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Naps For Better Blood Pressure?

If you’re searching for lifestyle changes to help lower your blood pressure, one effective strategy may be an old-fashioned siesta. New research from Greece found that systolic blood pressure (the top number) in people who took a midday nap averaged 5 percent lower than that of patients who didn’t nap. The researchers enrolled 200 men and 186 women with hypertension to assess the effect of a daily nap on blood pressure readings. The average age of the patients was 61.4 years. The researchers tested the patients’ blood pressure in the office and by utilizing 24-hour ambulatory measurements and assessed their cardiovascular health. They also recorded the amount of napping time the patients reported. After adjusting for other factors that could affect blood pressure – among them age, gender, body mass index, smoking status, salt, alcohol and coffee consumption and exercise – they found that blood pressure was lower among those who took a daytime nap, and that these patients needed fewer drugs to control their blood pressure than those who didn’t nap. Study leader Manolis Kallistratos, a cardiologist, noted that although the blood pressure reductions seen in the study do not seem dramatic, decreases as small as 2 millimeters of mercury in systolic blood pressure can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 10 percent.

My take: I’m a big fan of napping. I used to worry about the time it took to nap, and I would fight off the impulse when I had work to do, but I've since learned that people who nap generally enjoy better mental health and mental efficiency than people who don't nap. They may also sleep better at night. Now, if I feel the need to nap and have the opportunity, I just take one, and usually wake up after 10 or 20 minutes feeling refreshed. The National Sleep Foundation reports that dozing off for 20 to 30 minutes is the ideal amount of time to sharpen your alertness. Other sleep experts have suggested that an hour-long nap can help your memory for facts, places and faces, and a 90-minute nap has been found to boost creativity. If the newly reported effects of napping on blood pressure are confirmed in future studies, there will be even more reason to take a daily nap. 

Why Watch Your Blood Pressure While You’re Young?

Blood pressure that’s on the high side of normal in young adults could forewarn heart trouble later in life. Researchers led by a team at Johns Hopkins followed nearly 2,500 young men and women for 25 years. Some of the participants, who all were between the ages of 18 and 30 when the study began, had blood pressure that was slightly elevated, although still in the normal range. When the study ended, the investigators found that the participants whose blood pressure was high normal were more likely to have left ventricular dysfunction in middle age. This type of heart damage is a major cause of heart failure. The researchers reported that the higher the blood pressure measured in youth, the greater the damage to the left ventricle. They said their findings suggest that young adults should try to reduce slightly high blood pressure by cutting sodium intake, maintaining an ideal body weight, being physically active and sticking to any recommended treatments for high blood pressure. The lead investigator noted that if you’re under 50, your blood pressure goal should be under 130/80.

BPA and Your Blood Pressure

Here's another reason to avoid cans or bottles lined with Bisphenol A (BPA): this chemical can raise your blood pressure. We've long known that BPA from plastic lined containers can leach into food and drink, and now researchers in South Korea have reported that drinking beverages from these containers can bump up your blood pressure by five millimeters (mm) of mercury, enough to cause "clinically significant" problems if you already have high blood pressure or heart disease. The researchers recruited 60 adults, mostly women, and randomized them to drink soymilk from either glass bottles or cans. Two hours later, they checked the women's blood pressure and heart rate and a short while after that checked their urinary concentration of BPA, which they report had increased by up to 1,600 percent among the participants who drank the canned soymilk. The investigators noted that soymilk was the "ideal beverage" for the test because it contains no known ingredient that raises blood pressure. Study author Yun-Chul Hong, M.D., Ph.D., suggested that consumers opt for fresh foods or those that come in glass bottles or jars rather than food and drink that comes in cans. They also noted that a 20 mm of mercury increase in blood pressure doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Why Take Blood Pressure in Both Arms?

If you take your own blood pressure, it’s a good idea to check it in both arms (and ask your doctor to do so as well). A study published in the March 2014, issue of The American Journal of Medicine found that a 10- point difference or more in blood pressure readings when comparing the pressures in both arms is an independent risk factor for heart disease. The study included 3,390 people age 40 and older who were followed for an average of more than 13 years. None of them had cardiovascular disease when they enrolled, but during the 13-year follow up period, 598 had a first heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular problems. Of those 598, 14 percent had a difference of 10 points or more in systolic blood pressure (the top number) from one arm compared to the other. This difference was associated with an increased risk for a cardiac event, the researchers concluded, even when an individual had no other apparent risk factors including age, cholesterol, body mass index and high blood pressure. The researchers noted that other studies have associated disparate readings between arms with a narrowing of an artery that supplies blood to the upper extremities.

Sources:
Ido Weinberg et al, “The Systolic Blood Pressure Difference Between Arms and Cardiovascular Disease in the Framingham Heart Study,” The American Journal of Medicine, March 2014

Good News About a Vegetarian Diet

In addition to its other health benefits, you might be able to lower your blood pressure a bit by following a vegetarian diet. That news follows an analysis of 39 studies by Japanese researchers looking at blood pressure measurements of vegetarians v. meat eaters. Overall, blood pressure among the vegetarians was “significantly lower” than that of those who eat meat. Investigators reported that the difference between people on vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets averaged five to seven millimeters of mercury - usually rendered as mm/Hg - for systolic blood pressure (the top number) and two to five mm/Hg for the diastolic (bottom) number. The researchers concluded that even these modest drops in blood pressure could reduce the risk of heart attack by nine percent and the risk of stroke by 14 percent if sustained over time. The Japanese study team noted that no differences were seen between the various sub-types of vegetarian diets – whether vegan or diets that allowed dairy products and eggs or even those that also allow fish. The study didn’t identify specific foods or nutrients in the diets that could be responsible for the lower blood pressure seen, but noted that vegetarian diets in general tend to be lower in sodium and higher in potassium and plant proteins.

My take? I’m not surprised that this review found that a vegetarian diet seems to help reduce high blood pressure. The DASH diet, which I recommend for people with hypertension, is heavy on vegetables and fruit and very light on meat. To help keep blood pressure in the normal range I suggest eating eight to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day, and limiting animal protein. For those who are salt sensitive or have a family history of hypertension, cutting salt consumption to about one teaspoon a day may help control your blood pressure. Incorporating garlic in your diet may be beneficial as well, since it has a modest effect on blood pressure, potentially helping to relax blood vessels. I also suggest consuming four to five servings of nuts, seeds and dry beans per week (the equivalent to two tablespoons of nuts or seeds, or 1/2 cup cooked dried beans). Include at least three servings of fish a week, emphasizing cold-water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Consider fish-oil supplements if you cannot get enough omega-3-rich foods. I also suggest taking calcium and magnesium since inadequate intake of both has been associated with high blood pressure. Women should get between 1,000 and 1,200 mg of calcium a day from all sources, while men need no more than 500-600 mg daily from all sources and probably do not need to supplement. In addition, take vitamin C, which has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with mild to moderate hypertension.

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Sources:
Yoko Yokoyama et al, “Vegetarian Diets and Blood Pressure: A Meta-analysis,” JAMA Internal Medicine, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.14547

Counter the Effects of Menopause

Danish researchers have come up with a unique way to help women address some of the increased risks to health brought on by menopause. Noting that declining levels of estrogen can elevate blood pressure and contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease, the research team at the University of Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health examined the effects of playing floorball, a indoor team sport similar to hockey that requires intense physical effort including many short sprints and directional changes. The investigators recruited 23 pre- and post-menopausal women for 12 weeks of twice weekly floorball practice. Initial exams of the participants established that blood pressure among the post-menopausal women was 10 percent higher compared to women of the same age who hadn’t yet reached menopause. The researchers also saw higher levels of an early marker for arteriosclerosis in the post-menopausal group. Results of the 12-week study showed a reduction in blood pressure of four mmHg, which the researchers said correlates to a 40 percent lower risk of stroke. There was also this unexpected benefit: the women had so much fun playing floorball that they insisted on continuing after the study ended.

My take? This is good news for women. Based on what I’ve read, playing floorball requires intense interval aerobic exercise. While I’m not sure how adaptable the lessons of this study are to women in the U.S., the findings do testify to the benefits of working out with a group of friends to stay motivated. If you do exercise with others, however, I urge you not to do so competitively. If allowed to dominate the activity, competitive thoughts can negate some of the benefits of exercise, especially on your cardiovascular and immune systems and emotions.

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Sources:
Michael Nyberg et al, “Biomarkers of vascular function in pre- and recent post-menopausal women of similar age: effect of exercise training”, AJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 2014; DOI: 10.1152/ajpregu.00539.2013

Practical Tips for Lowering Blood Pressure (Video)

Dr. Weil provides some simple, yet effective, tips for lowering blood pressure naturally. With high blood pressure affecting so many people, prescription blood pressure medication is being used more than ever. While medication is effective, there are negative side effects that some people may not be able to tolerate. Following these simple tips can help effectively lower high blood pressure.

Learn more about breathing exercises.

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Mindfulness to Head Off High Blood Pressure

30 percent of Americans have pre-hypertensionAbout 30 percent of Americans have pre-hypertension - their blood pressure is higher than normal, but not high enough to require drug treatment. This condition can progress to high blood pressure, but new research now suggests that mindfulness-based stress reduction can help lower pre-hypertensive blood pressure levels, and prevent or delay the need for drugs. Researchers at Ohio’s Kent State University recruited 56 adults with pre-hypertension and assigned them to two groups. The first group underwent a program in mindfulness-based stress reduction training. Those in the other “control” group were given lifestyle advice plus a muscle-relaxation activity. The researchers reported that after eight training sessions in mindfulness-based stress reduction, participants’ blood pressure dropped significantly. The top number (systolic blood pressure) declined an average of nearly five millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) while diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) dropped 2 mm Hg. Both measurements also declined in the control group but by only 1 mm Hg in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The researchers noted that while the positive reductions seen in the mindfulness group were “modest” they were “potentially large enough to lead to reductions in the risk of heart attack or stroke”. Additional studies will be needed to see if the effects are long-lasting.

Source:
Joel W. Hughes et al, “Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Prehypertension”, Psychosomatic Medicine DOI: 10.1097/%u200BPSY.0b013e3182a3e4e5

Surprising Way to Control Blood Pressure

Helping others can help seniors maintain their own blood pressure at healthy levelsTo investigate whether helping others can help seniors maintain their own blood pressure at healthy levels, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh studied the effects of volunteer work on 1,164 adults between the ages of 51 and 91. The research team first interviewed the study participants in 2006, when all had normal blood pressure. Based on data collected at the follow-up interview and blood pressure measurement four years later, in 2010, the investigators reported that those seniors who devoted 200 hours per year to volunteer work were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than the seniors in the study who didn’t volunteer.