Blood Pressure - do you know your numbers?
Are you stressed, overworked, anxious, time poor? If so the chances are you may suffer from hypertension. It is estimated 1 in 3 of us are not aware we experience high blood pressure (BP).
When was the last time you checked your numbers? If it was the last visit to see the GP, then maybe you should make the opportunity to visit your local pharmacist as many now offer this service.
High blood pressure is often known as the silent killer as there are generally no symptoms. Consequently, knowing your numbers is pretty vital.
What is hypertension?
Our blood is pumped around the body when our heartbeats, providing us with oxygen and energy. As blood flows around it pushes against the sides of our blood vessels and the strength of the pushing is systolic blood pressure. Too high blood pressure exerts strain on our arteries leading to heart attacks and strokes. (1)
You are probably aware that the top number is your systolic BP and the lower number the diastolic BP figure. The diastolic reading is the number when our heart relaxes between beats. i.e. maximum pressure over minimum pressure.
In the UK we categorise high BP as a level of or higher than 140mm Hg / 90mm Hg on a consistent basis. The ideal reading is 120/80 for optimal good health, reducing the risk of heart disease or strokes. However, BP readings are subject to change throughout the day depending on the time, activity, stress levels, if we have eaten or want to visit the toilet. One single reading is not an accurate reflection, several readings need to be taken to obtain the average. (2)
It is now also believed that pulse pressure (PP), defined as the difference between SBP and DBP should be within a normal range of 30–80 mmHg. PP is also an independent predictor of cardiovascular risk. (3)
Why do we get hypertension?
In men, coronary heart diseases are relatively low until the age of 40 years. Between 40 and 50 years they start to appear more commonly and then grow exponentially with age; in women, they occur around 50–60 years and continue to increase rapidly.(4)
The prevalence of hypertension is increasing through our lifespans, notwithstanding all the screening, preventative lifestyle recommendations and treatment available. However, the increase of an ageing population, sedentary lifestyle and high-calorie food intake does not help.
Strong evidence indicates that the following are all related to high BP:
Another frequent reason for high BP is stress, especially work-related stress, whether it is due to job insecurity, low wages, or long work hours, job satisfaction, or impossible work conditions. To continually be subjected to stress has been proven to raise hypertension. Other research has already shown job dissatisfaction is associated with raised BP in women, especially those with little or no social support. (6)
Depression and anxiety in some individuals create spikes in blood pressure, which may also affect our kidneys and heart.
If you are a perpetually angry person, you are doing yourself no favours, as your sympathetic nervous system will be your normal state of being. Spending all day angry or stressed puts a strain on your heart, adrenals, raises your blood pressure and confuses your hormones.(7)
Why is it dangerous?
Continually raised blood pressure often leads to:
If you are aware that your BP is too high there are some lifestyle and dietary measures you can implement that will help to reduce your readings.
We all know that salt makes your body retain water. If you eat too much salt, the extra water stored in your body increases the pressure of your blood. If you already experience high BP this is an issue.
Also, eating too much salt may mean that blood pressure medicines, such as diuretics, don't work as well.
Therefore cutting the amount of salt you eat is one of the quickest ways to lower your blood pressure (especially if you have very high blood pressure). However, this is easier said than done as most of the salt we consume is already in the food we eat. The easiest way to implement a reduced salt diet is by reading labels or even easier eat natural foods and throw away the packets. You can then be in charge of the amounts added in cooking or at the table. There will be some items such as fresh bread that will contain salt, but you will be achieving much lower levels by removing processed foods.
Remember an adult should eat no more than 6g of salt a day, but most of us eat much more than this. This equates to 1 - 1 1/4 teaspoons. (9)
If socialising, and eating out is a big part of your life then opt for lighter, plain dishes such as grilled or poached fish with a salad or lightly steamed vegetables. Soups, casseroles, and heavy sauces are more often than not salt heavy.
Alcohol increases BP and should only be consumed in moderation, or if you already know your BP is too high or you are on medication for hypertension, then alcohol should be severely restricted.
Moderate levelsof alcohol have shown to reduce BP in many, however, the term moderate is very subjective. In this case, it refers to one drink a day for women and 2 for men, this is also a rough guide as all alcohols have different percentages and it obviously depends on your own poison.
f you are a regular drinker or a heavy drinker, alcohol can raise your blood pressure permanently. However, if you plan on giving up, reduce gradually as just stopping can cause a spike in BP which can be very dangerous. (10)
How can diet help?
Obviously, we need to be enjoying a nutritiously rich diet, without excess sugar, processed foods or alcohol. This will all also be helpful for weight management. There are many ways through our diet we can help to reduce our BP.
A potassium deficiency leads to an accumulation of sodium in the bloodstream, causing fluid retention and increased BP. However, the higher the potassium levels the more sodium is excreted through our urine. The correlation between the two is vital.
A low-potassium, high-sodium diet contributes to high blood pressure, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Potassium is found in foods like green vegetables, bananas, sweet potatoes, organic dairy products, beans and avocados. (11)
Beetroot contains nitrate, our bodies convert this into NO nitric oxide which relaxes and dilates blood vessels. Numerous studies have proven that both beetroot and beetroot juice can lower your BP. One showed that drinking beetroot juice every day reduced BP by 8/4 mm Hg.(12)
Celery contains fibre, magnesium and potassium which all help to regulate our BP. However, it also contains phytochemical called phthalates aka NBP. NBP relaxes the artery walls tissues and as a result blood flow is increased and blood pressure reduced.
According to Dr Kenneth Shafer from the department of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic – “To get the benefit, you should eat roughly four stalks – one cup, chopped – of celery daily.” If you find this too difficult to try juicing celery and beetroot.
2 stalks of celery,
1/2 green apple,
Obviously, we need to drink enough water to stop us from having sticky blood and as our blood is around 80% water we want to keep it flowing, so aim for around 1.5 - 2 litres a day.
Increase the amount of fibre in your diet as studies have shown that higher wholegrain and vegetable intake can reduce blood pressure and maintain a healthy heart. (14)
If you know you suffer from hypertension then taking 30g of flaxseed a day should reduce your BP levels as per a 2013 study which showed a reduction of 10/7 mm Hg after 6 months. (15)
Omega 3 rich foods such as SMASH fish, sardines, salmon, mackerel, herrings and anchovies should be enjoyed at least twice a week for their health advantages. Nuts and flax or chia seeds are also rich in Omega 3. If these are not to your liking opt for supplements. However, do your homework and make sure you are buying a clean sustainable form. (16)
Dark chocolate and when we say dark we mean over 70% cocoa, is a pleasurable way to reduce blood pressure, just one or two squares a day will be beneficial. (17)
If you smoke, one obvious suggestion is to reduce or ideally stop smoking as nicotine raises blood pressure and hardens your arteries. (18)
Whilst reducing your stress levels, is easier said than done it has many positives, remember the calmer, kinder, happier, healthier you?
If you think meditation or mindfulness is not for you try walking in nature. When was the last time you appreciated your surroundings and actually observed the beauty around you? If you really want to be part of nature go barefoot.
Yoga or pilates both have beneficial effects on calming our minds and therefore often reduce BP levels. (19)
Listen to calming music, close your eyes and just be, stop being busy and take the time out to take stock. Time does not return.
Exercise can reduce the systolic level by as much as 4mm to 9 mm Hg which could be enough to bring readings into a healthy range. So whatever form of exercise you enjoy start moving.
If you don’t believe you have the time to exercise, take your work-related problems outside for some fresh air, maybe a walk too and you may find the answers come more freely.
Or if you don’t like any type of exercise, try walking whilst listening to some music, or a podcast that you find interesting, even better enjoy the nature around you.
Try to make exercise fit into your life, you may soon enjoy it.
If you do experience headaches, anxiety, nosebleeds, visionary disturbances it can be a sign that your blood pressure has reached a very high point. See your GP immediately.
Before taking any supplements please consult your medical practitioner. This article is for general information only and is not intended for medical guidance.
6. Mucci, Nicola et al. “Anxiety, Stress-Related Factors, and Blood Pressure in Young Adults.” Frontiers in Psychology 7 (2016): 1682. PMC. Web. 21 Sept. 2018.