High blood pressure? Eat more beetroot – or chocolate – or garlic!

July 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Health

Before you succumb to medication for high blood pressure there are a number of things you can try to bring it down naturally. The two best-known, and most frequently recommended are to lose weight and take more exercise. Now we can add a third element and that is the humble beetroot, which according to research from Queen Mary University of London can indeed lower your blood pressure.

It seems that the reason it can do this is down to the nitrate content of beetroot juice, according to the study, published online in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. Their study found that blood pressure was lowered within 24 hours in people who took nitrate tablets, and people who drank beetroot juice.

Cardiovascular disease (including stroke and heart attacks) now ranks as the world’s biggest killer and those seeking a natural approach to lowering blood pressure just need to get out their juicer. The nitrate found in beetroot juice is beneficial because it increases the levels of the gas nitric oxide in the circulation.

Whether the volunteers in the study were given inorganic nitrate capsules or beetroot juice when their blood pressure responses were compared they were found to be equally effective in lowering blood pressure. This clearly demonstrates that it is the nitrate content of beetroot juice that underlies its potential to reduce blood pressure.

If you’re not a particular fan of beetroot, then take heart from because the study found that only a small amount of juice is needed — just 250ml — to have this effect, and that the higher the blood pressure at the start of the study the greater the decrease caused by the nitrate.

In fact if you prefer you might want to pay attention to some new research which shows that just a small amount of chocolate a day can help in reducing high blood pressure in individuals suffering from hypertension. Naturally, it has to be a good quality dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa as that is rich in flavanols, which open up your blood vessels to help the blood flow more freely and so causing the pressure to drop.

Dr. Karin Ried from the University of Adelaide, Australia carried out the study and is also the one that in 2008 conducted a study which found that garlic extract has a significant beneficial effect for high blood pressure sufferers. In Brighton, where I live, there is a chocolate shop which has all kinds of wonderful combination, chilli chocolate being just one of them, but I don’t think I’ve seen a garlic one yet. Perhaps I could suggest a beetroot and garlic combo so you could get all those blood pressure lowering ingredients in one delicious bar!

Loneliness, Blood Pressure and the over 50’s

May 3, 2010 by  
Filed under Health, Healthy Ageing


If that headline strikes a chord then this could be a timely warning to improve your social life and improve your health. As we age we can lose touch with friends and our social circle may be reduced if we are no longer working. Losing a lifelong partner or the support of close family can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness which can certainly impact your health as is shown by some new research.

Researchers from the University of Chicago have shown that, over time, a sense of loneliness can raise blood pressure, regardless of other risk factors including body mass index (BMI), smoking, alcohol use, race and income level. Of course other factors that can raise blood pressure are depression and stress but they found that neither condition explained the increases seen over the course of four years in people who perceived themselves as lonely.

This research was recently published in Psychology and Aging and was done over five-years as part of a long-term study on participants from 50-75 years of age. The blood pressure increase attributable to loneliness didn’t show up until two years into the study and continued to increase until four years later, the researchers said. They reported that the loneliest people in the study registered blood pressure increases 14.4 millimeters of mercury higher than the blood pressure of the most socially contented participants.

I have discussed before the importance of having strong social networks of support as a sure way of avoiding illness and this reinforces that view. Any social activity that connects you to other people, whether it’s bridge, line dancing, or evening classes, will give your immune system a boost and that’s the first step in staying healthy.

Common virus may be cause of high blood pressure

High blood pressure can lead to an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney disease with 1 in 20 adults in the UK being affected and as many as 70 percent of adult diabetics. It’s causes can be varied, from genetic predisposition, medical conditions and stress, but now there may be a completely different explanation. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center believe that a common viral infection might also be a cause.

The virus in question is cytomegalovirus, part of the herpes family, and it infects between 40 and 80 percent of adults worldwide. It is spread through bodily fluids such as saliva and urine, and can be transmitted from person to person through close bodily contact. Like most other herpes-type viruses, once you’re infected by CMV it will remain dormant in your body for the rest of your life, though you may never show any symptoms. If a woman has CMV it can be passed on to her unborn child and it is estimated that one in every 200 babies will be born with congenital CMV.

Viruses have the ability to turn on human genes and, in this case, the CMV virus is enhancing expression of renin, an enzyme directly involved in causing high blood pressure a whole new approach to treating hypertension, with anti-viral therapies or vaccines becoming part of the prescription.”

This breakthrough came about because for the first time researchers were brought together from a combination of disciplines including allergies, cardiology, infectious diseases and pathology. This collaborative venture meant that insights were shared and led to a statement from author Clyde Crumpacker, MD the co-author of the study and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School that.. “This new discovery may eventually provide doctors with a whole new approach to treating hypertension, with anti-viral therapies or vaccines becoming part of the prescription.”

Lower blood pressure with grapes

November 20, 2008 by  
Filed under featured, Health, Natural Medicine

Ever wondered why grapes are the most popular fruit to take to hospital? Or why the visitor ends up eating them as well as the patient? It could be because visiting someone in hospital – or being a patient – is a stressful time and it seems that grapes help lower blood pressure and improve heart function.

High blood pressure can lead to heart attack, heart failure, stroke and kidney failure and admittedly this study was sponsored in part by Californian grape producers, but we already know that flavonoids, the beneficial chemicals found in grapes, green tea, cocoa and tomatoes, have an effect on blood pressure and this seems to confirm that.

So buy an extra large bunch next time you are visiting, or treat yourself to one at home. Oh, and drinking a herb tea containing hibiscus may also lower blood pressure according to Diane L. McKay, Ph.D., of Tufts University in Boston, who reported the good results to the American Heart Association. Hibiscus is rich in Vitamin C and could help in reducing cholesterol. If you have difficulty finding it, Hambledon Herbs do an excellent organic one. www.hambledenherbs.com

Men and heart attacks – It’s the hormones

September 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Mens Health

Sex, or to be fair, hormones are now shown to be the reason why men are more prone to – and likely to die of – heart disease compared with women of a similar age. I thought it was just they worked harder, and worried more, but am always happy to be proved wrong! A new study from the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at the University of Leicester, suggest that this “male disadvantage” may be related to the effects of their naturally occurring sex hormones, and yes they do have more than one: estradiol, estrone, testosterone and androstenedione. The researchers studied how each of these interacted with the three major risk factors of heart disease: cholesterol, blood pressure and weight. For once, it is not testosterone that is in the dock because they found that two of these sex hormones (estradiol and estrone, both oestrogens) are linked to increased levels of bad cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) in men and that they may be important risk factors of heart disease – even before men present symptoms of coronary artery disease or stroke.

In women, oestrogen helps protect women from heart disease so why it affects men differently is interesting – but the research didn’t throw up why this happens, only that it does. However, men concerned about their heart health could ask their doctor for a blood test to determine their level of these two oestrogens to see if they are at risk.

Keep the grapes for yourself

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Wellness

red grapes

Ever wondered why most of us take grapes to people in hospital and end up eating them ourselves at the bedside? My personal idea is that all hospital visiting is stressful and so we unconsciously try to reduce that stress by distracting ourselves. Stress can impact heart disease, so imagine my surprise to find I have scientific backing for this idea – perhaps not the exact circumstances,but the latest research findings from Spain show that antioxidant-rich red grapes are high in fibre and may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease more effectively than other fibre sources such as oat or psyllium.

It has to be red grapes however, not any other colour as a trial conducted by researchers in Madrid reported that cholesterol levels fell by nine per cent, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by a similar amount and blood pressure was reduced by about 5 per cent. The researchers said: “Grape antioxidant dietary fibre contains relatively large amounts of proanthocyanidins (condensed tannins), which are partially bioavailable in the small intestine, but a major part reach the colon, where they may provide a high antioxidant status.” This was only a small trial of 34 subjects, but might be worth you keeping that fruit bowl filled up with a large bunch if you have any concerns about family blood pressure.

Belly laughs and blood pressure

May 25, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, Lifestyle, Natural Medicine

When I was a child a day trip to Blackpool was a highlight of the summer holidays and my favourite thing was to go to the funfair and stand in front of an enormous machine called the Laughing Policeman.

You put your penny in the slot (it was a long time ago), and the large animated figure would rock back and forth consumed by laughter.

It was contagious: you couldn’t stand there, or be within six feet of it, without joining in. Evidently that was my first experience of knowing just what was good for me, and the foundation of my later career as a health writer! Now it seems that the Laughing Policeman’s inventor was a man who knew not just how to make people feel good, but was also unwittingly helping them lower their blood pressure too. Now a wonderful piece of research from India has shown that when 200 workers at an IT call-centre in Mumbai, India, were given 20-minute laugh-yoga sessions they had significant reductions in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. I imagine that working in any call centre must be very stressful, and so this could be an ideal – and economic – way to increase the health of the workers. The study was reported by Dr Madan Kataria to the American Society of Hypertension and if you want to emulate it, then the laughter therapy involved breathing exercises along with laughter that starts as a gentle “hee, hee, hee” and builds to a raucous “ha, ha, ha.” Apparently it’s the full out belly laugh that really makes the difference. I can hear the voice of the Laughing Policeman echoing across the years in full agreement.

Of course you could always call in an expert, and I happen to know one. Anne McDonald actually follows the work of Dr Kataria and is based a little bit nearer to us in Dublin. She is a qualified ‘laughologist’ if you need one in your place of work and I can highly recommend her, though you may have a stitch in your side for several hours afterwards from being overcome by a strong case of hysterics. If you want to contact her, visit her website at www.mcdonaldcoaching.com for a wealth of delights, including her own artwork.

Natural ways to control high blood pressure

As there are 16 million people in the UK with high blood pressure (hypertension), and of those nearly a third are not aware that they have the condition, it is obviously an issue that needs to be addressed. High blood pressure is defined as being at a level consistently at or above 140mmHg and/or 90mmHg and it is a both a preventable and manageable condition. You would think that as it is the direct cause of half of all strokes and heart attacks in the UK that those who have it would be regularly monitoring it, but sadly only 10% of those diagnosed with the condition have their blood pressure controlled to target levels.

Yet there is something that is so incredibly simple, that everyone can do, at no cost and no risk that will naturally help control high blood pressure. Hypertension results from the balance between two factors: how hard the heart is pumping (cardiac output) and how easily plasma can diffuse out of your capillaries (peripheral resistance) and most people with high blood pressure have a normal cardiac output but increased peripheral resistance. That resistance means you are more at risk of heart attacks and strokes and the most likely cause is dehydration.When you are dehydrated the level of blood in your body falls but the body has it’s own incredibly clever regulatory system where it prioritises the maintenance of your essential organs and shuts down blood supplies to the capillaries of non-essential areas like the muscle and skin. The effect of this is to increase your peripheral resistance and also to increase the production of histamine, a hormone-like substance, and this causes your blood vessels to narrow and this in turn further increases blood pressure. This can be also exacerbated by the fact that many treatments for hypertension include the taking of diuretics and this again reduces the amount of fluid in the body.

The remedy? Drink at least two litres of plain, still, water every day – not tea, coffee, soft drinks as a substitute but pure unadulterated water. Often the easiest way to measure is to have a full bottle by the kettle and make sure it is empty by the time you have that bedtime drink – or even earlier for preference so you aren’t then getting up too often in the night.

If you want to try and control your blood pressure without drugs, then one of the most effective supplements is Co-enzyme Q10. This is a substance which is produced naturally in the body and taking it has lowered blood pressure as effectively as prescription medications in a number of patients. Unlike some of the drugs, it’s only side effects are the good ones of lowering cholesterol and preventing diabetes and gum disease and the recommended dose for supplementation is normally between 60-120mg a day, but always start on the lower amount first and in consultation with a natural practitioner.

ADHD drugs and risk of heart disease

The number of children on anti depressants and other behaviour altering drugs has quadrupled in the last ten years. In 2005 GP’s wrote more than 631,000 prescriptions for drugs such as Prozac to under 16′s as against 146,00 in the mid 1990′s. This disturbing trend sees drugs being the first line in the situation instead of other options such as counselling which might be more appropriate. In line with the fact that the use of Ritalin to control stress and aggressive behaviour in children has also increased tenfold in the same period, there is a timely study being undertaken in the USA to look at the potential heart risks from medicines used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in collaboration with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, will examine clinical data of about 500,000 children and adults who have taken ADHD drugs, including Ritalin. The analysis is expected to take about two years and will include all drugs currently marketed for treating ADHD. There are millions of people taking these medicines worldwide and it is known they can increase heart rate and blood pressure, and this has raised concerns they may therefore raise the risk of heart attacks, strokes or other cardiovascular problems. There have been cases reported of heart problems in both adults and children who receive drug treatment for ADHD, but these patients have had known underlying risk factors. What is not known is whether or not these events are directly related to the drug treatment and the study hopes to get further information to protect from potential risks from heart disease.

Extra health benefits for men

Extra health benefits for men

Over 16 million adults in the UK currently are affected by hypertension and it is certainly vitally important to control high blood pressure to help keep your heart healthy. However, now it seems that paying attention to your blood pressure can also bring other benefits, particularly for men and some of the concerns they might have around ageing. A study conducted by researchers from Harvard and the Veterans Association (VA) in the USA examined the medical records of more than 350 older men who were part of the VA Normative Aging Study, which included a range of neuropsychological tests. This is a way of looking at brain function by summarizing the results of a series of organized mental tasks such as ability to learn and retain information, problem solving ability and intelligence for example. The key finding was that as the men aged, their overall neuropsychological function declined.

That is something you might expect, but what was startling was that that decline was significantly more pronounced among men who had high blood pressure but were taking no preventive measures or treatment to control it. In particular this group showed a reduced ability to handle language so that their verbal fluency and word recall was significantly worse when compared to men who also had high blood pressure but who had it under control. So if you want to keep on having lively arguments using exactly the right words then make sure you monitor your blood pressure levels!