High blood pressure substantially increases the risk for serious complications from COVID 19 as well as for heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and stroke. This blog looks at the rationales and effectiveness of hydrotherapy for treating high blood pressure.
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure exerted within the systemic arteries. It is the force that pushes blood through the vessels. In other words, blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure rises and falls during the day.
Hydrotherapy for Hypertension
To reduce high blood pressure, we need to
- reduce overdrive from the sympathetic nervous system
- improve the ability of the blood vessels to dilate
- increase sodium and water excretion
- improve blood flow to the kidneys. (Any factor that decreases blood flow to the kidneys increases blood pressure).
Three hydrotherapy treatments can reduce elevated blood pressure:
Hot Foot Bath with Heat over the Kidneys
A hot foot bath with a fomentation placed over the flanks: The kidneys are located between where your last ribs meet the vertebrae. Over 40 percent of hypertensive individuals are sodium sensitive. Thus they tend to retain salt. Physiologically, where sodium goes, water will follow. If extra sodium stays in the blood instead of being passed through the urine, the blood volume increases, and this raises the blood pressure. By improving urinary output, a diuretic makes it easier for the kidneys to release unnecessary amounts of sodium and water. A hot fomentation placed over the kidneys for twenty minutes, twice a day, improves urinary output and also improves blood flow to the kidneys.1
In the time before cell phones, I was in our lifestyle department working the evening shift. Mrs. Brown’s BP was 220/120. While waiting for the doctor to return my call, I placed her legs in hot water and placed a fomentation over her kidneys. Her BP dropped to 160/90 within 15 minutes. In my four year tenure of working in hydrotherapy, I have seen the efficacy of the treatment for many individuals who had hypertension.
See this article for information on the benefits, procedure, indications, and cautions of the hot foot bath hydrotherapy.
Fomentation to Spine
Heat to the spine for 20 minutes calms the overactive sympathetic nerves and improves blood flow to the kidneys.2 Be sure the fomentation is wide enough to cover the skin area over the kidneys.
Case history: As a patient care worker, whenever I saw an elevated blood pressure during early morning rounds, I would go back to hydrotherapy and grab a fomentation. I would apply it over the kidneys and instruct the patient to breathe deeply. 95% of the time both the systolic and diastolic blood pressure would significantly be lower by at least 20 points systolic and 10 points diastolic pressure. I did that treatment for many years with good results. It was, I found, 90% effective in reducing elevated BP.
How to Make a Fomentation:
a. Soak large towel in water and wring out well.
b. Place in plastic bag.
c. Microwave on high 3 to 4 minutes.
d. Lay heated towel (or fomentation) flat on dry blanket or towel and wrap it up. Place it on top of 1 to 4 thicknesses of towels which are on patient. These dry towels are to insulate the body from the heat. The number of insulating towels used depends on how hot the fomentation is. The patient should feel the heat but not get burned. If one is laying on a bed, protect the mattress and sheet with a plastic sheet covered with a towel.
Cautions: Individuals who have disc problems or spinal disorders, history of kidney or bone cancer, neuropathy, lymphedema, and bleeding disorders should not apply heat over the spine without first consulting with their doctors.
Neutral Tub Bath
The neutral tub bath is soaking in water whose temperature ranges from 94 to 97 degrees F. A neutral tub bath can induce relaxation and lower elevated blood pressure. This treatment helps to calm the overactive sympathetic nervous system.3
If the client is taking vasodilators, one has to be extremely cautious in giving any heating treatment. Individuals who have diabetes, neuropathy, peripheral artery disease, bleeding, cancer, or a serious medical condition should consult with a health care professional before trying these treatments. In some cases, the temperature of the water would need to be milder.
What Compromises the Effectiveness of Hydrotherapy?
Attitudes greatly influence blood pressure. For example, hostility and a high level of stress coupled with impatience make the risk of developing high blood pressure six to eight times greater.4Chronic anxiety contributes to chronic activation of the sympathetic nerves. So do chronic stress, social isolation, and hostility. These conditions contribute to increased sympathetic tone, which means a faster heart rate, more vasoconstriction, and elevated blood pressure. These attitudes are especially detrimental in individuals with hypertension or diabetes, because their SNS (sympathetic nervous system) is already overstimulated.5
Depression, in many cases, especially when accompanied by anger suppression and hostility, decreases baroreflex sensitivity.6 Depression is also associated with an elevated heart rate and stress hormones like norepinephrine. Unfortunately, depression, accompanied by anger suppression, high hostility, and anxiety also reduces parasympathetic activity while increasing sympathetic activity. A history of major depression is a potent, independent risk factor for cardiovascular events.
Caffeine and nicotine amplify these effects of the sympathetic nerves. Just 250 milligrams of caffeine can increase plasma renin by 57%. Renin is an important enzyme involved in elevated blood pressure. The same amount of caffeine also increased the stress hormones, norepinephrine and epinephrine, by 75% and 205% respectively, in healthy, young non-coffee drinkers who abstained from caffeine for three weeks prior to the blood tests.7, 8The actions of these two adrenal hormones mimic and reinforce the activation of the sympathetic nerves, although they work slower than the nervous system does.
Excess amounts of sodium increase arterial sensitivity to norepinephrine and it stiffens cerebral arteries. Sugar aggravates high blood pressure and decreases the pain threshold so that if one has a tendency toward pain and consumes sugar, one will feel pain sooner. Especially harmful is the combination of sugar and saturated fats as it reduces the ability of the blood vessels to dilate.
Unfortunately, overeating, obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, sleep deprivation, and fibromyalgia all increase sympathetic activity and can compromise the effectiveness of the hydrotherapy treatments for hypertension.
Lifestyle Practices that Boost Efficiency of Hydrotherapy’s Effect on Blood Pressure
Regular exercise, moderate salt restriction, and wise caloric restriction in obese individuals, all decrease sympathetic activity. The good news is that wise dietary choices (including reasonable calorie restriction), moderate exercise, sufficient sleep of good quality, and genuine happiness can protect us from some of the detrimental effects that the sympathetic nervous system and stress, in general, have on our cardiovascular system.
Dr. A. Steptoe and associates collected data from middle-aged men and women. They found that independent of age, socioeconomic status, smoking, body mass, and psychological distress, happy individuals had lower salivary cortisol both on working and nonworking days, reduced fibrinogen and stress responses, and in men, a lower ambulatory heart rate. Happiness was inversely related to ambulatory systolic blood pressure on follow-up. In other words, happiness can reduce the stress hormone cortisol and the risk for clotting, slow the heart rate, promote better nourishment of the heart muscle, and help to protect us from high blood pressure.9
The worldwide prevalence for uncontrolled hypertension is now 1.3 billion. It is extremely important for persons who have high blood pressure to follow the counsel of a health professional. Nonetheless, there are remedies and lifestyle changes that one can use to help lower their blood pressure naturally. We have had good success at Wildwood Lifestyle Center using these natural remedies.
Disclaimer: The information in this article is helpful and is educational. It is not the author’s or authors’ or Wildwood Health Institute’s intent to substitute the blog article for diagnosis, counseling, or treatment by a qualified health professional.
Copyright through December 2023. All rights reserved by Wildwood Sanitarium, Inc.
- Moor, Fred, Manual of Hydrotherapy, 1964
- Baldwin, B.E. (neurophysiologist), Lecture on hydrotherapy for hypertension. CHE 2006
- Baldwin, B.E. (neurophysiologist), Lecture on hydrotherapy for hypertension. CHE 2006
- NIH/National Heart, Lung, And Blood Institute. “Study Finds Hostility, Impatience Increase Hypertension Risk.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 October 2003. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/10/031022061811.htm
- Curtis, B.M. and O’Keefe Jr., J.H., Autonomic tone as a cardiovascular risk factor: the dangers of chronic fight or flight. Mayo Clin Proc, 77(1):45-54, 2002
- Broadley, A.J., et al, Baroreflex sensitivity is reduced in depression. Psychosom Med, 67(4):648-51, 2005
- Hartley, T.R., Hypertension Risk Status and Effect of Caffeine on Blood Pressure, Hypertension. 2000 Jul; 36(1):137-41
- Robertson, D., et al, Effects of caffeine on plasma renin activity, catecholamines and blood pressure. New England Journal of Medicine, 298(4):181-186
- Steptoe, A. and Wardle, J., Positive affect and biological function in everyday life. Neurobiol Aging, 26(Suppl 1):108-12