Fact One: Despite decades of medical advances, heart disease still kills millions of us.
Fact Two: What may finally help save us is anything but high-tech. While super-drugs and miracle surgery are vital in a crisis, some of the most powerful new weapons against heart disease include carrots, calcium, and large helpings of TLC – as you’re about to read in this report.
It starts here to lower high blood pressure with diet changes, not drugs (and modest changes, not major overhauls). New briefs from the American Heart Association, where the power of vegetables and compassion made as much news as bio-engineering genes, kept arteries from re-clogging.
In this century, millions of people found out that they were in much greater danger of having a heart attack than anyone thought. The reason: ‘High’ blood pressure had been re-defined, dropped from 160/95 to 140/90. (The first number reflects the pressure in arteries as the heart contracts; the second, the pressure between heartbeats.) As a result, those millions of people suddenly became “at-risk” – rather than being classed as healthy, overnight they turned into candidates for some blood pressure-lowering treatment.
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With luck, this revised yardstick won’t just shock; it will save lives – motivating the enormous number of us who aren’t even quite sure what our blood pressure is to find out and lower them. Two questions come up immediately, however: How much should they be lowered and how?
The “how much” part is pretty clear, though there’s a bit of leeway. Simply getting your blood pressure to 140/90 is good. Experts consider 120/80 even better and a reasonable goal for most people. But for the longevity-minded, 100/65 (without drugs) is the blood pressure associated with the least risk of cardiovascular disease and the longest expected lifespan.
How you lower your blood pressure is also somewhat flexible. There is a range of anti-hypertensive drugs that can help. However, most have drawbacks. For this reason, drugs should usually be a last resort. The first step is to work with your doctor on your diet. Not just keeping weight in line and reducing salt intake – though sodium, more than any other mineral, has been blamed for increases in blood pressure – but also increasing foods containing other minerals, particularly calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
The evidence for the beneficial effect of these minerals is quite persuasive – enough so that ultimately they may become a standard part of the non-drug anti-hypertensive arsenal. In fact, important new findings on calcium and hypertension made health headlines. While the evidence builds, it’s quite feasible (with your doctor’s guidance) to start using these minerals now to try and help normalize blood pressure and protect your heart and overall health.
POTASSIUM: WHAT BANANAS CAN DO FOR YOUR HEART
Although many people know that sodium can raise blood pressure in some individuals, fewer are aware that potassium may counteract some of the sodium’s effects.
For most of human history, people ate naturally high-potassium low-salt diets. But the last hundred years have seen a 20-fold increase in sodium consumption, along with a drop in potassium intake to about one-third of its previous level.
We do need some potassium. It helps maintain a balance between fluids inside and outside cells. It enables nerves and muscles, including the heart, to function properly. And it has another important role: A high potassium intake (3,000 mg to 4,000 mg daily, versus the average 1,200 mg) can help reduce blood pressure, according to the Joint National Committee on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure in the U.S.
In a survey in America, people who consumed less than 1,200 mg of potassium per day had twice the incidence of hypertension as people consumed over 3,600 mg per day.
A 12-year study by California researchers showed a 40 percent drop in stroke-related deaths among those who consumed an extra 400 mg of potassium a day (the equivalent of a banana or a glass of skim milk). And in the same study, women whose total potassium intake was less than 1,900 mg per day had more than twice the chance of dying of a stroke as women who consumed more than 1,900 mg.
How does potassium reduce blood pressure, and thus heart attacks and strokes? Some researchers believe that high potassium levels block the absorption of sodium by the kidneys. Others suspect that potassium may work as a diuretic, lowering blood plasma volume and thus decreasing blood pressure.
Whatever the mechanism, raising potassium intake – while cutting back on sodium – makes good sense if your goal is lowering blood pressure and improving heart health. The simplest, safest way to do this is to eat plenty of high-potassium fruits (bananas, oranges, apples, and cantaloupes), leafy vegetables, and whole-grain products. Potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, and other foods will also do your potassium levels well.
If you are considering potassium supplements, first consult your doctor. Those with kidney problems and people taking certain drugs, including potassium-sparing diuretics, may not be good candidates.
CALCIUM: NOT JUST FOR TEETH AND BONES
Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth. But researchers are now finding it may also have a role in controlling blood pressure.
In studies of large populations in Honolulu and Puerto Rico, the higher the calcium intake, the lower the average blood pressure.
Researchers at the Oregon Health Science University found that hypertensive ingests an average of 25 percent less calcium than normal blood pressure individuals.
When the same Oregon researchers had people with mild hypertension take a one-gram calcium tablet every day for eight weeks, their blood pressure numbers dropped 2 to 5 points.
Some animal studies show that high calcium diets may increase sodium excretion, suggesting one-way calcium helps reduce blood pressure.
Calcium appears to relax muscles in blood vessels, letting blood flow through more freely – thus reducing blood pressure on artery walls.
Findings announced at the American Heart Association meeting indicate that for every glass of milk pre-school children drink daily, their systolic blood pressure is about 6 points lower. The preliminary conclusion: Adequate or better calcium intake during childhood (the skim milk equivalent of three to four glasses a day) may postpone or prevent high blood pressure in adulthood.
In a study, calcium supplements were shown to help prevent high blood pressure during the second half of pregnancy – a common risk and a major cause of premature babies.
Despite the growing evidence of calcium’s benefits, it is not recommended that all hypertensives routinely take calcium supplements without consulting the doctor. Most of the studies are “suggestive but inconclusive, ” says Matthew Gillman, M.D., of the Boston University School of Medicine. And for the most part, he points out, calcium seems to lower blood pressure only “a bit.”
Still, it makes sense to at least get 800 mg to 1,200 mg a day, and even more during pregnancy and nursing. (In the study above, the pregnant women took 2,000 mg of calcium per day.)
Where should you get your calcium? Besides, to skim milk and dairy products (taking out fat increases calcium), many other foods contain calcium naturally.
Many doctors now recommend calcium or multi-mineral supplements for various reasons. If your does, calcium needs to be taken in about a two-to-one ratio with magnesium to be assimilated. (A good multi-mineral formula will take this into account.)
No matter how you get your calcium, please don’t overdo it. In some people, excess calcium can cause kidney stones. The best advice: Stick to your doctor’s recommendations.
MAGNESIUM: THE NEGLECTED HEART PROTECTOR
Most of us don’t get the recommended amount of daily magnesium (280 mg for women, 350 mg for men) in our diets. Several studies indicate that even mild deficiencies in magnesium can contribute to high blood pressure, heart arrhythmias, and heart attacks. The studies also show that simple improvements can counter these risks.
A huge study of 58,218 women conducted by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that as magnesium intake rises, blood pressure declines.
The Honolulu Heart Study of 615 Hawaiian men showed that increased magnesium levels are associated with decreased hypertension more than any other nutrient.
When magnesium supplements were given to some 20 hypertension and/or heart patients by Swedish researcher Thomas Decker, their systolic blood pressure had dropped 12 points after six months.
In a California study, researchers at City of Hope National Medical Center showed magnesium supplements could help prevent the blood clots that lead to heart attacks and strokes.
How does magnesium work? Apparently, it causes arteries to relax, whereas a lack of it makes them contract, increasing the pressure on vessel walls. Magnesium may also protect the arteries against stress by limiting the damage adrenaline surges can do. And magnesium aids heart health directly: It helps normalize erratic heartbeats (arrhythmias) in both good people and those who’ve had heart attacks, which helps prevent heart enlargement.
Despite the vital roles it plays, magnesium has received less attention than calcium. But anyone concerned about blood pressure and heart health should eat magnesium-rich foods daily – and consider limiting soft drinks. These are high in phosphates, which interfere with magnesium absorption. Magnesium in multi-mineral supplements can help ensure coverage.
Supplements are not a substitute for heart-wise eating habits, but they are useful for many people and are freer for side-effects than high-blood-pressure medication. Even so, continue to rely primarily on vitamin and mineral-rich foods. They can contribute significantly to lowering your blood pressure and guarding your cardiovascular health.
We ‘humans’ had got the life a billion years ago. There have been five mass extinctions in earth’s history. We are living through the sixth. And now we, too, are running at a pace to end it all. This time it will be our fault.
The discoveries and inventions have made our lifestyle full of convenience. But our bodies require work. Just like the sedentary water starts smelling, the sedentary lifestyle has given rise to many chronic diseases like heart problems, diabetes, and hypertension.
Today, health researchers suggest that most of the chronic diseases that have appeared in man’s life are due to STRESS from where it has come. It is the bi-product of our so-called modern lifestyle.
We are standing at the edge of the cliff. Immediate actions are required to bring back the healthy days. We must incorporate exercise, a balanced diet, sound sleep, and the most importantly, happy and positive thoughts to our lifestyle to get rid of all health problems.