The silent killer, as it is very often referred to, high blood pressure or hypertension is both a cause and a symptom of cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure alone significantly increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, heart failure, kidney disease and several other potentially life threatening conditions. The worst part is it rarely exhibits clear symptoms, hence the risk of being left untreated.
More often than not, high blood pressure is reversible and so are its health effects. But as long as it remains untreated, it can wreak havoc in your body. Preventing and even managing high blood pressure is possible with the help of a good diet, low in sodium and saturated fats and rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, with a good ratio of healthy fatty acids such as Omega-3 from fish, krill oil or fish oils and seafood in general.
But what is high blood pressure more exactly? High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, refers to elevated measurements of systolic and diastolic pressure. Systolic pressure measures blood pressure when the heart is contracting, while diastolic pressure measures blood pressure when the heart is relaxing. Systolic readings (or numbers) should generally be higher than diastolic readings because, logically, the heart is under more pressure when contracting.
In healthy individuals, blood pressure should be no higher than 140/90 (140 over 90) or 140/90 mmHg. 140 measures your systolic pressure, while 90 measures your diastolic pressure. Anything over this is considered hypertension (high blood pressure). But measuring your blood pressure once is not a good indication of your heart’s health. For a better understanding, ask your doctor to take your blood pressure every time you go for a check up so he or she can have a history of its evolution.
Or purchase a reliable, ease to use, hand blood pressure monitor you can strip to your wrist and measure your blood pressure at home. Monitoring your blood pressure can give you a good idea of what is normal blood pressure for you and what is not. If left untreated, hypertension stresses out the heart, increasing the risk of heart attacks, stroke as well as heart failure or kidney problems, to name a few.
Most specialists recommend having your blood pressure checked by your doctor every two to five years. This is great information for you medical history file, but what if you develop hypertension in between these distant checkups and you risk letting it untreated and suffering the consequences? So how often should you check your blood pressure?
First of all, it might be good to get your own hand blood pressure monitor (its light, portable and easier to use than older models) and measure your blood pressure two times a day for a week or so. If things appear normal, only measure it occasionally. If you feel something is not right, you can check your blood pressure right away and compare it to previous measurements. Do this at least 2-3 times. This way you have both some reassurance and accurate information for your doctor to analyze.
While it can also be a result of existing heart or vascular problems unrelated to dietary factors, you can develop high blood pressure as a result of poor eating and bad lifestyle habits. Here is a list of possible causes that may lead to the development of high blood pressure in otherwise healthy individuals:
1) High salt intake.
2) Eating foods rich in saturated fats (butter, cheese, lard, meats, sausages and so on).
3) Eating mainly processed foods (they contain more salt and fats than you could imagine).
4) Low intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
5) High alcohol intake.
7) Drinking too much coffee or caffeine-rich beverages.
8) Being overweight or obese.
9) Taking certain medication (asthma, allergy or diabetes medication can raise blood pressure).
10) Having someone in your family with high blood pressure or other heart problems.
11) Being under constant stress, not sleeping enough and not taking good care of yourself.
12) A potassium deficiency can also cause hypertension, but other factors are required too.
13) Lack of exercise paired with a poor diet.
14) Old age (being 65 or older).
Tips and advice
Take a good look at the list above and try to picture your dietary and lifestyle habits. Do they favor a healthy heart or not? If you are struggling with hypertension and want to see and improvement in your health status, then maybe consider making some changes. Here are 9 things you can do to prevent, manage or reverse high blood pressure:
1) Reduce your salt intake. This may require some time to adjust, but it’s doable. Food might taste a little awkward at first or seem bland, but after a while you might notice that what you were actually enjoying was the taste of salt, not the food itself. And with time, appreciation for the subtle flavors of various foods will become the highlight of your meals. Substituting regular table salt with pink salt (also in smaller amounts) is a good option as well.
2) Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. By increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables you get to eat less unhealthy things such as pizza, sausages, butter, baked goods, fast food, fried meats, etc. There’s only so much we can eat, but making the right choices helps us make less unhealthy choices.
3) Move a little. You don’t necessarily have to take up jogging or go to the gym to lose weight or keep fit. Considering that diet is the most important for a healthy weight loss program and slim figure, you only have to move a little. Go for a walk in the park instead of watching television on your free day, dance, play with your kids, your pet dog or walk around a farmer’s market to get a good supply of all things fresh, help your spouse with the housework, paint or fix something, go for a bike ride and so on.
4) Lose a few pounds. If you body mass index puts you in the overweight category, then you need to lose a bit of weight to prevent high blood pressure or manage it if you already have it. As long as you eat right, keep moving and stay active by doing something you love, you will lose the weight you need to and your heart will benefit from it. There is no miracle cure. You have to work for it and improve your diet and lifestyle habits.
5) Reduce your alcohol consumption. Although even some specialists recommend a glass of wine or of beer for keeping healthy, know that regular alcohol consumption can lead to hypertension over time. In addition to its direct negative impact on cardiovascular health, alcohol also packs serious calories. And we all know that very few people stop at one beer or one glass of wine, hence the extra pounds (or kilograms) and a further risk of developing hypertension. Though an unpopular opinion, alcohol should be consumed occasionally, if not completely excluded from our diets.
6) Give up or don’t take up smoking. Countless research papers and most medical professionals agree that smoking is bad for our health, not matter how much or in which form (passive or active). With relation to cardiovascular health, smoking will lead to hypertension and associated heart problems and, sadly, the damage it does to our arteries cannot be reversed.
7) Reduce caffeine intake. Whether it’s coffee, caffeinated drinks, green tea, black tea, white tea and so on, regular and excessive consumption is bad for those of you already suffering from some form of heart problem. In addition to arrhythmia, extrasystoles and heart palpitations and associated side effects, caffeine can also worsen hypertension and put us at risk for serious problems such as stroke. I’m not saying forsake coffee, but know that even a moderate consumption of caffeine is troublesome for anyone already dealing with heart problems such as hypertension.
8) Manage stress. It is known that stress makes our blood pressure go up which is why it is so important to learn how to cope with it so it doesn’t ruin our cardiovascular health or put us at risk for serious problems. Make time to sleep well, eat right, exercise a little and spend time with people you love, doing things you like. And even if your boss is giving you a hard time at work or you are fighting hard for that scholarship, put yourself first and love yourself enough to know to deserve a break.
9) Take your nutrients. Vitamin C helps clear blood vessels of plaque which may contribute to reducing complication risks. Healthy Omega-3 fatty acids from olive oil, krill oil, fish and fish oils such as cod liver oil improve cardiovascular health and may reduce risk factors as well. A healthy heart is less likely to suffer from as many problems as one already at risk.
Yes, genetics also plays a role in hypertension. People of African descent, Caribbean people and those of you with a history of hypertension in your family have higher risks than others. But you risk not getting hypertension at all if you take care of yourself and live a life you love. As a person with hypertension cases in my family and a previous tendency towards it myself, I can honestly say I am doing great and nowhere near developing it thanks to following the simple rules listed above.