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Haims: Forgetting about blood pressure is killing us

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Not too long ago I read an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association about blood pressure. I hadn’t thought much of it until the other night when I had dinner at a friend’s house.

After my friend found out his son had lied to him, my friend blew his top.  Literally red in the face, my friend looked at his wife for support and was met with this, “Honey, your blood pressure is gonna kill you.” Shaking his head incredulously, my friend looked and me, and I couldn’t help but break out in laughter. What started as frustration and anger directed toward his son now turned to be about him. Who woulda thought that this type of occurrence happened outside of just my marriage?

As the laughter subsided and my friend’s color returned to his face, his wife made a comment, “If COVID doesn’t kill you first, your blood pressure certainly will.” As I thought about writing this column, I recalled the paradox of her statement. High blood pressure (hypertension) is in fact a major contributing factor for COVID-19 complications.

In an article published by Harvard Health Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School made this statement, “Anger causes an outpouring of stress hormones like adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster and your blood pressure rise. It also makes your blood more likely to clot, which is especially dangerous if your arteries are narrowed by cholesterol-laden plaque

Unfortunately, these past many months have been laden with so many challenges that while we may be aware of our emotional challenges, we may not be taking stock of our physical health needs. Hypertension is a silent killer that too frequently poses no signs or symptoms.

The measurements of pressure consist of two numbers: systolic and diastolic. When reading blood pressure numbers, systolic is the top number. Systolic pressure is measurement of force your heart exerts on the walls of your arteries each time it beats. Diastolic pressure, the lower number of the blood pressure reading, represents the pressure exerted on the walls of your arteries between heartbeats, when the heart is filling with blood.

While both numbers in a blood pressure reading are important to know, doctors primarily focus on systolic pressure. For most people over the age of 50, systolic blood pressure increases with age as a result of structural changes in the arteries. Much of this occurs because of less elastic tissue (elastin) in your arteries which increases stiffness of the arteries. Elastin is a protein and a core component of the elastic fibers only developed in fetal growth and infancy.

Another change that occurs over time is the buildup of plaque within the walls of the arteries. This is called atherosclerosis. As this occurs, the vessels become narrowed which reduces the flow of blood and leads to higher blood pressure.

The American Heart Association identifies five blood pressure categories: Normal, elevated, stage 1, stage 2, and hypertensive crisis.

  1. Normal: Under 120 and under 80
  2. Elevated: Between 120 to 129 and under 80
  3. Stage 1: Between 130 to 139 and between 80 to 89
  4. Stage 2: Over 140 and over 90
  5. Hypertensive crisis: Over 180 and anything over 120

Increased blood pressure as we age is unavoidable. However, we can still be proactive in maintaining lower levels with lifestyle changes to our diet, limiting sodium intake, exercise, quitting smoking, and reducing our stress.

When changes to lifestyle have not been successful, many medical providers prescribe medications for managing high blood pressure. Yet, there are natural options available. While not a solution for everyone, some supplements have been found to be successful in managing high blood pressure. Minerals like magnesium citrate, potassium, calcium, and lycopene may help in addition to fiber, such as blond psyllium and wheat bran.

Dr. Eliza Klearman, part of the team at Vail Valley Pharmacy, suggests products that increase nitric oxide that assist in widening blood vessels such as L-citrulline which is derived from beets. Coenzyme Q10, vitamin E, fish oil, and turmeric are high on her list for supporting healthier arteries. Dr. Klearman also suggests people avoid seed oils such as canola and safflower as they cause inflammation. Instead, she recommends butter, coconut, olive, and avocado oils.

Just because a product is called a “supplement,” do not assume all are high quality and safe. Unfortunately, some supplements may contain contaminants, such as dangerous bacteria, arsenic, cadmium, or lead. Further, your doctor or integrative medicine specialist like Dr. Klearman should be consulted before taking any supplement. Some supplements are not safe to take with certain medications or for people with certain health concerns.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Vail, Beaver Creek, and throughout Eagle County.  He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. Reach him at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.



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