Down with Blood Pressure
|Down with Blood Pressure
June 12, 2005 08:03 AM
Author: Darrell Miller (email@example.com)
Subject: Down with Blood Pressure
Down with Blood Pressure by Kim Erickson Energy Times, January 6, 2002
More than one of four Americans suffers from high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. This so-called silent killer is often the first step in developing long-term problems like heart disease and stroke. According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure leads to about 45,000 deaths a year and contributes to another 210,000. Hypertension is more common in women beginning at age 50, particularly African-American women. And since high blood pressure rarely causes obvious physical distress, unless your health practitioner monitors your blood pressure on a regular basis, it's easy to miss. The famous study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), known as the Framingham Heart Study, found that half of all people who suffered a first heart attack and two-thirds of first-time stroke victims also had moderate to high blood pressure. What's more, left untreated, high blood pressure can also increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), aneurysms, loss of vision and kidney failure. Normal blood pressure is considered 120/80. When blood pressure reaches 140/90 or above on a consistent basis, you have high blood pressure. What do the numbers mean? The top number, systolic pressure, represents the peak pressure generated in your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number, diastolic pressure, indicates the pressure when your heart is at rest between heartbeats. Among 95% of all people with high blood pressure, health practitioners can generally pinpoint no specific, single cause.
For decades, the most common recommendation for people with high blood pressure was to eat less salt. Experts have advocated reducing our salt intake to no more than three teaspoons a day: six grams (2400 mg), which is four grams less than the current national average. This recommendation was largely based on a study conducted by Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago, Illinois, known as INTERSALT. The study tested more than 10,000 men and women from 32 countries. The researchers concluded that eating a lot of salt was linked to rises in blood pressure. Other scientists haven't always found the same results. One review of 56 clinical trials by the Integrative and Behavioral Cardiology Program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York found only a modest reduction in blood pressure when the salt shaker was left unshaken. And an analysis of 58 studies by academics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark found that, overall, studies did not support a general recommendation to reduce the amount of salt we consume. Added to all this confusion, many people are salt sensitive: their bodies retain excess salt instead of flushing it out of their systems. Unfortunately, only medical tests can reveal this sensitivity. Consequently, experts still recommend that you eat fewer foods containing salt. That means going easy on processed foods, lunch meats and soft drinks. In addition, increasing your intake of potassium, calcium and magnesium may help your blood pressure.
Foods rich in potassium and magnesium not only help regulate blood pressure, but may boost overall cardiovascular health and reduce the risk of stroke. Vegetarian items such as bananas, baked potatoes and oranges are rich in these minerals. Research that looked at 30,000 doctors found that those who ate diets rich in fiber, potassium and magnesium had lower blood pressure than the men who ate few of these mineral-rich foods (Circ, 1992; vol 86:1475-1484). A study of 40,000 female nurses found that their pressure decreased when they consumed fibrous and magnesium-filled foods (Hypertension, 1996, vol 27:1065-1072).
The nutrient CoQ10 is a vitamin-like substance which acts as an antioxidant in the body, decreasing the harm caused by caustic substances known as free radicals. Found in every part of the body, CoQ10 is necessary for producing energy in every cell. But it is estimated that nearly 40% of people with high blood pressure are deficient in CoQ10. Tests of CoQ10 seem to show that it can often reduce blood pressure by almost 10% (Cur Ther Res 1990;47: 841-845). It also appears to reduce blood triglycerides, blood fats linked to heart disease, and insulin, while slightly increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in lowering blood pressure without the use of prescription medicine came with a study known as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Funded by NHLBI and the National Institutes of Health, the multicenter study examined more than 400 people with high blood pressure. These folks were divided into three groups. One ate the standard high-sodium, high-fat American diet, the second a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and the third a combination diet rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products (the DASH diet). While the group eating plenty of fruits and vegetables enjoyed a modest reduction in blood pressure, the study found that combining low-fat dairy with produce lowered both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 11.4 and 5.5 points, respectively. And the benefits came quickly. Many of the people on the combination diet lowered their blood pressure within two weeks. The results were so impressive that researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts suggested that the DASH diet may offer an alternative to drug therapy for people with hypertension and may even serve to prevent high blood pressure altogether. The DASH diet is low in saturated fat and rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Similar to the diet found in Mediterranean cultures, DASH also includes nuts, seeds and legumes, and is supplemented by non- or low-fat dairy products. Moderate amounts of protein-in the form of fish, poultry and soy-are also eaten. Eating in the DASH may also spur weight loss. Since being overweight can increase your blood pressure, the NHLBI strongly recommends a low-calorie diet such as DASH to take off extra pounds. Exercise and stress relief play critical roles in most pressure-reducing plans. Working out not only helps shed weight, it can also lower your blood pressure. Low to moderate aerobic exercise four days a week may lower blood pressure just as effectively as a higher intensity workout. And learning how to manage stress has helped dropped pressures in people with hypertension (Arch Intern Med 2001; 161:1071-80). Nutrition and lifestyle: two vital relief valves for dropping your high blood pressure and increasing your chances of longer life.