It is hard to write about high blood pressure without sliding into areas associated with it – like strokes, heart disease and high (bad) cholesterol. So if I err, I beg forgiveness in advance. It is a huge topic, and essential reading for everyone over 40 years of age.
Hunt on the Internet for the increased risk factors for ‘high blood pressure’ and you will find the following: Too much common sodium salt, stress, red meat, cows’ dairy and alcohol; a lack of regular exercise, a lack of sleep; being overweight; and too many fizzy, soft drinks (soda drinks). No single one of these has been identified as ‘the cause’ and any or all may be compounded by family history.
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 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 76 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 also seems to fall short. In my book, ‘The Rainbow Diet’ (www.canceractive.com) I look at research that shows the standard ‘Don’t eat red meat, animal fat, high cholesterol, blah diet’ falls well short of the ‘Rainbow’ or Mediterranean diet. Indeed, Western medicine has long ignored the French Paradox – namely that the French eat more fat and consume more alcohol than any other nation and develop LESS heart disease and LESS cancer. The epicenter of this phenomenon is around Tarbes, the birthplace of D’Artagnan, the musketeer. It is home to foie gras, castoulet, many cheeses and so on. As my book explains, the diet is full of whole grains, fresh, in-season vegetables and fruit (often organically grown), garlic, onions, olive oil, red wine and daily exercise is the norm. These foods are highly PROTECTIVE and CORRECTIVE containing natural compounds that really do deliver. The problem for most other people is that they do the bad things without nourishing their bodies with the protective things!
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’ research showed 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 research in America it is worth pointing out a couple of hard facts.
Firstly, there are foods that can protect and correct. A whole area of research into bioactive natural compounds and ‘phytomedicine’ is booming in America. These include natural compounds you may not have heard of like resveratrol (in red grape skins), indole 3 carbinol (in broccoli), lycopene (in tomatoes), anthocyanins (in beetroot and dark blue/red foods like cherries). Then there is vitamin D produced by the action of the sun on the cholesterol layers under your skin, and vitamin K, released by beneficial bacteria and digestive enzymes from ‘greens’.
Secondly, did I mention cholesterol? Another medical myth is that fat and cholesterol is ‘harmful to your health’. This myth is undoubtedly being propagated by vested interests particularly in connection with statins. The fact is you need cholesterol; for example in your brain, 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 the like the first thing your defensive white cells look for is a vitamin D molecule – it activates them so that they can defend you.
There are two forms of cholesterol – good (HDL) and bad (LDL). And the good news from the French paradox (and why they get away with eating so much red meat, cheese and foie gras) is that fresh nut oils, like walnut, and particularly olive oil give you HDL and this displaces LDL.
Thirdly, did I mention beneficial bacteria? The Tarbes region is farming land. Children born and brought up on farms with all the animal bacteria around, have stronger immune systems for life – or at least until given an antibiotic, steroid or some other drug. There are 800 or so strains of bacteria living in your gut right now; 400 have been identified and about a dozen or so play an integral part in your health. I will cover them in another article. Here, suffice it to say, one of their key benefits is that, along with digestive enzymes, they help ‘cut up’ your foods for you and release essential compounds like vitamin B-12, biotin, folic acid, vitamin K and short-chain esters. They need whole foods, whole grains, vegetables and fruits to do their job, but in releasing short-chain esters into your intestine and then your blood stream, they stop bad cholesterol forming in your body. It is a complete myth that ‘If you eat lots of cholesterol, you will have high cholesterol’. The cholesterol molecule is too big to pass across the gut wall. If you have high bad cholesterol in your body, it is because you made it. And that could have happened from constituents of carbohydrate just as easily. Short-chain esters prevent the bad stuff forming. Unfortunately our city lives are so sanitized; our foods pasteurized and irradiated. We simply don’t consume the volume of good bacteria we need every day. A multi-strain probiotic taken daily may help, especially as you age. I will write more on this another time.