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High Blood Pressure Risk Evident In Kids

A recent study from New Zealand suggests that people at risk of developing high blood pressure before age 40 can be identified in childhood. Researchers from the University of Otago tracked more than 1,000 people in Dunedin, a coastal city in New Zealand, from their births in 1972-73 to the present. They collected information about the blood pressure of all the individuals from the time they were 7 years old until they reached 38 and found that more than one third were at risk of developing high blood pressure by early mid-life. Those at highest risk were male, had a family history of high blood pressure, were first born and were born with a lower than normal birth weight. In addition, the researchers reported that having a high body mass index and smoking cigarettes were linked to increasing blood pressure over time, especially among those having the other risk factors. The study also showed that the individuals at risk of high blood pressure were also more likely to have higher cholesterol levels as well as other health problems by age 38. The researchers suggested that losing weight (or maintaining a healthy weight) and not smoking might help reduce the overall risks, and noted that their findings could help physicians identify individuals at risk of high blood pressure while they’re still young. 

Want to Lower Your Blood Pressure?

If lowering your blood pressure is important to you, try adding spice to your food! Find out which spice has been shown to help, and learn about other health benefits it offers. 

If you enjoy spicy foods, eat up - you may be helping your blood pressure. Capsaicin, the compound that adds the spicy zing to hot peppers, appears to help lower blood pressure. Animal research suggests that long-term consumption of capsaicin helps relax blood vessels by increasing production of nitric oxide, a molecule known to protect blood vessels against inflammation and dysfunction (the primary function of nitric oxide is really vasodilation, or relaxation). While follow-up studies will be needed to see whether capsaicin works as well on blood pressure in humans, other studies indicate that capsaicin may enhance the metabolism of fat, and help inhibit inflammation. Even if you don't like spicy food, capsaicin has something to offer - a topical application can help minimize symptoms of shingles, eczema and arthritic aches.

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.

More Potassium, Please

Potassium from bananas, sweet potatoes and white beans can help protect midlife women from strokes, but most of women in this age group don’t consume nearly enough potassium-rich foods. Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York followed more than 90,000 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 for an average of 11 years and determined that those whose diets included the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to have a stroke and 16 percent less likely to have an ischemic stroke (the most common type where the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off) than were women whose potassium intake was lowest. They also found that the women who received the most potassium were 10 percent less likely to die than women who consumed the least, and that the risk of ischemic stroke was reduced by 27 percent among those who did not have high blood pressure and whose potassium consumption was highest. The risk of all types of stroke was 21 percent lower among these women than among those whose potassium intake was lowest. Women who had high blood pressure and consumed the most potassium had a lower risk of death, but not a reduced risk of stroke compared to those whose diets contained the least potassium, a result that speaks to high blood pressure as a primary risk factor for stroke. Only 2.8 percent of women in the study get at least 4,700 mg of potassium daily, the amount recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Only 16.6 percent of the women consumed at least 3,510 mg or more as recommended by the World Health Organization. The study results were based on potassium intake from food, not supplements.

Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller et al, “Potassium Intake and Risk of Stroke in Women With Hypertension and Nonhypertension in the Women's Health Initiative.” Stroke, September 4, 2014.

Probiotics for High Blood Pressure

Probiotics are products containing the "friendly" bacteria that normally inhabit the human intestinal tract, where these beneficial microbes help complete the digestive process. Some of these microbes actually produce vitamins, and evidence suggests that without them, the immune system doesn't function optimally, compromising resistance to infection. The latest word on probiotics is that they may also help lower blood pressure. A new analysis of nine earlier randomized controlled trials found that regularly taking probiotics led to reductions in systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of 3.56 millimeters of mercury and diastolic pressure by 2.38. While these changes aren’t dramatic, the Australian research team that conducted the review concluded that bigger reductions may occur in people who already have high blood pressure (some of the study participants had normal blood pressure to begin with) Greater benefits might also be possible using probiotics that provide larger quantities of helpful bacteria or multiple species, or when people take probiotics for more than two months, as was the case in the studies reviewed. Positive effects from probiotics on diastolic blood pressure were greatest in people whose blood pressure was equal to or greater than 130/85, which is considered elevated. The probiotics used in the studies were primarily strains of Lactobacillus in dairy products. The study authors concluded that more research is needed before doctors can confidently recommend probiotics for control and prevention of high blood pressure.

Jing Sun et al, “Effect of Probiotics on Blood Pressure - A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized, Controlled Trials,” Hypertension, doi: 10.1161/ HYPERTENSIONAHA.114.03469

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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Overcoming the Risks of Too Much Sitting

Sitting all day at a desk job has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity and heart disease, risks that exercising before or after work don’t seem to change. Researchers in Australia tested three strategies to get desk-bound workers up and moving: the use of treadmill or cycling desk for 10 to 30 minutes several times a day; light to moderate exercise on breaks and before and after work; and the use of ergonomic workstations, breaking up computer tasks, moving around more often and periodically perching on the edge of the chair. A total of 133 people enrolled in the study but only 62 stayed with it until it ended. The upshot of all this physical activity was an average reduction of eight minutes per day in time spent sitting, a drop of only one to two percent in sedentary time, the researchers found, and potentially enough to have a positive impact on health. They suggest taking a break from sitting once every 30 minutes and simple strategies to do more office work while you’re mobile including standing while you’re on the phone, having walking meetings and using a bathroom that’s farther from your desk than the one you usually use.

Leon Straker et al, “Participatory Workplace Interventions Can Reduce Sedentary Time for Office Workers—A Randomised Controlled Trial,” PLOS One, November 12, 2013

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.

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

Hold the Salt! Philadelphia’s Chinese Restaurant Crackdown

An order of takeout lo mein in Philadelphia averages 3,200 mg of sodium, far in excess of the daily intake of 2,300 mgAn order of takeout lo mein in Philadelphia averages 3,200 mg of sodium, far in excess of the daily intake of 2,300 mg (about a teaspoon) recommended in the U.S. dietary guidelines and more than twice the 1,500 mg recommended by the American Heart Association. In the latest example of a municipality taking steps to improve the health of its residents, the City of Brotherly Love has instituted the Healthy Chinese Takeout Initiative, an effort to pare down the amount of sodium its residents consume when they order Chinese food. About 37 percent of the city’s residents have high blood pressure – and that number jumps to 47 percent among the local African-American population. The Initiative aims to reduce the salt in Chinese food by 10 to 15 percent. City organizers decided that Chinese takeout was a natural place to start because these restaurants provide some three million meals per year. From a wider perspective, cutting sodium intake could save hundreds of thousands of lives, according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco, published earlier this year. It showed that immediately reducing daily sodium intake to about 2,200 mg would save 500,000 to 850,000 lives over the next 10 years and gradually reducing sodium intake over 10 years by habits such as cutting back on processed or restaurant-prepared foods would save 280,000 to 500,000 lives over a decade.

My take? Although I'm not sure a city initiative is the best approach, I’m pleased that my hometown has taken steps to improve the health of its residents. My recommendation for sodium intake is 1,500 mg per day, and it's likely we can do well on much less. Salt is hidden just about everywhere, and Chinese takeout is a good place to start considering how much sodium is likely to be in your diet. Processed foods are also high in sodium as it acts as a flavor enhancer and preservative. To cut back on sodium, I recommend eliminating or significantly reducing your intake of processed foods, canned soups and snack foods. Keep the saltshaker off the table, and exclude foods with visible salt like pretzels, chips and salted nuts.

Pamela G. Coxson et al, “Mortality Benefits From US Population-wide Reduction in Sodium Consumption,” Hypertension, Published online before print February 11, 2013, doi: 10.1161/​HYPERTENSIONAHA.111.201293