension are already on pharmaceutical medications, and if that's the case they should consult a professional before taking herbs. Other herbs for the cardiovascular system are garlic and ginkgo .
ERIC BISSON, clinical herbalist, Oshawa
"With hypertension there are often cholesterol plaques in the arteries. This can be addressed as lifestyle modification: high fibre , a mostly vegetarian diet made up of deeply coloured vegetables and lean protein sources as well as a tailored exercise regime . Salt restriction is common with hypertension, but it doesn't get to the root of the problem and has been shown to have no effect on blood pressure in 30 per cent of patients, so I recommend restricting salt but I don't focus on that. I focus on decreasing stress, exercise, yoga and and getting off caffeine , sugars , alcohol and tobacco . I test thyroid and mineral status because these are often linked to hypertension. I also recommend a calcium and magnesium supplements and an antioxidant combination . Co-enzyme Q10 is one of the best heart supplements, as is cold-pressed fish oil ."
MARY MACDONALD, naturopath, Toronto