Tag Archives: arteries

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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Raynaud’s Awareness Month

February is Raynaud’s Awareness Month, a campaign aimed at increasing understanding of this debilitating condition amongst the general public. Many sufferers of Raynaud’s are unaware that their condition has a name and do not know that there are therapies available to help.

Raynaud’s Phemomenon (RP) affects somewhere between 3-20% of the population worldwide, with women more commoly affected than men. Raynaud’s is characterised by problems with blood flow to the extremities, causing pain, tingling sensations, numbness or discomfort. These symptoms are most often present in the hands, but can also occur in the toes, ears and nose. During a Raynaud’s episode, the fingers will turn white as blood supply is interrupted. They may then turn blue before blood flow resumes, accompanied by a feeling of burning. Episodes can be triggered by emotional stress or by temperature changes.

Ginkgo Biloba may help combat Reynaud's Disease
Ginkgo has been reported to improve circulation in small blood vessels

There is currently no documented cure for Raynaud’s. However, studies suggest that some nutritional supplements may be useful in relieving symptoms.

The herb ginkgo has been reported to improve the circulation in small blood vessels and reduce pain in people with Raynaud’s disease. In a recent double blind study, Ginkgo supplementation taken over a 10-week period reduced the number of attacks experienced by Raynaud’s sufferers (1).

Essential fatty acids are also reported to be beneficial for those with Raynaud’s. Fish oil has a number of effects that may improve blood circulation. It reduces vascular reactivity and blood viscosity, suggesting that it should help improve blood flow and circulation in Raynaud’s patients. A double-blind study did in fact find that fish oil supplementation improved tolerance to cold and delayed the onset of symptoms. Other studies have found fish oil to be useful in decreasing both frequency and severity of attacks (2). Evening primrose oil has similar vascular effects to that of fish oil, and a small double blind study found it offered similar benefits in Raynaud’s (3).

A form of Vitamin B3 known as inositol hexaniacinate, reduces spasms in the arteries and improves peripheral circulation. For this reason it has been tested as a therapy for Raynaud’s and in larger doses has been found to improve circulation and reduce attacks (4,5). Larger doses of 3-4 grams, like those used in the studies, should only be taken under the supervision of a medical practitioner.

Problems with magnesium metabolism may also factor in Raynaud’s (6). Magnesium deficiency can cause blood vessels to spasm. Ensuring an optimal intake of this mineral helps blood vessels to ‘relax’ and encourages healthy blood flow. The recommended daily intake of magnesium is 300mg for men and 270mg for women, but many adults in the UK fall short. Increasing intake of green, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and pulses can boost magnesium levels significantly.

Finally, dietary and lifestyle changes can also help to manage this condition. Smoking, which constricts blood vessels, will aggravate Raynaud’s and so giving up the cigarettes should improve symptoms immensely. Relaxation techniques and stress management are also recommended. Other helpful dietary measures include cutting down caffeine and alcohol, and reducing fatty and fried foods.

If you’d like more information on Raynaud’s you can visit the Raynaud’s & Scleroderma Association website which is dedicated to helping those affected by the condition.

References

1. Muir AH, Robb R, McLaren M, Daly F, Belch JJ (2002) The use of Ginkgo biloba in Raynaud’s disease: a double-blind placebo-controlled trial. Vasc. Med 7(4):265-7.

2. DiGiacomo RA et al. (1989) Fish-oil dietary supplementation in patients with Raynaud’s phenomenon: a double-blind, controlled, prospective study. Am J Med 68:158–64.

3. Belch JJ, Shaw B, O’Dowd A, et al. (1985) Evening primrose oil (Efamol) in the treatment of Raynaud’s phenomenon: a double-blind study. Thromb Haemost. 54:490-494.

4. Holti G (1979) An experimentally controlled evaluation of the effect of inositol nicotinate upon the digital blood flow in patients with Raynaud’s phenomenon. J Int Med Res 7:473–83.

5. Ring EF, Bacon PA. (1977) Quantitative thermographic assessment of inositol nicotinate therapy in Raynaud’s phenomenon. J Int Med Res. 5:217–22.

6. Leppert J, Aberg H, Levin K, et al. (1994) The concentration of magnesium in erythrocytes in female patients with primary Raynaud’s phenomenon; fluctuation with the time of year. Angiology 45:283–8.

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