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Thursday, August 21, 2008

To Lower Blood Pressure, Open Up And Say 'Om'

In his 20 years as director of the hypertension program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Randy Zusman has maintained a rather traditional approach. He writes plenty of prescriptions for standard medications to treat high blood pressure. But in recent years, Zusman has gotten more assertive with patients about lifestyle choices.

"You're going to have to change your diet, you're going to have to lose weight, exercise, stop smoking," Zusman tells patients. "If it's not an important priority, keep doing what you're doing, I'll give you the pills. But if you really want to be there, you're going to have to change."

Zusman says that about 40 of the 60 patients trained in the relaxation response had positive results. "Their blood pressure dropped, and they dropped some of their medication. It was striking. It was statistically significant, but more important it was clinically significant to these people," he says.

What helps to explain these results, Zusman says, is the relatively new understanding of how the relaxation response assists the body. It helps increase the formation of a compound called nitric oxide, which causes blood vessels to open up. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure. "It's basically a plumbing problem. You're pushing the same amount of blood through a bigger pipe," Zusman says. "And that's what nitric oxide — which all of us make in our body — does in response to relaxation response."

-excerpt from NPR

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