In 2008 I wrote an article about hypertension. It started with a description of our dependence on prescription pills with the average spending on pharmaceuticals more than doubling in the decade from 1995 to 2004.
Prescriptions for cardiovascular drugs particularly consumed by the older generations skyrocketed from 23.6 million in 1992 to 61.5 million in 2007, representing an increase of 160 percent. Sedative use had escalated 155 percent with antidepressant drugs usage leaping 226 percent from 1992 to 2007. Cardiovascular medications include drugs for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart arrhythmias, and diabetes.
What really concerns me is that many of these conditions can be treated without taking pharmaceutical drugs for the rest of your life. Let’s look at hypertension. One in three Australians suffer from high blood pressure, an important risk factor for hardening of the arteries, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and loss of vision.
So what exactly is high blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure needed to circulate the blood around the body. It is also important to realise that our blood pressure changes all the time, day and night and that the amount of pressure needed to pump blood around my body may be different to the amount of pressure needed by your body. In spite of this natural blood pressure variability, modern medicine has until recently deemed that a normal or desirable adult blood pressure was 120/80. Alarmingly the latest guidelines say that people with this previously regarded ‘normal’ blood pressure are in a category called “pre-hypertension”, which means there are more people diagnosed with hypertension than previously. Great for the drug industry profits!
What causes high blood pressure? A search on the internet will tell you that it’s the usual suspects such as smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet with too much salt, genes, and the big one — stress!
Water expert F Batmanghelidj sheds a controversial and enlightening approach to high blood pressure. He explains that hypertension is the result of an adaptive process to a gross body water deficiency and that the vessels of the body have been wonderfully designed to cope with fluctuations in their blood volume by opening and closing different vessels. When you are dehydrated you have less blood volume and your arteries have to compensate for the net loss in volume by constricting to pick up the slack. Also when there is less body water your blood thickens. This higher viscosity means more pressure is needed to get the blood around the system leading to constriction of the arteries further and the heart works harder.
His treatment for this condition is as simple as an increase in the daily water intake whereas current medical dogma for hypertension dictates that we get rid of the water by diuretics and by avoiding salt.
Water expert F Batmanghelidj says that sufferers of hypertension who produce adequate urine, and increase their daily water intake will not need to take diuretics. If one has been suffering from hypertension for a long time and there is also heart failure, water intake should be increased gradually. The mechanism of sodium retention in these people is in full swing.When water intake is increased gradually and more urine is being produced, the oedema fluid will be flushed out, and the heart will regain its strength.
A rational and far less expensive way to treat a condition that is basically dehydration!
But then the issue of why we become affected by high blood pressure is still not settled it seems.
Over the past few decades medical experts demanded that we reduce our salt intake and many a poor cardiac patient was heard to complain about their saltless, tasteless meals once salt became outlawed.
Just this weekend I read a very thought-provoking article in the Good Weekend magazine called Salt Wars.
I was really pleased to read that some brave researchers are now shaking up the medical dogma. Melbourne Professor George Jerums and his former PhD student, Dr Elif Ekinci studied the sodium chloride intake of 638 elderly, type 2 diabetics and found that those people who ate less salt were significantly more likely to die and that even though those who ate more salt tended to be fatter, fewer died from ‘all causes’ with less dying of heart disease and stroke.
Another revealing study of 3680 Europeans found a death rate of 4.1 percent in those with lowest salt consumption, compared to 0.8 percent in those with the highest salt consumption. In november last year a Canadian study of 28,800 participants found those with the lowest salt intake were more likely to die than those with the highest intake of sodium chloride. This is good news for those of use who like salty foods.
So when will salt resume its rightful place on the dining table? These optimistic researchers suggest that the debate over salt intake and its relation to blood pressure may be settled by mid-decade with salt’s good reputation restored.
However the global pharmaceuticals market is worth US$300 billion a year, a figure expected to rise to US$400 billion within three years. And drugs that are prescribed to treat hypertension and cardiac disease are most lucrative. Lipitor, a statin drug used to treat high cholesterol has annual sales of $12.9 billion. Then there’s Zocor another medication used to treat high cholesterol and prevent heart disease. In 2005, Zocor had global sales of $5.3 billion, and its annual growth wasn’t shabby either, at 10.7 percent. Norvasc used to treat high blood pressure had global sales of $5 billion in 2005 and an annual growth rate of 2.5 percent.
With such lucrative profits to be gained from popping pills, I fear the salt wars may continue for sometime yet.