Did you know your blood pressure could be out of control without you even knowing? High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease, and the months of stress, uncertainty, poor diet and immobility we have all been going through are not helping matters.
When the way your blood flows through your body is affected by your habits, vital nutrients and oxygen can’t get to where they are needed in the body. And as the pressure continues to mount, we start to see physical damage in the arteries and organs that can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Heart Disease is Killing Women
Heart disease is the biggest contributor to deaths worldwide, and in spite of what many believe, it’s not only men who are affected. In fact, men represent 49% of deaths from heart disease, whereas women represent 51%. Here are some more jaw-dropping facts on women and heart disease:
- A woman dies of heart disease in Canada every 20 minutes.
- Early signs of an impending heart attack were missed in 78% of women, according to a retrospective study published in Circulation.
- Two-thirds of heart disease clinical research still focuses on men.
- Women are five times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer.
- Among women, the risk of having a heart attack greatly increases during the 10 years after menopause
1 in every 5 female deaths in the US is attributed to heart disease. Approximately 1 in every 16 women age 20 and older has coronary artery disease, the most common type of heart disease.
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to bring down your blood pressure and reduce your risk of developing more serious issues in the future.
The 2 Types of High Blood Pressure
Primary hypertension is the most common type. It is a long-term, chronic condition that develops over time due to factors such as a lack of exercise, poor diet, or a genetic predisposition to high blood pressure. A 2020 study showed that variations in the CYP24A1 gene can have a strong impact on a person’s risk of developing chronic high blood pressure.
Secondary hypertension is acute, and not as common. It is the direct result of other conditions such as thyroid or adrenal gland issues, kidney disease, alcohol dependence, or certain medications.
What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure can develop slowly, with no symptoms. Meanwhile, it may be quietly damaging your arteries, contributing to heart disease and a range of chronic diseases.
If it goes undiagnosed and untreated for too long, it may start to cause serious issues such as:
- Trouble breathing
- Vision disturbances
High Blood Pressure Leads to Other Health Conditions
The effects of high blood pressure are determined by which major arteries are affected.
1 – Heart Disease and Heart Attacks
High blood pressure affects the body in many ways that increase the risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.
High blood pressure damages blood vessel walls. They respond by putting down fatty deposits (plaques), which act like band-aids over damaged areas but over time make the artery walls hard and inflexible. Arteries become narrower due to the plaque build-up, preventing them from delivering vital oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. And if the plaque breaks apart it can result in a blood clot that could block arteries entirely.
If the heart arteries are affected, atherosclerosis can lead to coronary artery disease, chest pain, and increased heart attack risk.
– Enlarged Heart
High blood pressure means that the heart needs to work overtime to pump out a higher volume of blood. This increases risk of the heart tissue thickening (hypertrophy), especially in the main pumping chamber of the heart, which makes the heart enlarged and less efficient. As the size of the heart increases, so does the risk of a heart attack.
2 – Cognitive Impairment and Stroke
When atherosclerosis affects the neck instead of the heart arteries, the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen and nutrients which can cause an entirely different set of symptoms.
– Vascular Cognitive Impairment
Over time, reduced oxygen flow to the brain can impact our cognitive and problem-solving ability. The most severe form of Vascular Cognitive Impairment is called Vascular Dementia, but milder symptoms can happen much earlier and heart issues should be considered and investigated if problems with multitasking and memory arise.
If a blood clot or severely narrowed arteries prevent blood flow to the brain for even a short time, it can result in a stroke. The impact of a stroke depends on which part of the brain has been deprived of blood flow.
An Ischemic Stroke happens when the artery is fully blocked and is the most common type of stroke. Mini strokes happen when an artery is temporarily blocked, then clears up causing what is sometimes called a ‘warning stroke’ or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
Because high blood pressure weakens artery walls over time, the weakened wall may finally give way leading to a hemorrhagic stroke – when a brain artery bursts entirely.
Any stroke is a dangerous medical emergency.
Lifestyle Factors to Help Lower High Blood Pressure
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should continue to take your medication as prescribed and have regular check-ups. The following factors are important parts of a heart-healthy lifestyle:
1 – Diet
Fat, sugar, and salt are classic comfort foods, but they can wreak havoc on blood pressure and heart health. When do you crave these foods? Is it when you’re sad? Lonely? Anxious? One way to stop negative dietary habits in their tracks is by recognizing when you’re triggered into emotional eating.
Reduce Saturated and Trans Fats
Fats play a vital role in the body, such as helping us absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, E, D, and K, and providing energy but not all fats are healthy fats. Here’s how to reduce saturated and trans fats and increase intake of healthy mono- and poly-unsaturated fats.
|Eat Less of These Fats||Replace With These Fats|
|● Fried foods (chips, French fries)|
Processed meats (deli meats, burgers, hot dogs)
Grain-based desserts (cakes, cookies, donuts)
Plant oils (palm and palm kernel)
|Nuts (walnuts, peanut butter)|
Seeds (sunflower, flax)
Fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines)
Plant oils (olive, safflower, sesame)
Beans and Legumes
Reduce Your Sugar Consumption
Although sugar provides the body with valuable energy, too much can raise blood pressure. Even ‘healthy’ sugars such as coconut sugar and honey should be reduced.
– Read Product Labels
Sugar goes by several names, making it hard to recognize on product labels. The worst offender is high fructose corn syrup, but anything that ends with ‘ose’ is a sugar.The surprising biggest culprit? Sugar-sweetened beverages.
|Consume less||Replace With|
Canned fruit in syrup
Processed desserts (candy, chocolate bars)
Pure fruit juices without added sugar
Low sugar fruits: berries, kiwis, citrus, and melons
Fresh herbs to boost flavor
Reduce Your Sodium Intake
We need salt to maintain electrolyte and fluid balance, but in moderation only. Salt is frequently added to processed foods to extend shelf life and enhance taste. Here’s how to cut back:
|Reduce Intake||Replace With|
|● Less processed, pre-packaged, and fast foods|
Rinse canned goods before eating
Remove the salt shaker from your table
Taste food before adding salt
Crackers, chips, and salted nuts
|Herbs, spices, or lemon to enhance the flavor|
Cooking more at home, where you can control salt levels
Raw nuts, homemade crackers, homemade sweet potato chips, or kale chips
Cut-up veggie sticks
2 – Exercise
Exercise can effectively reduce high blood pressure by improving artery health and managing weight. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise for adults, and one hour per day for children and youth.
Tips to Increase How Much You Exercise
- Mix it up: do weight-bearing exercise two days per week and cardio 3 days per week
- Set daily hour limits on sedentary activities like watching TV
- Use active transportation like walking or biking for short trips
- Plan active family outings like hiking or going for a swim
- Do active household tasks as a family, like shoveling snow and dog-walking
- Embrace outdoor winter activities like ice skating, tobogganing, and skiing
- Try indoor cardio like an online aerobics class or put on your fave tunes and dance like nobody’s watching
3 – Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress has a strong blood pressure-raising effect. Here’s how to lower your stress response, and improve stress resilience:
Mindfulness and Meditation
A 2020 review examining behavioral strategies found that mindfulness training had the greatest blood pressure-lowering effect. How does it work? Participants in a 2020 study reported that increased self-awareness, attention control, and emotion regulation helped them make better health choices, and improved their ability to handle stress.
Another 2020 study found that after 12 months of using a breathing meditation app, participants’ blood pressure was significantly reduced.
Simple Activities That Help Increase Mindfulness
- Meditation. The key is to focus on one thing to the exclusion of all else. Try one of the many free meditation apps (like Headspace). Try fixing your mind on a single candle, or close your eyes and visualize a peaceful spot.
- Deep Breathing. Breathwork can quickly bring you back to a calm state, and can be done anywhere, anytime. Try the simple but effective box breathing technique: breathe in for four counts; hold for four; breathe out for four, hold for four.
- Yoga. Combining breathing, focus and exercise, yoga is one-stop shopping for stress relief. Include forward bends but avoid poses that compress the diaphragm. Try these 5 blood pressure-reducing poses from Yoga International.
4 – Blood Pressure-Friendly Food Based Supplements
While supplements are not a substitute for maintaining close contact with your physician and following their advice, certain everyday nutrients have shown positive results in research studies.
Vitamin C does more than support our immune systems. A 2020 review concluded that Vitamin C supplementation resulted in a significant reduction of blood pressure in patients with primary hypertension. Another 2020 review found that low vitamin C levels were strongly associated with high blood pressure.
What kitchen staple can reduce blood pressure? The allicin in garlic supplements has been shown to lower blood pressure by widening blood vessels, increasing nitric oxide production, and relaxing the smooth muscles found in blood vessels.
Are you at risk of high blood pressure? It’s never too early to talk about prevention. Naturopathic Medicine can help put you on a path to a healthy lifestyle designed to work for you. Prevention and management requires changing lifestyle habits but going at it alone can be challenging. Let’s work together to ensure your heart health and overall health is maximized!
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