Tag Archives: Blood pressure

Doctors overlook a curable cause of high blood pressure

Credit: Pixabay.

In early 2013, after Erin Consuegra gave birth to her second child at age 28, her health nosedived. She developed worrying symptoms, including extreme fatigue, fluttery heart beats, and high blood pressure. She said her doctor prescribed blood pressure medication and chalked it up to stress.

But Consuegra, an elementary school teacher by training, didn’t buy it. “It’s like, you think staying home all day with two kids is causing these real medical issues?” she said. “It was offensive to just write it all off to stress and anxiety.”

Researching her symptoms online and through family members in the medical field, Consuegra learned of a little-known syndrome called primary aldosteronism, in which one or both adrenal glands, small structures that sit atop the kidneys, overproduce a hormone called aldosterone. Aldosterone increases blood pressure by sending sodium and water into the bloodstream, increasing blood volume. It also lowers potassium, a mineral that Consuegra was deficient in.

Her primary care physician agreed to run a blood test to screen for the condition but insisted that the result was normal and balked at Consuegra’s request to see a specialist. “She took it as me questioning her,” Consuegra said. Getting a referral, she added, “took a lot of fighting, a lot of tears, a lot of advocacy on my part.”

Consuegra’s story has a relatively happy ending. Doctors at Vanderbilt University Medical Center eventually diagnosed her with primary aldosteronism and found a small noncancerous tumor, or adenoma, in one of her adrenal glands — known to often be a cause of the condition. After doctors removed the gland in July 2014, her symptoms disappeared.

Millions of other patients are not so lucky. More than six decades after primary aldosteronism was first described in the medical literature, less than 1 percent of cases are diagnosed and treated despite evidence that it is a common cause of high blood pressure, or hypertension.

The syndrome shows up in people with mild, moderate, and severe hypertension — and even in those with normal blood pressure — according to a comprehensive 2020 study. “The prevalence of primary aldosteronism is high and largely unrecognized,” the study authors wrote in the Annals of Internal Medicine, adding that it may account for high blood pressure that has no identifiable cause and is typically attributed to genetics, poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity.

Closing the diagnosis and treatment gap poses a series of challenges, experts say. Many physicians haven’t gotten the message that primary aldosteronism is common, so they don’t look for it. Screening tests can be tricky to interpret and miss a lot of cases. Complicating matters, primary care groups, whose members treat the bulk of hypertension, have so far declined to help develop relevant guidelines. Research on the syndrome lags behind other diseases, and only a few health systems have a cadre of knowledgeable specialists who provide coordinated care.

Clinicians may dismiss telltale symptoms, leaving patients to turn to Google, bounce from doctor to doctor, or go undiagnosed for years. “Unfortunately, I think my story is super-typical,” said Consuegra, whose frustrations led her to start a patient Facebook group. “I don’t think anyone has had an easy road to diagnosis.”

As a result, patients take standard blood pressure medications that do little or no good and miss out on effective treatments that include not only surgery but low-salt diets and targeted drugs. Missed diagnoses pose additional dangers: Excess aldosterone is toxic to the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, and other organs. Compared to patients with garden-variety hypertension, those with primary aldosteronism have greater risk of kidney disease, heart failure, coronary artery disease, and stroke.

With nearly half of U.S. adults, or 116 million people, classified as having high blood pressure, some experts have warned of a public health crisis hidden in plain sight — one that will demand widespread changes in hypertension treatment. They’ve called on clinicians to increase their vigilance and more readily prescribe drugs that block aldosterone’s effects.

“My personal frustration is seeing patients who’ve clearly had primary aldosteronism for more than a decade and now have irreversible kidney damage,” which may require dialysis, said endocrinologist William Young Jr. of the Mayo Clinic. Young treats about 250 primary aldosteronism patients a year but “compared to what’s going on out there,” he said, “that’s miniscule.”


The push for greater recognition of primary aldosteronism isn’t new. Since 2008, the Endocrine Society, a medical organization dedicated to the advancement of hormone science and public health, has recommended screening patients who have red flags such as low potassium, an adrenal mass that shows up on a scan, or drug-resistant hypertension — defined as blood pressure that is uncontrolled despite the patient taking three different kinds of antihypertensive medications at their maximally tolerated doses. A family history of early-onset hypertension or stroke before age 40 are other signs. In 2017, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association incorporated the directive into a hypertension treatment guideline.

Screening usually entails a roughly $150 blood test called the aldosterone-to-renin ratio, or ARR. Renin is an enzyme produced by the kidneys that triggers a chain reaction that leads to aldosterone production. When renin is low, aldosterone should be low. But in people with primary aldosteronism, aldosterone can be elevated even when renin is low.

A positive ARR can be followed by additional tests to confirm the diagnosis and determine whether surgery is an option. If one gland is secreting excess aldosterone, removing that gland may cure or improve the disease. Usually both glands are affected, in which case surgery isn’t recommended and patients take one of two drugs that block aldosterone.

But physicians haven’t followed the guidelines. Recent U.S. studies found ARR screening rates for high-risk patients ranging from 1.3 percent in an urban health system to 3.3 percent at an academic medical center. The largest analysis, which was published in 2021 and involved 269,010 patients with drug-resistant hypertension treated in the U.S. Veterans Health Administration, revealed that just 1.6 percent were tested.

The data show primary aldosteronism is “not top of mind for gatekeepers of hypertension,” said Vivek Bhalla, a kidney specialist who directs the Stanford Hypertension Center. Bhalla said he was astounded when a 2020 analysis he led revealed that just 2.1 percent of patients with drug-resistant hypertension were screened.

Yet even those tiny percentages may downplay the problem because they don’t account for people without recognizable risk factors, who may nonetheless be on a path to developing severe disease. Some experts suggest studying the cost-effectiveness of expanding the population of patients who should be screened, a point underscored by the 2020 Annals study, which estimated that the syndrome affects one in six people with mild hypertension and one in five with moderate hypertension.

More troubling, the study showed that ARR fails to detect a large fraction of cases, yielding a positive result in people who have the condition as little as 22 percent of the time. False positive results, on the other hand, are uncommon. The authors wrote that ARR “can be a simple and useful screening method” but cautioned against overreliance, noting that arbitrarily high cutoff values and aldosterone’s tendency to fluctuate likely contribute to underdiagnosis.

Those revelations “really changed the whole landscape,” said Sandra Taler, a Mayo Clinic kidney and hypertension specialist who was not involved in the research. She added that she’s become “more meticulous” in looking for primary aldosteronism as a result. “The point of this study is there may not be any clues and it could still be present,” she said. “And if you don’t look for it you won’t find it.”


Experts have put forth various explanations for the lack of screening, including the complexity of the process and concerns over expensive follow-up procedures. Given the sheer volume of hypertension patients, physicians typically don’t focus on finding root causes. “The temptation for a physician seeing a new patient with hypertension is to say — ‘Let’s just start off with getting your blood pressure down, and then take it from there,’” Australian medical researcher John Funder, who led the Endocrine Society’s most recent guideline effort, wrote in a 2020 editorial in Hypertension.

There are also historic misperceptions that primary aldosteronism is rare and characterized by symptoms such as potassium deficiency. University of Michigan physician Jerome Conn is credited with first describing the syndrome in medical literature in 1956 based on a woman with extreme symptoms that included temporary and occasional paralysis from the hips down. Although Conn and others postulated that rogue aldosterone production is a common cause of hypertension, it took until the 1980s for diagnostic advances to confirm their hunch.

In his editorial, Funder cited “residual ignorance” from the days when medical schools taught that primary aldosteronism was a mild and rare form of hypertension affecting less than 1 percent of patients. Others cite ongoing gaps in educating physicians who think it is too complicated or don’t know they should be testing people for primary aldosteronism. Specialty societies have not paired screening recommendations with aggressive efforts to educate physicians about the disorder’s prevalence, acknowledged Robert Carey, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Endocrine Society past president, who helped develop the guidelines.

At some institutions, that’s changing. Varun Sharma, an associate professor of general internal medicine at Georgetown University, said he wasn’t taught how or when to diagnose primary aldosteronism during his medical training. A few years ago he began testing some patients with hypertension and was surprised by frequent positive results. “That was what made me push and also made me feel comfortable telling residents that we ought to be screening more,” he said.

Similarly, Bradley Changstrom, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, doesn’t recall learning about primary aldosteronism as a common cause of hypertension when he was a resident. But he said, “Once I started looking for it I started finding it all the time, practically speaking once a month or so.”

“I think if physicians realize how common this truly is,” he added, “they would start to look for it more often.”

To increase detection, experts have suggested removing a requirement that patients take a hiatus from blood pressure medications prior to screening, liberalizing cutoffs for a positive ARR result, and bypassing ARR for urine excretion tests, which are more reliable but cost more. Some have suggested wider prescribing of drugs to treat primary aldosteronism, even as a first-line hypertension therapy.

Carey said it will be critical to involve primary care societies — including the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians — in developing the next guideline, which he said will take at least two years. He said their endorsement would provide “the strongest message regarding the validity of the recommendations” but such collaboration can be challenging because societies “want to keep their guidelines under their control.”

Primary care groups declined to participate in a multi-society task force that developed the 2017 ACC/AHA hypertension guideline, which famously expanded the definition of hypertension to include about 30 million more U.S. adults as well as endorsing primary aldosteronism screening.

The ACP and the AAFP declined interview requests from Undark. In an email, the AAFP said it updates its members on research and “would welcome the Endocrine Society to reach out to us directly to discuss guideline opportunities.”


Greater focus on excess aldosterone could advance national progress on blood pressure control, which has stalled, according to the 2020 U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Control Hypertension. Although that 48-page document, like much public health messaging, doesn’t mention primary aldosteronism or aldosterone, it notes that only about one in four U.S. adults with hypertension has it under control. Hypertension is a leading risk factor for heart disease and contributes to half a million U.S. deaths annually. Primary aldosteronism, Taler said, “opens up a whole area of research in terms of looking for the cause of high blood pressure.”

More detection won’t be a silver bullet. No health care system is prepared for a glut of newly diagnosed primary aldosteronism patients, says Carey. Only a handful of U.S. medical centers have a cadre of relevant experts — particularly scarce are radiologists adept a procedure to determine whether surgery is feasible. Care is also often uncoordinated. Bhalla said he created Stanford’s hypertension center in 2015 because “it was clear that there was no expert that had taken these people under their wing,” referring to patients with primary aldosteronism, but his institution isn’t unique. “We practice in these silos in medicine,” he said. “And that is not healthy for patient care.”

Sweeping improvements are needed in diagnosis and treatment, said Marianne Leenaerts, co-founder of the Primary Aldosteronism Foundation, a patient group launched in 2019. The only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat primary aldosteronism, spironolactone, was developed in the late 1950s. It usually lowers blood pressure but has nasty side effects that include erectile dysfunction and painful breast growth in men, and irregular menstrual cycles in women. Another drug of the same class, eplerenone, is prescribed off-label. The Endocrine Society’s guideline notes that eplerenone has fewer side effects but is less potent than spironolactone and must be taken more often.

Two new classes of drugs are in testing. Clinical trials are underway for new scanning techniques and procedures that could spare the adrenal gland.

Yet for millions of patients, advances are slow in coming.

Leenaerts, who lives in Canada, believes she had primary aldosteronism for 25 years before it was diagnosed in 2017. Both of her adrenal glands produce excess aldosterone, which means she is not a candidate for surgery, and she does not tolerate either available drug. Instead, she tries to manage her disease with a standard blood pressure-lowering drug and a strict low-sodium, high-potassium diet. At age 58, her liver and kidney functions are declining, and she has insomnia, difficulties with memory and focus, and painful inflammation. Primary aldosteronism has cut short her productive years, she said. While new drugs might help, she added, “At the speed at which I’m declining, it may be too late for me.”


Mary Chris Jaklevic is a veteran health care journalist based in the Midwest.

This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

What’s the ideal blood pressure by age

Credit: Pixabay.

Ideally, we should all strive to have a blood pressure below 120/80mmHg. However, most people have blood pressure readings in the range of 120/80mmHg or 140/90mmHg.

What is blood pressure anyway?

Pressure is simply the amount of physical force exerted on an object. In this case, blood pressure refers to the force exerted by blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels.

When blood pressure is too high, a person’s arteries are subjected to a continuous strain that, in time, can lead to life-threatening cardiovascular disease.

What do the readings of blood pressure mean?

Blood pressure is measured in ‘millimeters of mercury’ (mmHg) and is read for two values. For instance, the optimal blood pressure is 120 over 80 or 120/80mmHg.

The first value represents the systolic blood pressure, which is the highest pressure that the blood reaches when the heartbeats.

The second value is the diastolic blood pressure, which corresponds to the lowest level of blood pressure that occurs when the heart’s muscles relax between beats.

Measuring your blood pressure with a blood pressure monitor is important because having a high reading (hypertension) is not something you can notice or feel.

However, if blood pressure is measured just once and found to be high, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s always too high. In order to get a reliable reading, blood pressure has to be measured on several different days while you are resting.

Signs and symptoms of high blood pressure

Usually, people cannot tell they have high blood pressure unless they have it measured. Anything above 140/90 is considered high blood pressure. However, occasionally people with high blood pressure report frequent headaches.

It’s important to note that your blood pressure will vary significantly and a single high blood pressure reading isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. If the reading is above this threshold after weeks of constant measurement, then you can safely presume that you may indeed suffer from hypertension.

Why blood pressure is so important to health

Although a blood pressure of 140 over 90 is considered normal, everyone should strive to lower it even further in order to stave off heart disease and strokes.

For instance, someone with a blood pressure reading of 135/85 is twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke as someone with a reading of 115/75

An optimal blood pressure is paramount to the structural integrity of your arteries. Imagine a copper pipe in a water supply system — after many years, it will corrode and form micro-wears from all the friction between the water flow and the pipe’s walls. Eventually, it will break, but its operating life can be extended if the water pressure doesn’t cross a critical threshold.

While this analogy isn’t perfect (arteries don’t corrode and some damage can be healed), your arteries will naturally weaken with age after countless liters of blood flowing through them.

High blood pressure increases the risk of having a heart attack, which can cause heart failure. However, poor health outcomes extend beyond the cardiovascular system.

Why your blood pressure is too high

There are a number of reasons why a person may suffer from hypertension.

As we age, blood pressure typically increases due to the wear and tear accumulated by blood vessels over the years. There are also genetic factors that may influence blood pressure. For instance, African-Caribbean and South Asia communities tend to be at a higher risk of high blood pressure. High blood pressure can also run in the family.

All other things being equal, high blood pressure is typically the result of lifestyle choices, particularly diet. Too much salt, not enough fruits and vegetables, and drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure. Being overweight and not exercising can also substantially increase the risk of hypertension.

Blood pressure chart

If you made it this far then you now know how to correctly read your blood pressure but perhaps you’re not entirely sure how to interpret the measurement. The chart below is a good place to start, as it shows the ranges of high, low, and normal blood pressure readings.

You may have noticed that only one of the two values needs to be higher or lower to count as either high blood pressure or low blood pressure. For instance, if your top number (systolic blood pressure) is higher than 140, then you have high blood pressure regardless of your bottom value (diastolic blood pressure). Likewise, if your bottom number is higher than 90, then you have high blood pressure regardless of the top number’s reading.

What constitutes high blood pressure by age?

It’s normal for your blood pressure to increase as you age. The table below should give you a rough estimate of what healthy levels should look like.

AgeFemaleMale
1 – 280/34 – 120/7583/38 – 117/76
3100/59100/61
4102/62101/64
5104/65103/66
6105/68104/68
7106/70106/69
8107/71108/71
9109/72110/72
10111/73112/73
11113/74114/74
12115/74116/75
13117/75117/76
14120/75119/77
15120/76120/78
16120/78120/78
17120/80120/78
18120/80120/80
19-24120/79120/79
25-29120/80121/80
30-35122/81123/82
36-39123/82124/83
40-45124/83125/83
46-49126/84127/84
50-55129/85128/85
56-59130/86131/87
60+134/84135/88
Ideal blood pressure by age.

Can your blood pressure ever be too low?

Low blood pressure, also known as hypotension, is generally anything below 90/60 mmHg. If any of the two values is lower than 90 or 60 for systolic and distolic blood pressure, respectively, this counts as having low blood pressure.

Generally, this is a good thing, because it means that the risk of a stroke or heart disease is minimal. Most people with hypotension do not require treatment.

There may be instances when a person’s blood pressure is low temporarily due to medication. And, sometimes, people can have low blood pressure naturally but this is no reason for concern in and of itself — although, in some instances, low blood pressure has been associated with depression.

However, if a patient feels dizzy or like fainting and blood pressure is low, a doctor’s appointment is warranted.

How to lower your blood pressure

You might be worried by your high blood pressure, but the good news is that it can be lowered to optimal levels with some proper foresight.

Although medication may be prescribed by a doctor in order to lower blood pressure, the safest course of action is to make long lasting lifestyle changes.

Diet is extremely important in this context. First and foremost, patients suffering from hypertension should be mindful of their salt intake. In fact, you may want to cut it out entirely out of your diet. Just remember that most of the salt you eat is actually found in products that are already prepared, such as breakfast cereals, ready-made meals, and bread. Be sure to check the nutritional facts label on the products you select from the supermarket.

Eating more fruits and vegetables can also help to lower blood pressure. A healthy amount is five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, where a portion weighs roughly 80 grams. Watch out for added salts when buying frozen or tinned fruits and vegetables from your local supermarket.

A healthy diet will also help you to mitigate another important risk factor for hypertension: being overweight. Exercising and a low-calorie diet can help you reduce your weight to more healthy levels — your blood pressure drops along with those extra pounds. Additionally, doing cardio also keeps the heart healthy.

Finally, be mindful of your alcohol intake. Both men and women should limit their alcohol consumption to 14 units per week, where a unit is equivalent to a small glass of wine or half a pint of beer.

Dementia

Hypertension treatment may stave off dementia in some patients

Researchers found that improving vascular health in people aged 50 or older could also have benefits for the brain. According to an exciting new study, patients who underwent intense treatment for hypertension were less likely to develop minor cognitive and memory problems — the kind that often progresses into dementia at old age — than patients who received standard care.

Dementia

Credit: Pixabay.

The research was part of a broader cardiovascular study called Sprint, which began in 2010 and involved more than 9,000 people with hypertension across 102 sites in the United States. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is dangerous because it makes the heart work harder to pump blood out to the body. The condition is diagnosed when a person has a systolic blood pressure between 130 and 180 and, if left unchecked, can lead to hardening of the arteries, stroke, heart failure, and other medical problems

The main goal of Sprint was to see whether people who received intensive treatment that lowered their blood pressure to 120 were doing significantly better than those who received standard treatment which lowered their blood pressure to around 140. These participants were also cognitively assessed.

In the three years following the study, those who had blood pressure below 120 were 19% less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who received standard care. Additionally, blood pressure treatments significantly lowered the risk of stroke and death, as reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Dementia is the loss of cognitive functioning — thinking, remembering, and reasoning — and behavioral abilities to such an extent that it interferes with a person’s quality of life. One of the most important diseases that cause dementia is Alzheimer’s, which affects 6 million Americans.

There is no cure for Alzheimer’s but since the disease is preceded by mild cognitive impairment, the new findings suggest that keeping blood pressure in optimal parameters might stave off dementia or at least delay it considerably. Researchers might know for sure in future studies that follow patients who have received blood pressure treatment for a longer time.

Until then, patients with blood pressure over 130 shouldn’t hurry to talk to their doctors about lowering it even further. There is still much we need to find out about how results differ by age and the side effects. But, since the results have been so promising, the Alzheimer’s Association announced that it will award more than $800,000 to support a follow-up trial. In 2019, another research team found convincing evidence that gum disease may be gradually causing Alzheimer’s.

Exercise is as good as medicine for lowering blood pressure in patients with hypertension

Exercising could lower blood pressure in patients with hypertension by just as much as medication.

Credit: Pixabay.

British researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science combed through the results of more than 400 randomized clinical trials that assessed the effects of drugs or exercise had on blood pressure. The meta-analysis found that, overall, both types of interventions lowered blood pressure by approximately 9 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) in patients with high blood pressure.

All in all, the researchers analyzed data on 10,461 participants in exercise trials and 29,281 in medication trials. None of the studies, however, compared the effects of medication to exercise — that’s where this meta-analysis came in.

According to the results, medication was more effective than exercise at lowering systolic blood pressure — which measures the pressure in your blood vessels generated by your beating heart — in participants with normal, elevated, and high blood pressure. But, when the British researchers zoomed in on a sub-group of patients who had hypertension (140 mmHg or higher), they found that exercise was just as effective as a medicine.

All types of exercise, including cardio and strength training, offer a benefit for patients dealing with hypertension, even at a lower intensity. However, people 55 and older see fewer benefits from exercising because their arteries get stiffer with age.

The authors hope that their results renew interest in finding new strategies for promoting exercise. The researchers say that physicians ought to suggest an exercise regime for their patients, perhaps alongside medication. For some patients, if the exercise lowers blood pressure enough, they would then be able to cut down on some of their medication.

But even if exercising doesn’t lower your blood pressure enough to take you off medication, there are other upsides that make it worth it anyway. This includes weight loss, loss of visceral belly fat, improved mood and cognitive health, protection against stroke, and other cardiovascular problems, and the list could go on.

The findings appeared in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Scientists invent phone app that accurately monitors blood pressure

Researchers developed new hardware and a smartphone app that can measure blood pressure (BP) as accurately as existing cuff devices.

Via Pixabay/rawpixel

The team of scientists from Michigan State University (MSU) also found a new, more convenient, measurement point. Stanard measurement devices use the brachial artery as the conventional measurement point, but the team discovered that measuring BP on fingertip arteries was very easy and exact.

“We targeted a different artery, the transverse palmer arch artery at the fingertip, to give us better control of the measurement,” said Anand Chandrasekhar, PhD student at MSU. “We were excited when we validated this location. Being able to use your fingertip makes our approach much easier and more accessible,” said Chandrasekhar, lead author of the study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

How does the app work?

The app uses two sensors: one is optical, and one is force. The optical sensor lies on top of the force sensor in a compact unit housed in a one centimeter-thick case attached to the back of the phone. Users turn on the app and press their fingertip against the sensor unit. With their finger on the unit, they keep the phone at heart level and watch the screen to ensure they are applying the correct amount of finger pressure.

“A key point was to see if users could properly apply the finger pressure over time, which lasts as long as an arm-cuff measurement,” said Ramakrishna Mukkamala, professor at MSU. “We were pleased to see that 90% of the people trying it were able to do it easily after just one or two practice tries.”

According to the WHO, raised blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.5 million deaths per year worldwide, about 12.8% of the total of all deaths. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and strokes. In addition, complications of raised blood pressure include heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, renal impairment, retinal hemorrhage and visual impairment. Treating systolic blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure until they are less than 140/90 mmHg is associated with a reduction in cardiovascular complications.

The treatment usually requires both lifestyle changes and medication, and only 20 percent of people with hypertension have their condition under control. This new phone app gives patients an advantageous alternative — keeping a log of day by day estimations would deliver an exact BP average, with periodical estimation becoming obsolete, believes Mukkamala. In this way, medication dosage will be better adjusted to each individual.

I think this is great news for all of us. I remember thinking that the incorporated sensor that measures pulse and oxygen saturation found on the back of some smartphones might need new medical updates, including blood pressure measurement. Luckily, this day has come, and the future just became brighter.

Having a healthy diet doesn’t offset high salt consumption

A new study contradicts the belief that eating a healthy, but salty diet, is alright. Even if you eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, you may still suffer the negative effects of high salt consumption.

Processed foods are one of the main culprits for the extra salt in our meals.

It was previously thought that vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables affect blood vessels in a way that allows them to lower blood pressure, but this new research, which analyzed the diet and overall health of over 4,000 people, found that that’s not really the case.

An international team of researchers assessed concentrations of sodium and potassium in the urine samples of 4,680 people, aged 40-59, from the USA, UK, Japan, and China. The study participants were tracked over four days, during which they gave urine samples two times. Sodium is one of the two elements of salt and has been linked to increased blood pressure, while potassium, which is commonly found in legumes and vegetables, has been associated with lower blood pressure. Researchers also tracked the volunteers’ intake of over 80 nutrients that may be linked to low blood pressure, including vitamin C, fibers, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Researchers were expecting to find an inverse correlation between sodium and potassium, but they found that no matter how many fruits and veggies people ate, high salt intake was associated with high blood pressure; on average, an additional 7g (1.2 teaspoons) of salt above the average intake was associated with an increase in systolic blood pressure of 3.7 mmHg.

Dr. Queenie Chan, joint-lead author of the research from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said that this can be extremely important, especially as high blood pressure affects between 16 and 37% of the population globally. A 2010 study found that hypertension is a factor in 18% of all deaths (9.4 million globally), with processed foods being one of the main culprits.

“We currently have a global epidemic of high salt intake – and high blood pressure. This research shows there are no cheats when it comes to reducing blood pressure. Having a low salt diet is key – even if your diet is otherwise healthy and balanced.”

“As a large amount of the salt in our diet comes from processed food, we are urging food manufacturers to take steps to reduce salt in their products,” she added.

However, researchers emphasize that they only tracked volunteers for four days, so they only recorded a snapshot of their lives. In the future, they plan to expand a similar study on a longer period of time, and with more participants.

Lifestyle changes can be extremely effective in reducing high blood pressure. Eating a healthy diet and having an active lifestyle is extremely important in reducing sodium blood levels. Extra pounds and high blood pressure go hand in hand. Alcohol and cigarettes can also contribute to raising blood pressure.

The results have been published in the journal Hypertension.

Meditation improves cardiovascular health almost as much as exercise

A new study, performed at Howard University Medical Center found that practicing the transcendental meditation technique seems to stimulate the production of telomerase, an enzyme associated with reduced blood pressure and heart disease. This correlates well with earlier research which  found that meditation techniques  reduce rates of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke, as well as slowing of biological aging.

Image via wikimedia

Image via wikimedia

For this pilot trial, 48 African-American men and women who were diagnosed with stage I hypertension and participated in a larger randomized controlled trial volunteered for this study at Howard University’s Medical Center. African-American subjects were chosen for this study as they suffer from disproportionately high rates of hypertension and cardiovascular disease compared to other segments of the population.

They were divided into two groups; The first half attempted stress reduction thought transcendental meditation and were given either a basic health education course (the SP group). The others were assigned to a group that focused on bringing significant lifestyle changes to the participants, such as reducing salt intake, moderating alcohol, engaging in regular physical activity and reducing weight, by participating in a 16-week long extensive health education program (named the EHE group)

Both groups showed significant increases in telomerase gene expression and reductions in blood pressure.

“[This] suggests that stress reduction and lifestyle modifications may reduce blood pressure with an increase in telomerase,” said Otelio Randall, MD at Howard University College of Medicine and coauthor to the paper.

“The result is valuable new information, relevant both to cardiovascular disease and to the molecular mechanisms involved i Transcendental Meditation,” added John Fagan, professor of molecular biology at Maharishi University of Management and senior author on the study.

The authors note that “no statistically significant between-group changes were observed” either in the increase of the telomerase gene expression or reductions in systolic BP; the team also observed a significant reduction in diastolic BP in the 16-week program group, but not in the meditation group; EHE group members also showed a greater number of positive changes in lifestyle behaviors.

“The association between increased telomerase gene expression and reduced BP [blood pressure] observed in this high-risk population suggest hypotheses that telomerase gene expression may either be a biomarker for reduced BP or a mechanism by which stress reduction and lifestyle modification reduces BP,” the authors conclude.

While the study only included African-American volunteers, it’s likely that the findings apply to everyone, regardless of race. So if you’re looking for a way to stay healthy and just can’t run any more than you already do, why not take up some light meditation?

 

 

Read more about the study here.

Eating food rich in protein can boost cardiovascular health as much as exercise or quitting smoking

A new study from researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) looks at how eating foods rich in amino acids could benefit your cardiovascular health and finds surprising link between protein intake and cardiovascular health.

Several amino acids from animal protein were found to reduce blood vessel stiffness.
Image via nutritionstudies

“This research shows a protective effect of several amino acids on cardiovascular health,” said lead researcher Dr Amy Jennings, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.

The results reveal that people who eat high levels of certain amino acids found in meat and plant-based protein have lower blood pressure and show less arterial stiffness, directly translating to higher levels of cardiovascular health. The magnitude of the association is similar to those previously reported for lifestyle risk factors including salt intake, physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking.

“The really surprising thing that we found is that amino acid intake has as much of an effect on blood pressure as established lifestyle risk factors such as salt intake, physical activity and alcohol consumption. For arterial stiffness, the association was similar to the magnitude of change previously associated with not smoking,” she added.

Researchers investigated the effect of seven different amino acids on levels of cardiovascular health among almost 2,000 women with a healthy BMI. Data came from TwinsUK — the biggest UK adult twin registry of 12,000 twins which is used to study the genetic and environmental causes of age related disease. Researchers also looked at their diet and compared it to clinical measures of blood pressure and blood vessel thickness and rigidity or stiffness.

The findings strongly suggest that those who consumed the highest amounts of amino acids had lower measures of both.

And those found in plant proteins led to healthier levels of blood pressure.
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Researchers also concluded that the food source was important – it seems that a higher intake of amino acids from plant protein resulted in lower blood pressure, while those from animal sources led to lower levels of arterial stiffness.

“We studied seven amino acids — arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, leucine, and tyrosine. Glutamic acid, leucine, and tyrosine are found in animal sources, and a higher intake was associated with lower levels of arterial stiffness. All seven amino acids, and particularly those from plant-based sources, were associated with lower blood pressure.”

The team strongly advises that we include these beneficial sources of protein in our diet – just as long as we don’t overdo it.

“High blood pressure is one of the most potent risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease. A reduction in blood pressure leads to a reduction in mortality caused by stroke or coronary heart disease — so changing your diet could help both prevent and treat the condition.”

“Increasing intake from protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy produce, beans, lentils, broccoli and spinach could be an important and readily achievable way to reduce people’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Beneficial daily amounts equate to a 75g portion of steak, a 100g salmon fillet or a 500ml glass of skimmed milk,” she added.