Breathing, blood pressure and blogging

Who would think that breathing slowly would reduce blood pressure? On the surface it seems unconnected with the phenomena in question. However, if one was to dig deeper and research the subject, one finds lots of reasons to think that it might.

Of course, the ultimate test for a scientist is to actually try it. More than just try it. In the scientific study we have to control for random factors, control for biases, control for Hawthorne effect, placebo effect, and other experimental risks. But the beginning of science is not in the controlled, double blind randomized study. No — the beginning of science is in the world of possibilities. In the realm of possibility, ideas and action, mind and body, dreams and reality blurr. You see in order to discover something new, we have to invent and sustain frameworks that bring forth possibilities.

I had been feeling extremely tired. By the time I came home from work, I was exhausted and had to lie down after supper. I didn’t seem to have any energy, and at the end of the day I would have a horrible headache. Because I was feeling so poorly, I went to my doctor, and he ordered a bunch of tests. Naturally he took my blood pressure, said it was fairly high and sent me for some more tests including a chest X-ray for the possibility of an enlarged heart. After several appointments, he concluded that I was suffering from high blood pressure — it was running something like 160/90. He suggested that I cut back on salt, lose some weight, get more exercise and tried me on some BP reducing drugs. Almost immediately I began to feel better, my energy returned the headaches disappeared.

I started tracking my blood pressure, and sure enough losing some weight, cutting back on salt, and increasing exercise, I managed to get my blood pressure under control. After a year, the doctor took me off the medication. And for next 2 years I managed ok. However, he had me continue tracking my blood pressure, doing a daily reading at home, and he kept following me.

About 2 years later, my blood pressure rose again, and I was back on drugs. I experimented with different drugs that he put me on. I discovered that diuretics had almost no effect on my blood pressure but that the ACE inhibitor worked wonders. One ACE inhibitor pill and my blood pressure would drop and stay down for a day and half. A year after that, my blood pressure rose some more. I cut out all the salt I could, I doubled my exercise, I lost another 5 pounds. My blood pressure moved down a bit, but not that much and I was on an even higher dosage of drugs. I didn’t like it, it was costing me money, and all this drug taking, I didn’t really want to admit that I was sick, but it was clear that I was. I had to admit that I had a form of cardiovascular disease.

For most of my life I’ve been a process improvement expert. Where others see no hope of change or improvement, in my training in physics, theoretical and in mathematics, I have learned to solve problems. I didn’t understand blood pressure, and I soon found out neither did my doctor. Even more, as one dug into the literature on blood pressure, the mechanisms for blood pressure were complex and varied. Your blood pressure varies rapidly as you stand up or sit down, lie down, or jump up. Your blood pressure responds to emotions, to exercise, to exertion, to blood sugar levels, chemicals in water, to stress, to sickness. My mind was spinning. There seemed to be so many mechanisms of control, and the entire system was so complex. Why do folks develop high blood pressure? What triggers it? What can be done about it?

Being a mathematician, I was running my blood pressure in a control chart – a kind of time-series graph with moving averages and control limits measuring variability. It measures the variability and is precise way of determining points of change and exact levels of blood pressure over a period of time.

A friend suggested that I try eating celery and button mushrooms. So, I went to the store bought two weeks worth of mushrooms and big bag of celery. One two inch stick of celery three times a day, and one mushroom with every meal. I was amazed when in few days, I discovered that 10 points had been chopped off the top of my blood pressure and 5 points off the bottom. This change was almost as large as I was getting from some of my medications. Thus, began my quest to discover what works. I began to try different things, and to see the effects.

I’ve set myself on a goal… to become drug free and to control my blood pressure. Purpose, Vision and Commitment — these are the components of goal setting. I haven’t yet obtained my goal … I might never make it. But I know I’ve made a difference. I discovered that there are things that I can do to improve my health, and do it dramatically. And, they don’t have to involve high cost drugs with nasty side effects. They can be as fun as drinking a cup of tea, or sitting back for half hour of relaxing music.

Please relax, sit back and enjoy my journey into the world of high blood pressure. Over the next few months, I hope to inspire you to see your blood pressure as a challenge, and to push the limits of science, to understand more, to do more, to try the impossible, and beat the odds. Hope you will join with me in this journey. Along the way, you’ll learn a bit about me, and maybe I’ll learn a bit about you.

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