Five things you can do about high blood pressure




As the Heart Month of February comes to an end I wanted to write about a condition that affects many people: high blood pressure also known as hypertension. No matter what month it is, high blood pressure is something to take seriously and manage well. Diet and lifestyle changes can make a big difference and they are always part of the conversation with my patients.

Why is it important to keep blood pressure in a healthy range?  

A blood pressure reading is composed of two numbers: systolic and diastolic pressure. The systolic or top number is your blood pressure when your heart contracts and pumps blood out to the body. The diastolic or bottom number is the pressure when the heart is relaxed between beats. Ideally the numbers are below 120/80 mmHg.

Many important organs are affected by elevated blood pressure. Persistently high blood pressure can damage the inner walls of our arteries increasing the risk of plaque formation, which can block arteries, impede blood flow and lead to heart attack or stroke. The heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body, causing structural changes and heart failure. High pressure through the kidneys, which filter 180 liters of blood per day, can damage them leading to kidney failure.


What can I do if I have high blood pressure?

Keep track of your blood pressure

I think that being involved in your own care is important. It’s important to know and understand what high blood pressure is and what your readings are so you can see if they are decreasing as you make changes. I like to have my patients track their blood pressure at home a few times per week. You can write it down or track it with charts like this from the American Heart Association.  On days you are measuring your blood pressure avoid caffeinated beverages because they can temporarily raise the reading. Start by sitting down for 5 minutes with legs uncrossed. When you’re ready to take the measurement rest your arm on a table so it’s at heart level. Write down your readings and bring them in to your next visit. You can also bring your machine in so your doctor can compare it to what they get when they take it themselves to make sure the machine is calibrated correctly.



Exercise is probably one of the best lifestyle changes you can make for your health. The recommendation is 30 minutes five days per week. Activity can be from walking, running, swimming, yoga, dancing, biking, hiking or any combination of activity that you enjoy. The important thing is to get moving most days of the week. Regular exercise can result in weight loss and is great for stress management, which can both also lower blood pressure.  



Many people have heard of a low sodium diet for lowering blood pressure but another mineral, potassium, is also important. The kidneys, which regulate minerals in the blood, uses sodium and potassium to keep fluid either in the body or remove it through the urine. When fluid is retained it increases the volume of the blood, which raises blood pressure. Sodium causes water retention, which is why low sodium diets are recommended for high blood pressure.  Potassium can result in less sodium in the body, which results in less fluid retention and lower blood pressure. Great dietary sources of potassium include fruits and vegetables like squash, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, beans, avocado and coconut water.



This mineral can relax the muscle fibers that surround your blood vessels and improve blood flow. Great sources of this nutrient are leafy greens, nuts and whole grains. If you supplement with magnesium you may notice a sedative effect or diarrhea so start low and see how it affects you.

What’s really great about including these potassium and magnesium rich foods in your diet is that it will naturally become more nutritionally dense and you may lose some weight. Losing excess weight can be beneficial for blood pressure and heart health in general.


Hawthorne and Hibiscus  

I love using botanical medicine in my practice. Two herbs that are wonderful heart tonics are hawthorne and hibiscus. You may be able to find them paired together in tea formula. Hibiscus makes a beautiful red, tart flavored tea. Other preparations that can also be effective are tinctures or concentrated extracts called solid extracts. Hibiscus may not be suitable if you are also taking medications for diabetes or hypertension as it may lower your blood sugar or blood pressure too much so talk with your doctor about these combinations.  
I hope you learned a few things you can do to improve your health and your blood pressure. Please comment below or email me if you have any questions!



Jamie Sculley_07w

Dr. Sculley is an associate physician at Wellspring Family Medicine, a primary care family practice, in her hometown of Port Angeles, WA. She provides care for the whole family and is currently accepting new patients. She graduated from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA.







American Heart Association (2016, July 16). Magnesium may modestly lower blood pressure. Retrieved from AHA website.  

Hibiscus. Natural Medicines database. Retrieved from,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=211#interactionsWithDrugs

Hibiscus sabdariffa. Retrieved from  

Migala, J. (2018, Jan/Feb). Lower your blood pressure. EatingWell, 50.


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A Wellspring of education: empower yourself.



How do I know I have iron deficiency anemia?

Symptoms of iron deficiency are fatigue, shortness of breath, feeling cold, paleness, racing or pounding heartbeat, difficulty concentrating, irritability, confusion, fainting, weakness and headaches.   

What causes iron deficiency anemia?

This type of anemia is broad and can be caused by many different conditions. There may be blood loss from heavy menstrual periods, stomach ulcers or hemorrhoids. You may not be absorbing iron from your diet very well or there may not be enough iron the diet. Depending on where you are in life, you may need more iron such as during times of growth, pregnancy or breastfeeding. Without adequate iron red blood cells become small and aren’t able to carry enough oxygen or there are too few of them in the bloodstream.

What do my blood tests mean?

There are a few tests that your doctor will order to confirm that iron deficiency is causing the anemia. A complete blood count or CBC provides information about the red blood cell size, color and amount of hemoglobin inside the cells. Hemoglobin is found inside red blood cells and contains iron as part of its structure in order to carry oxygen. In iron deficiency, the red blood cells become small and pale because there is less hemoglobin concentrated within the cells. Ferritin provides information about how much iron is stored in the body. It will be low in iron deficiency because the body is using it up to make hemoglobin. An iron study looks at the amount of iron in the blood and how “full” certain cells are that carry iron around. The less iron in the body, the less “full” these transporter cells will be.

What can I do about iron deficiency?

It’s important to work with your doctor to find out the reason for the iron deficiency so it can be corrected. If your doctor has determined that you are iron deficient, there are things you can do to replenish iron in your body.



It’s important to eat iron rich foods in your diet. The most bioavailable sources of iron are animal products like beef, chicken, sardines, shrimp, clams, and turkey. Other fantastic sources of iron include beans, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, oats, amaranth, spelt, squash, brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, beets, dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and raisins, blackstrap molasses and dark chocolate.  

Another nutrient that is important to get in your diet along with iron is vitamin C because vitamin C improves iron absorption. Foods that are high in vitamin C are citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe, pineapples, brussels sprouts, kale and tomatoes.

Along with increasing iron-rich foods, you’ll want to limit foods that contain oxalates, phytates and tannins because they can block iron absorption. Oxalate containing foods include spinach, rhubarb, buckwheat, and Swiss chard. Beverages like black tea, coffee and red wine contain tannins, which will bind to iron and limit absorption. Phytates are found in grains and legumes but their effects on iron can be minimized if they are soaked for 1 hour before cooking.


Botanical Medicine

Herbs can be an excellent part of the plan to increase iron in your diet. One herb that you probably already have is parsley. Make it into parsley pesto, sprinkle it into sauces, soups, and on top of salads. Nettle is a plant that grows wild in the Northwest and is very nutrient dense. It can be made into a tea, pesto or sauteed and eaten like greens. Other herbs that contain iron or improve its absorption are red raspberry leaf, dandelion root, fennel, turmeric, and catnip. These herbs can be made into teas, taken as bitters before a meal or used in cooking.

Iron supplements

Iron supplements can be found over-the-counter in many stores and pharmacies. Three common forms are ferrous fumarate, ferrous gluconate and ferrous sulfate and they each contain a different amount of iron labeled as “elemental iron.” Look for ones that also contain vitamin C. Natural product companies may also include vitamin C and herbs listed above to aid in iron absorption. Side effects of iron supplementation are nausea, stomach discomfort and constipation.

It’s important to follow up with your doctor to make sure your iron deficiency is improving because it may take some time to resolve.

I hope this article helped you to understand what you can do about iron deficiency. Please comment below or email me if you have any questions!


In health,

Dr. Jamie Sculley

Jamie Sculley_07w

Dr. Sculley is an associate physician at Wellspring Family Medicine, a primary care family practice, in her hometown of Port Angeles, WA. She provides care for the whole family and is currently accepting new patients. She graduated from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA.



Bove, M. (2016). Botanical medicines for blood building and iron deficiency anemia.

Dynamed. Updated 2016. Iron deficiency anemia in adults. Registration and login required.

Short, M. W., Domagalski, J.E. (2013). Iron deficiency anemia: Evaluation and management. American Family Physician, 87(2), 98-104.  


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