Category Archives: blood pressure

Supportive Supplements for High Blood Pressure

In England, 32 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women have high blood pressure. Unfortunately, many people simply do not know their blood pressure level, despite the fact that measuring blood pressure is quick, easy, cheap and painless.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure is the force that blood puts on the walls of your arteries when it is pumped around your body by your heart. It is measured with two readings – when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and when it relaxes (diastolic pressure). Essentially, your blood pressure provides an indication of your risk of developing heart disease or suffering a stroke. It is not something to be ignored. Over time, high blood pressure can not only lead to a heart attack or stroke, but it can also damage the kidneys and even cause blindness.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, occurs when blood becomes too ‘thick’ or when arteries become blocked or inflexible. Hypertension can also be caused by changes during pregnancy or by another underlying condition. For the majority however, hypertension is a ‘lifestyle disease’, caused by poor dietary and lifestyle choices that take their toll over time.

Diet and Lifestyle

The first line of treatment in hypertension is often dietary and lifestyle changes. Being overweight, lack of exercise, drinking alcohol and smoking are often the first issues to address. Simple changes include reducing alcohol consumption to 7 units or fewer each week for women or fewer than 14 units for men. Maintaining a healthy weight and following the DASH diet, which emphasises wholegrains alongside 8-10 servings of fruit and vegetables each day, is also recommended.

The importance of sleep is often overlooked in addressing hypertension, yet it is an important consideration. Lack of sleep activates the central nervous system, raising blood pressure. As a result, those of us who are sleep deprived tend to have higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure than those who make sure to get the recommended 8 hours (1).

Stress management is another essential element in guarding against high blood pressure. Unmanaged stress raises levels of corticosteroids which increase blood pressure. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and progressive muscle relaxation can reduce hypertension when practiced consistently (2).

Supportive Supplements

Most of us are aware of the link between salt intake and high blood pressure. This is because excess sodium can increase the constriction of the muscles surrounding the arteries. Magnesium, on the other hand, works to relax these muscles. Magnesium intake is therefore an important factor in managing blood pressure. There is a strong link between magnesium deficiency and heart disease. In fact magnesium supplementation has been found to reduce both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (3). Many of us fail to achieve the recommended daily amount of magnesium, which is 300mg for men and 270mg for women. Cutting down on tea, coffee, sugar and alcohol can help your body to retain magnesium, while increasing magnesium-rich foods such as wholegrains, nuts and seeds, beans and pulses is recommended.

Increasing intake of omega-3, either by eating more oily fish or by taking an omega-3 supplement, is also a sensible measure. Omega-3 helps to reduce the viscosity of blood and also lowers levels of inflammation, potentially helping to protect arterial walls and prevent blood clots.

Finally, a small but promising trial published just last month found that a daily glass of beetroot juice lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (4). Beetroot juice provides a helpful dose of nitrate which appears to lower blood pressure by relaxing blood vessels. Those who don’t like beetroot should try to include other nitrate-rich vegetables such as spinach, cabbage and broccoli.

Nutritional strategies are especially helpful in the early stages of high blood pressure, and can enable those affected to make positive changes to restore optimal health. Keeping an eye on blood pressure levels with regular checks is therefore a worthwhile task for all of us.

References.

1. Knutson et al (2009). Association Between Sleep and Blood Pressure in Midlife: The CARDIA Sleep Study. Archives of Internal Medicine 169 (11): 1055.

2. Schneider et al (1995) A Randomized Controlled Trial of Stress Reduction for Hypertension in Older African Americans. Hypertension. 26: 820-827.

3. Sun Ha Gee et al (2002) The effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Am J Hypertension 15 (8): 691-696.

4. Ghosh SM, Kapil V, Fuentes-Calvo I, et al. Enhanced Vasodilator Activity of Nitrite in Hypertension – Critical Role for Erythrocytic Xanthine Oxidoreductase and Translational Potential. Hypertension. Published online April 15 2013.

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National Cholesterol Week

This week is National Cholesterol Week, HEART UK’s annual event to raise awareness of the dangers of high cholesterol. Heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer, accounting for around a quarter of all deaths. The good news is that if you have raised cholesterol alongside other markers of heart disease, it can in almost every case be reversed through dietary and lifestyle measures.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance manufactured by the liver and it plays an important role in your body. It is a component in the membrane of every cell in your body. It is also involved in hormone production and helps the nervous system to function properly. When there is inflammation or damaged tissue in the body, cholesterol can accumulate in the areas in need of healing. This may be why raised cholesterol can signify damage in your arteries. LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol is a particular concern because this type of cholesterol can become oxidised, leading to tissue damage and hardening of the arteries.

There are three cholesterol readings that you can have. Total cholesterol, LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and HDL (‘good’) cholesterol. LDL transports cholesterol from the liver through the bloodstream to sites where it is needed. HDL then transports it back again, and so HDL removes unwanted or damaged cholesterol from your arteries. Ideally HDL should make up at least a third of your total cholesterol.

While cholesterol is used as a marker for heart disease, in order to get a clearer idea of your real risk, it’s important to consider this marker alongside other markers such as levels of triglycerides, blood pressure and homocysteine.

If you eat a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and fried foods, and low in protective fruits and vegetables, then cholesterol is likely to become damaged by oxidation. This type of diet also provides very little soluble fibre which is essential in eliminating excess cholesterol. In general, the best diet for lowering LDL cholesterol is a low GI diet. This type of diet has been found to be particularly effective in reducing LDL and triglycerides and raising HDL (1). A huge benefit of a low GI diet is that it has greater levels of soluble fibre which helps to remove LDL cholesterol from the body. It also provides plenty of antioxidants, helping to combat oxidative damage.

Here are 10 simple ways to reduce your cholesterol level, improve your lipid profile and lower your overall risk of heart disease.

Lettuce
Leafy Greens boost magnesium, helping to relax your arteries.

1. Increase leafy greens and add raw nuts and seeds to your diet.
These boost magnesium, helping to relax your arteries.

2. Drink 8 glasses of water each day.
Proper hydration reduces blood pressure by lowering levels of sodium inside cells.

3. Reduce your salt intake.
Reducing sodium levels can help to relax the arteries.

4. Add plant sterols.
Plant sterols lower ‘bad’ cholesterol by blocking its absorption. They are present in soya beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

5. Increase low GI carbohydrates.
Soluble fibre, in oats, lentils, beans and vegetables, helps to reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. Beta-glucans in oats are particularly beneficial.

6. Add antioxidant-rich foods every day.
Antioxidants ‘mop up’ damage within the arteries. Try blueberries, strawberries, plums, tenderstem broccoli and spinach.

7. Boost your omega-3 intake with oily fish, flaxseed oil or omega-3 eggs.
Omega-3 fats help to lower triglycerides, lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase ‘good’ cholesterol.

8. Add garlic, ginger and turmeric to your cooking.
Garlic promotes healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Turmeric and ginger help to relax the arteries.

9. Consider supplementing Co-Q10 and Vitamin C.
These nutrients reduce damage in the arteries and lower blood pressure.

10. Boost your B Vitamins.
Homocysteine is actually one of the strongest predictors of heart disease (2), damaging the lining of the arteries, but B vitamins convert it into a harmless substance. If you have raised homocysteine levels, then supplementing with B Vitamins can help. Try foods rich in folic acid such as broccoli, asparagus and spinach.

References

1. Stroke Statistics. British Heart Foundation and The Stroke Association. 2009.

2. Jardine MJ et al (2012) The effect of folic acid based homocysteine lowering on cardiovascular events in people with kidney disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012;344:e3533.

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Beetroot Juice Found to Lower Blood Pressure

A new study published just last month in the journal Hypertension suggests that drinking just one glass of beetroot a day can reduce blood pressure.

The study was conducted by researchers at Queen Mary University of London, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry. It involved eight women and seven men who had high blood pressure and who were not taking blood pressure medication.

Blood pressure is normally given as two numbers, which represent ‘systolic’ and ‘diastolic’ pressure levels. The first number, the systolic level, is a measure of the pressure created in the arteries when the heart beats. Normal systolic blood pressure is 120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or below. The second number, the diastolic level, represents the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. Normal diastolic blood pressure is 80 mm Hg or below.

The study participants all had raised systolic blood pressure of between 140 and 159 mm Hg.

The beetroot juice in the study provided about 0.2g of dietary nitrate, levels that might be provided by two beetroots. Nitrate reduces blood pressure by widening the passageways for blood. The body converts dietary nitrate into a chemical called nitrite and then to nitric oxide in the blood. Nitric oxide is a gas that widens blood vessels and aids blood flow.

The study involved eight women and seven men who had a systolic blood pressure between 140 to 159 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), did not have other medical complications and were not taking blood pressure medication. The study participants drank 250 mL of beetroot juice or water containing a low amount of nitrate, and had their blood pressure monitored over the next 24 hours.

Compared with the placebo group, participants drinking beetroot juice had reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure. The reduction was highest three to six hours after drinking the juice. Interestingly, blood pressure was still reduced 24 hours later, even after levels of nitrate circulating in the blood had returned to normal.

Study leader Amrita Ahluwalia, Ph.D., professor of vascular pharmacology at The Barts and The London Medical School, was surprised by how little nitrate was needed to produce these results. “This study shows that compared to individuals with healthy blood pressure much less nitrate is needed to produce the kinds of decreases in blood pressure that might provide clinical benefits in people who need to lower their blood pressure.”

High Nitrate lettuce is a good source of nitrate
High Nitrate lettuce is a good source of nitrate

Those drinking beetroot juice should be aware that this juice can cause a temporary pink colouration of urine and stools, which can be a little alarming but is completely harmless. Of course beetroot is not the only nitrate-rich vegetable. For those who don’t enjoy the taste, try nitrate-rich lettuce, rocket, spinach, celery, cabbage or fennel.

Increasing dietary intakes of nitrates is simple. Try adding beetroot juice to a smoothie, or lunch on beetroot soup. Use spinach and lettuce as salad bases, or snack on celery with hummus or peanut butter during the daytime. At dinner, include nitrate-rich vegetables such as bok choy, cabbage, leeks and broccoli.

“Our hope is that increasing one’s intake of vegetables with a high dietary nitrate content, such as green leafy vegetables or beetroot, might be a lifestyle approach that one could easily employ to improve cardiovascular health,” said Amrita Ahluwalia. She nevertheless advises caution in interpreting the results of this small study, as “we are still uncertain as to whether this effect is maintained in the long term.” It is hoped these preliminary findings might pave the way for more larger-scale studies in this area.

References

1. American Heart Association (2013, April 15). Drinking cup of beetroot juice daily may help lower blood pressure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved 28/04/13

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Pomegranate: the heart-healthy fruit

A new study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Science, has found that pomegranate juice can reduce key cardiovascular risk factors in overweight adults (1). While the fruit’s impressive antioxidant content has been credited with its success, this study reveals that there might be another secret to the fruit’s benefits.

pomegranate
Pomegranate can help to reduce insulin levels and blood pressure.

Pomegranate juice has already been shown to have some remarkable health benefits with clinical studies showing it can reduce blood pressure, improve blood sugar control and even reduce the thickness of arteries. These studies have attributed the heart-healthy effects of pomegranate to its extraordinarily high antioxidant value (2), which is certainly a huge benefit. However, this study looked at the effects of pomegranate juice on cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal gland in response to stress. Excessive levels of cortisol are linked to both high blood pressure and insulin resistance (3,4).

In addition to measuring cortisol levels, the researchers also measured several markers of heart disease, including blood pressure, arterial elasticity, insulin resistance and blood sugar levels.

The study was a randomised cross-over design, meaning that each volunteer essentially serves as his or her own ‘control’ making the study results more reliable. In this case, the male and female volunteers were randomly assigned to receive pomegranate juice or a placebo drink for 4 weeks. After a 1-week break, the groups were then swapped, so that everybody had been tested with both the pomegranate and the placebo drink.

At the end of the study, it was found that the pomegranate juice was linked with a significant reduction in blood pressure, as well as a decrease in insulin levels and insulin resistance. Interestingly, there was also a reduction in the cortisol levels of the juice drinkers, and an increase in levels of cortisone, which is the inactivated form of cortisol. It appears that pomegranate juice might actually boost health by preventing cortisone from being converted to active cortisol.

In short, the study suggests that the benefits of pomegranate juice and not simply a result of its impressive antioxidant content. It also appears to lower cortisol levels, which in turn has a direct effect on the heart and blood vessels.

Cardiovascular disease remains the UK’s biggest killer. According to the British Heart Foundation, this disease is responsible for one third of deaths of both men and women in Britain.

One of the biggest concerns about cardiovascular disease is that it can go undetected for many years, causing the illness to be labelled a ‘silent killer’. In fact, often the first symptom is a stroke or a heart attack meaning that sufferers may then face invasive but necessary treatments such as bypass surgery or angioplasty.

For this reason, small and simple measures to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease are invaluable. As positive results have been found by drinking as little as 2 ounces of pomegranate juice daily (5), a daily serving of pomegranate juice might just be a change worth making.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC.

References

1. Catherine Tsang, Nacer F. Smail, S. Almoosawi, I. Davidson and Emad A. S. Al-Dujaili. (2012) Intake of polyphenol-rich pomegranate pure juice influences urinary glucocorticoids, blood pressure and homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance in human volunteers.  J Nutr Sci, 1:9

2. Seeram NP, Aviram M, Zhang Y, et al. (2008) Comparison of antioxidant potency of commonly consumed polyphenol-rich beverages in the United States. J Agric Food Chem 56, 1415–1422

3. Duclos M, Pereira PM, Barat P, et al. (2005) Increased cortisol bioavailability, abdominal obesity and the metabolic syndrome in obese women. Obes Res 13, 1157–1166.

4. Kidambi S, Kitchen JM, Grim CE, et al. (2007) Association of adrenal steroids with hypertension and the metabolic syndrome in blacks. Hypertension 49, 704–711.

5. 8. Aviram M, Dornfeld L. Pomegranate juice consumption inhibits serum angiotensin converting enzyme activity and reduces systolic blood pressure. Atherosclerosis. 2001 Sep;158(1):195-8.

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Fish oil counters the effects of air pollution

A new trial has found evidence that omega-3 supplementation can reduce the harmful effects of air pollution (1).
The randomised, controlled trial, soon to be published in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that fish oil supplements can counter the effects of air pollution, helping to protect city dwellers from heart disease.

It is widely accepted that the air pollution of city living increases the risk of heart disease. In fact, city centre residents are almost twice as likely to develop the first signs of heart disease than people who lived in less polluted urban and rural areas, according to recent research (2).

Air pollution is a complex mixture of noxious gases, liquids and other particles that raise blood pressure, increase coagulation (blood clots), raise levels of inflammation and promote build up of deposits in the arteries.

While air pollution is a concern all year round, the summer months can be particularly troublesome. Air becomes stagnant owing to the longer days, and the increased amount of sunlight and ultraviolet radiation. The sunlight helps to form new, harmful compounds are formed that weren’t there before.

To reflect these city pollutants, the researchers used an ‘air pollution chamber’ filled with ambient fine and ultrafine particles, as well as another ‘clean’ chamber filled with filtered air.

Fish Oil Supplement
Fish Oil Supplements can help counter the effects of Air Pollution.

Twenty-nine healthy, middle-aged participants were given 3g daily of either fish oil or olive oil for four weeks before they entered the chamber. Each participant then spent two hours in the ‘clean’ chamber and the ‘polluted’ chamber. The researchers measured cardiac response before, immediately after and 20 hours after exposure to the pollution. They also measured blood lipids of the participants.

In those who took the placebo olive oil capsules, levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides rose immediately after the exposure to pollution. Levels of LDL and triglycerides are linked with heart disease risk. There was no such response in the fish oil group.

Heart rate variability (HRV) was also measured in each group. HRV simply means the way that heart beat varies. A lower heart rate variability is linked to poorer heart health, whereas the beat of a healthy heart is constantly changing as the body finds the most efficient way to operate. Those in the placebo group showed reduced HRV after pollution exposure, reflecting the harmful effects of their exposure to the pollution chamber. Those in the fish oil group showed no reduction in HRV.

The findings of the study suggest that fish oil supplements may help protect against both the cardiac and lipid effects of air pollution. Although a small study, it does appear to add to the vast weight of evidence for the benefits of omega-3 supplementation. Those of us who live in town and cities might do well to take a regular fish oil supplement for daily protection.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. J. Lambrechtsen, O. Gerke, K. Egstrup, N. P. Sand, B. L. Nørgaard, H. Petersen, H. Mickley, A. C. P. Diederichsen.The relation between coronary artery calcification in asymptomatic subjects and both traditional risk factors and living in the city centre: a DanRisk substudy.Journal of Internal Medicine, 2012; 271 (5): 444

2. Tong H, Rappold AG, Diaz-Sanchez D, Steck SE, Berntsen J, Cascio WE, Devlin RD, Samet JM. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation Appears to Attenuate Particulate Air Pollution Induced Effects and Lipid Changes in Healthy Middle-Aged Adults. Environ Health Perspec. 2012 Apr 19. [Epub ahead of print]

3. Image courtesy of Tungphoto

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New Evidence for Green Coffee Extract and Weight Loss

A new study suggests that green coffee extract may be an effective supplement in aiding weight loss (1). The supplement was linked with substantial weight loss, decreased body fat, and a decrease in blood pressure over the short study period.

The research, published in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity, followed a group of 16 adults over a course of 22 weeks.

Green Coffee Extract may help weight
Green Coffee Extract may help weight management (4.)

Each participant was overweight or obese, and aged between 22 and 26 years. The study used a high dose capsule (1050mg), a low dose capsule (700mg) and a placebo. The study was a “cross-over” design, meaning that participants cycled through the dose active doses and the placebo, taking each for 6 weeks. Each person essentially acted as his or her own “control”, meaning that the study results were more likely to be accurate and meaningful.

The diets of the participants were monitored throughout. “Their calories, carbohydrates, fats and protein intake did not change during the study, nor did their exercise regimen change,” study leader Vinson said. On average, the participants were eating around 2400 calories per day.

The subjects lost an average of 17 pounds over the course of the study. This was equal to 10.5% of their overall body weight. Each participant also lost an average of 16% body fat. Telephone interviews conducted 4 months after the study ended found that 14 of the 16 subjects had maintained their weight loss.

The caffeine in the supplement is unlikely to have contributed to the result. In total, the supplements provided up to 20mg caffeine – about the amount in a regular cup of coffee.

The active ingredient in the supplement actually appears to be chlorogenic acid. This is a compound naturally present in green coffee which acts as a strong anti-oxidant, quenching free oxygen radicals. Chlorogenic acid has been found to slow down the absorption of fat from the intestine and to activate fat metabolism in the liver (2). It also inhibits sugar absorption and influences glucose metabolism (3). Chlorogenic acid breaks down when coffee beans are roasted, meaning that drinking regular coffee will not offer the same benefits.

The design of the study used only a short break between each ‘cycle’, where the subjects swapped between supplements, and this may have affected the result. Despite this limitation, the authors concluded that the green coffee supplement may be “an effective neutraceutical in reducing weight in preobese adults, and may be an inexpensive means of preventing obesity in overweight adults.”

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References

1. Vinson J, Burnham B, Nagendran MV (2012) Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, linear dose, crossover study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a green coffee bean extract in overweight subjects. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 5: 21-27.

2. Shimoda H, Seki E, Aitani M (2006) Inhibitory effect of green coffee bean extract on fat accumulation and body weight gain in mice. BMC Complement Altern Med 17;6:9.

3. Narita Y, Inouye K. (2009) Kinetic analysis and mechanism on the inhibition of chlorogenic acid and its components against porcine pancreas alpha-amylase isozymes I and II. J Agric Food Chem. 14;57(19):9218-25.

4. Image courtesy of Foto76

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Dietary magnesium reduces risk of stroke

Recent research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found new evidence of a link between magnesium intake and risk of stroke.

The research was conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. It took the form of a meta-analysis, whereby researchers collect and analyse data from many previous relevant studies. In all, the researchers took data from studies conducted from 1996 to 2011, involving more than 240,000 adults. Each study tracked adults from Europe, Asia or the United States, and lasted an average of 12 years. The data tracked how much magnesium each person took, and how many people suffered a stroke.

Leafy vegetables contain high levels of dietary magnesium
Leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, spinach and kale, contain high levels of dietary magnesium (2.)

The research team found that those with a higher level of dietary magnesium were less likely to experience a stroke. In fact, the risk of stroke was reduced by 8% for each additional 100 milligrams of magnesium a person consumed each day.

“Dietary magnesium intake is inversely associated with risk of stroke, specifically ischemic stroke”, concluded lead researched Susanna Larsson, adding that “the results suggest that people should eat a healthy diet with magnesium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains.”

Larsson also maintains that the other dietary factors might also have influenced the findings. After all, those whose diets are high in magnesium-rich foods are also likely to have higher intake or absorption of other nutrients, such as dietary fibre and folate. Hopefully, further large controlled trials of magnesium supplementation will clarify the link.

There are of course a number of reasons why magnesium in particular may help reduce the risk of stroke. Strokes are said to be caused by conditions such as hypertension, atherosclerosis and diabetic complications, all of which are linked with low magnesium. This mineral is essential for keeping blood vessels strong and preventing blood from clotting. The UK recommended intake for magnesium is currently 270mg for women and 300mg for men, although it is estimated that many of us in the UK do not manage to reach these levels in our diet.

The best way to ensure that you are getting enough dietary magnesium is to follow the below guidelines:

• Eat a wide variety of vegetables daily, including greens such as kale, spinach and chard.
• Include beans, legumes, nuts and seeds as magnesium-rich sources of protein.
• Include a variety of wholegrains, such as oats, buckwheat, barley, rye and quinoa.
• Choose animal foods that are magnesium-rich, such as halibut and mackerel.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

Reference
(1.) Larsson S, Orsini N and Wolk A. Dietary magnesium intake and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis of prospective studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Feb 2012.

(2.) Image courtesy of Dan

 

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Omega-3 supplements buffer the effect of mental stress

Mental stress is known to have a negative effect on heart health, and unmanaged stress is linked with increased blood pressure, an important predictor of heart disease. Managing mental stress can be a huge help to those looking to support their cardiovascular health. Of course this is often easier said than done. After all, stress is a part of everyday life and it cannot be eliminated entirely.

However, managing our physical reaction to mental stress may be one way to support heart health.

High EPA
Omega 3 supplements high in EPA can be good for mental stress and heart health

With this in mind, a team of researchers at Alleghany College in the US recently investigated the effects of an omega-3 supplement on the effect of mental stress in adults. The team gave a group of 43 college students either a daily omega-3 supplement or a daily placebo supplement for three weeks. They then measured blood pressure and heart rate of the students at rest and during a mental arithmetic task. The stress response to the maths test in the omega-3 group was found to be significantly lower than that of those in the placebo group.

The authors concluded that supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce cardiovascular reactivity to stress.
The study is preliminary and will hopefully encourage further research to clarify the role of omega-3 in cardiovascular health.

The supplement used in the study provided a daily dose of 1400mg omega-3 (1000mg EPA and 400mg DHA). This intake is fairly normal for adults living in countries such as Japan where fish, seafood and tofu are a major part of the diet. In the UK, however, the level of omega-3 in the diet is far lower and is estimated at an average of 244mg daily.

Options for increasing EPA and DHA intakes include use of fish oil supplements, increased consumption of fish or consumption of foods enriched with omega 3 such as omega-3 enriched eggs.

Those considering taking fish oil supplements should first check with their GP, especially if they are taking medications such as anticoagulants. Also, be sure to choose a good quality oil that has been screened for contaminants. Finally, if your fish oil supplement leaves you with a fishy aftertaste this is a sign that the oil has oxidised (‘gone off’). I tend to favour omega-3 oils that can be taken straight from the spoon, such as the Eskimo brand, so that I can be sure on tasting that it is a good quality, fresh oil.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

References
Ginty AT, Conklin SM. Preliminary Evidence that Acute Long-Chain Omega-3 Supplementation Reduces Cardiovascular Reactivity to Mental Stress: A Randomized and Placebo Controlled Trial. Biol Psychol. 2012, Jan. 89(1):269-72.

 

 

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Look after your heart this February

February is National Heart Health month which is an initiative supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). It is aimed at increasing individuals’ awareness on how to look after the health of their hearts and to ultimately reduce the number of heart disease related deaths. BHF state; “Our vision is of a World where people do not prematurely die of heart disease.”

Look after your heart this February
Eating a diet full of fruit and vegetables is good for supporting a healthy heart (5.)

There are many ways in which we can protect our heart, and bodykind‘s Nutritionists have often written about these. Back in March, Ani Richardson wrote about the benefits of eating a diet full of fruit and vegetables and the benefits of Pecans in relation to heart disease. Nadia Mason wrote about how a daily nutritious smoothie may reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease in August and in September wrote about Turmeric and Cinnamon being excellent spices for a healthy heart. There is continuous research conducted on heart health and it’s more important than ever to take actions to protect it.

In January this year, the BHF released some statistics (1.) that show heart attack death rates dropped dramatically in the early years of the new millennium, falling by more than half. The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (which is important to note), showed an average of 5% drop in heart attacks each year from 2002 through to 2010. Whilst these figures are impressive, there are still over 30,000 people who have a cardiac arrest outside of hospital each year – many of who die before medical help arrives. That is why is it so important to prevent a heart attack in the first place – as they say; “prevention is better than cure”.

There are many nutrients that can benefit heart health and an overall balanced and wholefood-based diet full of fruits and vegetables are essential for this. One study (2.) published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011, found that there was a large reduction in coronary heart disease risk in men and women that had a diet rich in green leafy vegetables (such as spinach and kale) as well as olive oil (often associated with the Mediterranean lifestyle).

More specifically, one of the main nutrients which you can include in both your diet and in supplement form for heart health are omega 3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids are generating a large amount of popularity for their multitude of beneficial health effects. They are found in oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, herring and sardines as well as in flaxseeds, walnuts and soya beans. If you don’t eat fish on a regular basis you may want to consider a fish oil supplement (or flaxseed if you cannot eat fish) in oil or capsule form . One recent study (3.) published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2011, investigated circulating Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids and the incidence of coronary heart disease in 2,735 older adults between 1992 and 2006. The researchers found that the total level of fatty acids circulating in the blood systems of these patients was associated with lower levels of coronary heart disease.

Another study (4.), also in 2011, looked into the possibility that early menarche (a risk factor for developing cardio-metabolic diseases) could be related to vitamin D deficiency in early age. After investigating the plasma vitamin D concentrations for 242 females for an average of 30 months, they found that early menarche was indeed twice as likely in vitamin D deficient females as those that were not vitamin D deficient. The authors concluded that Vitamin D deficiency is associated with earlier menarche and therefore the possibility of increased risk of developing cardio-metabolic diseases. Vitamin D is found in oily fish (again), cod liver oil, eggs and dairy products as well as in supplement forms.

As well as these nutrients, B vitamins (more specifically folic acid, B6 and B12) which are found in whole grains, meat and eggs, help to keep our arteries healthy. Vitamins E and C can also keep our heart healthy and antioxidants and bioflavonoids found in a variety of fruit and vegetables are also a great addition to any diet or supplement regime to reduce the level of free radicals in the body that can harm the heart.

Exercise is also must, even if it’s just a brisk walk around the office car park on your lunch break to get the blood circulating. Aiming for 30 minutes 3-5 times per week is the ideal. Perhaps try walking to the shop instead of driving or take the steps instead of the lift. Why not consider getting a group of friends together and organising a walking or bike-riding club? The possibilities are endless with exercise and it doesn’t have to mean slogging away on the treadmill for hours in the gym!

Written by Katie Guest and Lauren Foster

References

(1.) BHF

(2.) Benedetta, B., Masala, G., Saieva, C. et al (2011) Fruit, vegetables, and olive oil and risk of coronary heart disease in Italian women: the EPICOR Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 93, no. 2, 275-283.

(3.) Mozaffarian, D., Lemaitre, R.N., King, I.B., Song, X., Spiegelman, D., Sacks, F.M., Rimm, E.B. & Siscovick, D.S. (2011) Circulating Long-Chain ω-3 Fatty Acids and Incidence of Congestive Heart Failure in Older Adults: The Cardiovascular Health Study. A Cohort Study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 155: 160-170.

(4.) Villamor, E., Marin, C., Mora-Plazas, M. & Baylin, A. (2011) Vitamin D deficiency and age at menarche: a prospective study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 94, no. 4, 1020-1025.

(5.) Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane

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Study links sugary drinks with higher blood pressure

Last year I wrote about a study which found that drinking sugary drinks was associated to increased blood pressure (a risk for heart disease and other health problems).  A newly published study (1) has backed up these findings showing that adults who drink sugar-sweetened drinks tend to have higher blood pressure levels.

The study (1) involved UK and US participants of the International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure (known as INTERMAP).  Over 2500 individuals aged between 40 and 59 were included in the study and various data samples were collected including dietary data, urine and blood pressure readings.  Sugary drinks included those containing fructose, glucose and sucrose.

The researchers found that for every extra sugar-sweetened beverage drunk per day (1 serving = 355mL) participants on average had significantly higher systolic blood pressure by 1.6 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and diastolic blood pressure higher by 0.8 mm Hg. These figure remained statistically significant even after adjusting for differences in body mass (1).

Systolic blood pressure, represented by the top number in a blood pressure reading, is the measure of the phase of the heartbeat when the heart contracts and pumps blood into the arteries.  Diastolic blood pressure, represented by the bottom number in a blood pressure reading, is the measure of the phase of the heartbeat when the heart muscle relaxes and allows the chambers to fill with blood. 

The study found (1) that higher blood pressure levels were present in individuals who consumed more glucose and fructose, both sweeteners which are found in high-fructose corn syrup, the most common sugar sweetener used by the beverage industry.  It was also noted that blood pressure was higher in those individuals consuming high levels of both sugar and sodium (salt).

Sugar intake in the form of glucose, fructose and sucrose was found to be highest in those individuals who consumed more than one sugar-sweetened drink daily. It was also found that individuals consuming more than one serving per day of sugar-sweetened drinks consumed significantly more calories than those who didn’t, with average energy intake of more than 397 calories per day.  Those individuals who did not consume sugar-sweetened beverages had lower average body mass index (BMI) than those who consumed more than one of these drinks daily.

In a press release (2) the senior author, Paul Elliott said “This points to another possible intervention to lower blood pressure,” “These findings lend support for recommendations to reduce the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as added sugars and sodium in an effort to reduce blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.

Ian Brown, a research associate at London’s Imperial College UK said (2)People who drink a lot of sugar-sweetened beverages appear to have less healthy diets,” “They are consuming empty calories without the nutritional benefits of real food. They consume less potassium, magnesium and calcium”.  Ian Brown went on to say why sugary drinks may be impacting blood pressure levels: “One possible mechanism for sugar-sweetened beverages and fructose increasing blood pressure levels is a resultant increase in the level of uric acid in the blood that may in turn lower the nitric oxide required to keep the blood vessels dilated. Sugar consumption also has been linked to enhanced sympathetic nervous system activity and sodium retention.”

The study is only an association study, it does not prove that sugary drinks cause higher blood pressure “This is a population study. It’s one piece of the evidence in a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be completed,” said Ian Brown (2)In the meantime, people who want to drink sugar-sweetened beverages should do so only in moderation.”

As Mr Brown mentions, sugar represents ‘empty calories’, it provides energy without any nutritional benefits.  A nutrient rich diet, packed with vitamins, minerals, fibre and flavonoids is one which contains an abundance of vegetables, fruits, beans/pulses, nuts/seeds, wholegrains and other unprocessed, unrefined foods.  Cutting back on added sugars is a great step toward better health

(1)Brown IJ et al.  Sugar-Sweetened Beverage, Sugar Intake of Individuals, and Their Blood Pressure: International Study of Macro/Micronutrients and Blood Pressure.  Hypertension.   Published online before print February 28, 2011, doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.110.165456

(2)Press Release. American Heart Association (2011, March 1). Sugar-sweetened drinks associated with higher blood pressure. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/02/110228163030.htm

 

Written by Ani Kowal

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