According to the new guidelines just released by the American Heart Association (AHA) this month, nearly half of all Americans are now living with high blood pressure. So that means that people that were considered “borderline” at 130/80 – would now be diagnosed with high blood pressure (Hypertension). According to cardiologist Dr. Sinatra – healthy blood pressure levels should be under 120/80.
The thing is, high blood pressure often will have no obvious symptoms. So the majority of people with high blood pressure – are unaware that they have it. But high blood pressure is often called “the silent killer” – because the first symptom can be deadly. The best way to determine if your blood pressure is in a good place is to have your blood pressure measured. High blood pressure tends to run in families – so if you have close relatives that have had hypertension, you will especially want to monitor your blood pressure regularly – you might want to consider getting a home monitor.
High blood pressure can double your risk of a heart attack and is a risk factor for stroke, dementia, kidney failure, & blindness. Learn more about risk factors of hypertension from the Mayo Clinic.
Please note: If you are taking any prescription medications, or under the care of a doctor for any reason – talk to your doctor about these suggestions before implementing them in case there are contraindications or interactions. Your doctor may also wish to monitor you in case changes need to be made to your prescriptions. These tips are general in nature and may not be appropriate for everyone. Whenever making changes to your diet and lifestyle – it is recommended to do it gradually to allow your body to adjust.
Cinnamon is a very powerful tool when it comes to blood pressure and blood sugar – lowering both. Cinnamon has other benefits – including fighting bad bacteria in the gut, and revving up the metabolism. According to a 2006 study conducted by the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, just 1/2 of a teaspoon a day of cinnamon could be enough to help reduce blood pressure. You can add cinnamon to oatmeal, smoothies, add it to nut butter, sprinkle it on fruit, and add it to nuts before roasting, you can also add it to coffee.
Did you know that the USDA recommends adults consume 9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day? Yes, NINE!! Sadly, on the Standard American Diet (SAD), most people are not getting even half that – with many people barely getting 1 serving a day. Plant-based foods are rich in important nutrients and electrolytes that help to balance our blood pressure. Potassium is particularly important for healthy blood pressure levels – so reach for avocados, bananas, squash, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and prunes.
Best known for their anti-inflammatory effects, omega 3 fatty acids also have blood thinning effects too, which can help to reduce blood pressure. Try to incorporate chia seeds, flax seeds, and fatty fish like wild salmon. And consider sardines too – not only are they rich in omega 3s, they also are low in mercury, and are high in heart-healthy Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)! I love making these Flax Raisin muffins – they are grain free, gluten free, low in sugar and high in omega 3 fatty acids- and they are delicious! Also consider adding some flax or chia to your overnight oats, or making chia pudding.
For a very long time – experts have pointed the finger at salt as the primary culprit for high blood pressure. But now experts are saying another white substance may be more to blame – SUGAR. Blood sugar and blood pressure – are closely linked. Post meal glucose spikes increases blood pressure and the risk for heart attack. So consider skipping dessert, or opting for a square of dark chocolate instead. But make sure to go for dark – the cacao content should be at least 60%. A Harvard study found that dark chocolate lowered blood pressure as well as the risk of heart attack and diabetes. Dark chocolate is high in magnesium, which helps to relax the blood vessels, and it also helps to improve blood flow to extremities.
A recent study showed that when participants used 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil daily, it lowered blood pressure, with 35% of the participants benefitting so much that they were able to stop their medications! It has also been linked to better brain health too. Avocado oil is also a healthy oil associated with lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. The other benefit of avocado oil is that it has a high smoke point, so that is the one I recommend for cooking above 300 degrees.
The studies are clear about the link between heavy alcohol use and blood pressure – alcohol raises blood pressure. But what constitutes “heavy drinking” might surprise some – just 3 drinks for women is considered “heavy alcohol consumption.” Cutting back on the alcohol may not just lower your blood pressure – a new study found that heavy drinking can also raise the risk of several different cancers – the strongest link being with cancers of the head, neck and throat. So sticking with no more than 1 drink a day for women, and 2 for men will lower your blood pressure and your cancer risk.
Getting some exercise each day – like taking a walk can help to lower blood pressure. According to the Mayo clinic, “Regular physical activity — at least 30 minutes most days of the week — can lower your blood pressure by 4 to 9 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).” If you are concerned with your blood pressure levels or heart health – stick to gentle exercise and talk to your doctor before beginning any strenuous exercise program to be sure your heart is in good enough shape for it.
High levels of stress can send your blood pressure soaring. So trying to keep stress levels under control is important for managing healthy blood pressure. If you get an elevated reading in your doctor’s office – make sure to check it again – sometimes people can be stressed out at the doctors office – causing their blood pressure to be higher. Consider acupuncture, meditation, and/or yoga for lowering stress levels.
Getting a poor night’s sleep can do more than make you groggy – it can raise your blood pressure. A 2006 study published in the journal Hypertension found that people who slept 5 hours or less per night were 32% more likely to develop hypertension than those who slept 7–8 hours per night. Some tips for getting a good night’s sleep – avoid caffeine after 1:00pm, turn off electronics at least 1 hour before bedtime, take a warm bath to help calm the nervous system before bedtime, and take a magnesium supplement before bedtime can also help some settle down to a good night’s sleep.
Gradually making the above nutritional and lifestyle changes might be enough to lower slightly elevated blood pressure. Some people might also find that taking certain supplements could help to get blood pressure into a healthy range. Again – talk to your prescribing doctor before adding any supplements if you are currently taking medication or speak to your healthcare provider if you are being treated for any condition.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
If you struggle with anxiety and stress, you are not alone. One of the most common complaints that I hear from clients – kids and adults alike – is feelings of anxiety.
We are all under so much pressure day in and day out, and running from one thing to the next – it is easy to feel like a hamster running on those hamster wheels all day long!! And with to do lists a mile long, presents to buy, travel and parties, bills piling up…the stress & anxiety levels can definitely go up during the holidays.
Excess stress can lead to elevated blood pressure, and overtime it can also cause elevated cholesterol levels, weight gain, hormone imbalances, digestion issues, mood imbalances, blood sugar issues, and can even be a trigger for diseases. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, showed a 4.2 % increase in heart-related deaths between December 25th and January 7th, some of which could be attributed to elevated stress levels – read more.
But fortunately, there are several natural and healthy ways to deal with and reduce anxiety and stress all year long.
I love a good cup of Joe, but if you are trying to reduce your stress levels – that might not be the best way to start your day because it can amp you up too much and make you jittery and anxious. You might be thinking – “But, Sara! I need my caffeine to get going in the morning!” The perfect solution is the switch your morning cup of coffee for a cup of matcha tea. Matcha tea has just enough caffeine to give you a nice energy boost, without making you jittery. And the bonus – matcha tea also has a compound called L-Theanine – which is an amino acid that helps to promote a calm focused feeling. L-Theanine is such a powerful way to reduce anxiety and promote calm feelings, that it is sometimes called “Nature’s Xanax“. It does this by enhancing the brain’s alpha waves – which creates a deep feeling of relaxation without any sedation or drowsiness. L-theanine may also help to clear excess free glutamates from the brain, which may contribute to anxiety (free glutamates are found in processed foods, especially those which contain monosodium glutamate – so I always tell clients with anxious kids to skip the Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and Doritos – and any other foods which contain MSG)! If you want the benefit of the L-theanine without the caffeine – you can take an L-theanine supplement too – which is nice to do in the evening to calm down before bedtime. L-Theanine does not contain caffeine, so you can take it any time of day. Although it won’t make you feel sleepy, the calm feeling L-theanine provides, can enhance sleep at night. A 2004 Australian study found L-Theanine to be more effective at inducing relaxation than Xanax!
I find that L-Theanine can even be an effective replacement a glass of wine for taking the ‘edge off’, it can also help to lower blood sugar, and ward off sugar cravings too.
Magnesium is a mineral, a very important mineral at that – it is responsible for over 350 biochemical processes in the body – from glucose regulation to ATP production, bone & heart health, hormones, and much more. Most people are already deficient in magnesium – and stress only makes us more depleted. Magnesium is often called “the calming mineral, or the “chill pill” – so if we are deficient, it is no wonder we could be feeling anxious. To increase your magnesium, you could eat more magnesium rich foods like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and….chocolate!! But go for the dark chocolate, because it is raw cacao where the magnesium is found, and dark chocolate has less sugar than milk chocolate. You can also take a magnesium supplement – just know that not all types of magnesium are created equal – some are poorly absorbed, and some can have stool softening effects. So it is important to choose the right form of magnesium – I avoid the oxide form, which is poorly absorbed, and has a laxative effect. I prefer these forms of magnesium: malate, glycinate, orotate, and citrate (citrate is highly bioavailable, but it can also cause loose stools, so start with a low dose like 150 mg). Magensium can also be absorbed through the skin, so soaking in a bath with magnesium-rich epsom salts can boost your magnesium levels. Or you can spray a magnesium oil on your skin too. When I am under stress, I find that increasing my magnesium supplements can help me feel a lot calmer. This is the magnesium supplement that we take at our house: Designs for Health Magnesium Malate.
Believe it or not, essential oils can have a very powerful effect on our mood. I like to diffuse them, use them topically, and I even will put a couple drops of lavendar into my foot soak and onto my pillow for a calming effect at night. Interested in learning more about essential oils? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Whenever someone tells me they have anxiety – I ask how their digestion is, because believe it or not – many cases of anxiety begin in the gut. Our gut has actually been called our second brain! So addressing gut issues is a great tool for dealing with anxiety. One thing I like to recommend is trying to add a high quality probiotic. I usually recommend a specific strain – called Bacilius coagulans – because it is it is a soil based probiotic – which means it helps to “seed” your gut with good bacteria and crowd out the bad. It is also generally very well tolerated and doesn’t tend to cause bloating. So that is my favorite strain, and it is not the most common one either. You can also eat fermented foods and drinks too – that will help to tip the balance of good bacteria back in your favor too. I have heard that just doing this has helped people reduce their anxiety levels. This is the probiotic I take and recommend: Pure Prescriptions’ Digestive Defense.
Our gut is connected to our brain via something called the Vagus Nerve. The vagus nerve plays a critical role in our parasympathetic nervous system – the side of our nervous system that is responsible for relaxation, rest, and recovery. When the sympathetic nervous system is turned on all the time – we are stuck in a stress response – this can lead to anxiety, poorly controlled stress, and can cause our digestion and hormones to get out of balance. When there are problems with the vagus nerve, it can lead to all kinds of issues – ranging from anxiety to focus, and even digestion issues like slow motility. When we have out of control stress levels for long periods of time, our vagus nerve can get weak. In order to get it working again and doing its’ job to calm us down, we need to stimuate it. One way to stimulate the vagus nerve is by gargling – very vigorously several times a day. Singing loudly can also stimulate the vagus nerve, and so can the gag reflex- although some people may not wish to gag repeatedly every day. If those things don’t sound appealing to you – you might want to consider the Nervana device. I recently found and started using this amazing device called Nervana – it looks like a music player – but really what it is doing is stimulating the vagus nerve. Kind of like a workout for the vagus nerve!! I have been using it twice a day, and I have found that my digestion and mood have definitely benefitted.
We can be eating a perfectly healthy diet – and hitting the gym regularly, but if our stress levels are out of control, then our metabolism is not working optimally.
A little stress is a normal part of life, but so many of us are stuck on the proverbial “hamster wheels” today – we are just going and going and going. High stress levels are a recipe for metabolism melt down and can lead to weight gain, and in some cases weight loss.
When we are under stress all of the time, our sympathetic nervous system is turned on – that means that our body is stuck in the fight or flight state – so that means that our heart rate, blood sugar, insulin, and blood pressure is elevated, while, our digestion, elimination, immune system, and reproductive system all go dormant – “ain’t nobody got time for that when we are running from a sabre tooth tiger!”
A steroid hormone produced in the adrenal cortex, cortisol is often referred to as “the stress hormone,” because during times of stress, the body pumps out more cortisol. During a normal day, our cortsiol should be slightly elevated in the morning, to give us that “get up and go”, and it should be low at bedtime to help us settle down to sleep. But sometimes, when we are under a lot of stress, and fueling up all day with caffeine and carbs, our cortisol levels can get out of whack. Feeling “tired but wired” at bedtime is a classic symptom of a messed up cortisol rhythm. Or needing 3 cups of coffee to get the engine running each morning is another. Cortisol issues can also show up as weight storage in the midsection – because of the chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin it causes. Chronically elevated cortisol can eventually lead to insulin resistance, which means the body is not able to use carbs to energy, and it is storing carbs as more fat.
Over time, chronic stress can mess with our sleep, raise cholesterol levels, contribute to dehydration and blood pressure issues, and eventually it can cause our other hormones to get out of balance too – causing things like estrogen dominance, hypothalamic amenorrhea, and adrenal fatigue. Stress can be a trigger that sets serious diseases like heart disease and autoimmunity in motion too.
What do hamsters do when they are not running like mad on those wheels? They are resting and recovering. We need to take a cue from them and get off those wheels occasionally. So although it might seem impossible to get off the hamster wheel – we have to remember – that we have a choice. There are a number of things that we can choose to do to reduce stress levels.
Many people can benefit from supplements** that can help us to reduce our stress hormones and activate our calming neurotransmitters so we can get those stress hormones back in a normal rhythm:
Chronic stress can be the “switch” that turns on disease and slows down our metabolism. In order to have a healthy metabolism & a healthy life – we need to prioritize getting our stress levels under control. Chapter 7 of my book The Perfect Metabolism Plan is dedicated to strategies for lowering stress and improving sleep.
* this quote is attributed to a number of people including Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Diane Schwarzbein, and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.
** If you are currently taking prescription medications or under a doctor’s care, it is recommended that you consult your doctor before taking any supplements or herbs.
Being a mom is one of the most rewarding jobs of all – but it also requires a lot of giving and sacrificing, which can mean that mom frequently ends up at the bottom of her own priority list. Overtime, this can end up taking a toll on her health. And although this situation is common with moms, it can really happen to anyone, especially if you are a:
We know ‘em and love ‘em. Doers are the ones that we can count on to just get stuff done. They just “show up,” and do the work. Important members on any committee, they are the top performers in a sales department, and often are very compassionate people who enjoy contributing and making a difference in the lives of others. This is all great! But just remember:
“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” – Jack Kornfield. Author of The Wise Heart
You see, the more you do and give, the less energy you have left over to take care of yourself. Overtime, this can cause your health to slide. This is one of the most common reasons that people come to work with me actually! Because allowing work, life, school, extracurricular, and family commitments to push our health off the list of priorities can eventually show up years later as – weight gain, lowered immunity, an aching back, mood imbalances, digestion issues, adrenal fatigue, headaches, and even an increased disease risk.
Some Signs You Could be “Giving” Your Health Away:
Five Tips to Get Your Health Back on Track:
Prioritizing your health doesn’t mean that you still can’t be a doer, a giver, or an overachiever – it just means that you need to remember to save some time and energy for yourself – so you don’t end up in the midst of a health crisis. When we prioritize our responsibilities, and invest in our health, we take better care of ourselves, and we can be more effective in all areas of our lives.
© copyright 2019 Sara Vance