The PREDIMED study showed us that the foods you eat can help control your blood pressure; with olive oil, nuts and seeds, fish oils, beetroot, pomegranate and other polyphenols from a little red wine to flaxseed, psyllium and green tea very helpful; they all increase numbers of friendly gut bacteria known to block cholesterol formation and boost anti-inflammatory compounds and immune response.
Factors linked to high blood pressure
Hunt on the Internet for the increased risk factors for ‘high blood pressure’ and you will probably find the following 10 risk factors:
- Too much common sodium salt,
- Red meat,
- Cows’ dairy
- Lack of regular exercise,
- Lack of sleep;
- Being overweight;
- Too many fizzy, soft drinks (soda drinks).
There can also be an hereditary risk factor.
It’s an epidemic that is currently sweeping across the Western world. In America it is estimated that one in every three adults has high blood pressure. This puts them at risk of heart disease, strokes, even kidney disease and there are even links to illnesses you wouldn’t expect such as dementia. The healthcare bill in America is only a little short of 100 billion dollars a year.
There are few drugs available that seem to manage the problem if not solve it. But why rely on the medical establishment when both prevention and management lie in your own hands?
It is also fair to say that there is the usual medical mythology surrounding the issue. In several reports I found the comment that high blood pressure was linked to age – an inevitable consequence of growing old. This is almost certainly not true. Two of the longest-lived members of the human population are the Bush People of the Kalahari and the Okinawans, having life-expectancies of around 84 years (in Britain it is 75.6 years). With both of these groups their blood pressure declines as they age. But then they eat whole grains, vegetables and fruits with little or no salt, red meat or cows’ dairy. The Okinawans have a high fish and high-mineral diet from the coral seas around them. Exercise is the norm and they probably don’t have mortgages and school fees to pay!
The standard medically recommended diet for reducing blood pressure also seems to fall short, judging by research. In my book, ‘The Rainbow Diet’ I review research that clearly shows the standard ‘Don’t eat saturated fat, red meat, animal fat, high cholesterol, blah, blah diet’ falls well short of the colourful Mediterranean diet for reducing blood pressure and cardiovascular risk. The PREDIMED study, for example, confirmed this to be the case.
Better late than never, a new medical diet called the Dash Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been produced in America following research entitled Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes’ in the American Heart Journal. According to Dr Marilyn Granville, a nutritionist, ‘People should try as many different colours as possible; they need to eat a rainbow’. Apparently, sugar enters the blood stream quickly causing high blood glucose and cholesterol, and this causes a problem when it oxidizes. High intakes of fruit and vegetables prevent this oxidation. This ‘new’ view was backed by research showing that eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables reduced the risk of suffering heart disease by 18 per cent, and a reduction in LDL, or bad cholesterol, by 8 per cent.
Whilst I am flattered that my conclusions of 2004 are now being confirmed by ‘experts’ and research in America, it is worth amplifying several points.
Firstly, there are foods that can protect and correct. The whole area of research into bioactive natural compounds and ‘phytomedicine’ is booming. These include natural compounds you may not have heard of like resveratrol (in red grape skins), indole 3 carbinol (in broccoli), lycopene (in tomatoes), and anthocyanins (in beetroot and dark blue/red foods like cherries, aubergines and dark plums). Then there is vitamin D produced by the action of the sun on the cholesterol layers under your skin, and vitamin K, made by your beneficial bacteria.
Secondly, did I mention cholesterol? Another medical myth is that fat and cholesterol is ‘harmful to your heart health’. This myth is undoubtedly being propagated by vested interests, particularly those making money from statins. There are two meta-studies on this website each showing that people with the highest consumption of cholesterol foods have no more heart disease risk than people consuming low levels. The fact is you need cholesterol; for example in your brain and, for example, under your skin to produce vitamin D. Without it you are more likely to develop dementia and have an ineffective immune system. When your body is attacked by viruses and microbes the first thing your defensive white cells do, is look for is a vitamin D molecule – it activates them so that they can defend you.
But you also need the right form of cholesterol.
There are two forms of cholesterol – good (HDL) and bad (LDL). And the good news from the Mediterranean is that fresh nut oils, like walnut, and particularly extra virgin olive oil and fish oil give you HDL and lower LDL.
Thirdly, did I mention beneficial bacteria? If you eat certain foods, you will increase the levels of certain ‘helpful’ bacteria. For example, consuming fish oils and olive oil increase the numbers of friendly bacteria in your gut known to produce anti-inflammatory molecules. And these reduce chronic illness risk. Vegetables and fruits containing pectin, and berries (like raspberries, blueberries) which contain ellagitannin increase these bacteria too, as do all polyphenols (think pomegranate, plums, red wine, chestnuts, dark chocolate, flaxseed, psyllium and herb/green teas).
Your gut bacteria also make ‘short-chain esters’ which BLOCK the formation of bad cholesterol. They boost your immune system too. Not surprisingly then, the higher your intake of soluble fibre, the greater your immune system. Soluble fibre? Vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds, oats, psyllium for starters.
How to reduce your blood pressure without drugs:
- Stop smoking,
- Cut alcohol except a little red wine,
- Reduce salt greatly
- Take exercise.
And then, there are some foods you should start consuming today –
- Extra Virgin Olive oil; fish oils
- Nuts and seeds (like almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, which contain L-argenine)
- Pulses (lentils, red kidney beans, chickpeas)
- Berries, apples, onions, carrots
- Whole oats, flaxseed, psyllium
You should also go in the sunshine (alright, I know the weather in London). If you can’t jet off to the sunshine (which increases levels of nitric oxide in your blood stream, just as L-argenine does) you could try supplementing with vitamin D, but it’s not as good. You could also take Nattokinase and a good probiotic, or eat probiotic foods like a little unpasteurised cheese, kefir and apple cider vinegar.
That’s after you’ve exercised!
It’s up to you.