By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
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 heart 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, or alcohol dependence.
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 heart 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 heart thickening (hypertrophy) especially of 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’.
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 the medication prescribed and have regular check-ups. The following factors are an important part 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)
● Fatty meats
● 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.
● Soft drinks
● Sports drinks
● Canned fruit in syrup
● Processed desserts (candy, chocolate bars)
● Green tea
● 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 the taste. Here’s how to cut back:
|● 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 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 aerobic class or put on your favorite 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
- 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: breath in for four counts; hold for four; breath out for four, hold for four.
- Combining breathing, focus, and exercise, yoga is one-stop shopping for stress relief. Include forward bends but avoid poses that compress the diaphragm.
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 essential 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 have been shown to lower blood pressure by widening blood vessels, increasing nitric oxide production, and relaxing the smooth muscles found in blood vessels.
Proper Hormone Balance is Key
Make sure your thyroid and sex hormone levels are optimized lifelong as both provide for improved cardiac and overall health. Female hormone replacement therapy can decrease the risk of heart disease by 30-50 percent. Get your levels tested annually to be sure they are optimal!
Are you at risk of high blood pressure? It’s never too early to talk about prevention. Functional Medicine can help put you on a path to a healthy lifestyle designed to work for you. Prevention and management require changing lifestyle habits but going at it along can be challenging. Let’s work together to ensure your heart health and overall health is maximized!
Give us a call today 920-339-5252.
Nardi WR, Harrison A, Saadeh FB, Webb J, Wentz AE, Loucks EB. Mindfulness and cardiovascular health: Qualitative findings on mechanisms from the mindfulness-based blood pressure reduction (MB-BP) study. PLoS One. 2020 Sep 23;15(9):e0239533. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0239533. PMID: 32966308; PMCID: PMC7510988.
Ran L, Zhao W, Tan X, Wang H, Mizuno K, Takagi K, Zhao Y, Bu H. Association between Serum Vitamin C and the Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Cardiovasc Ther. 2020 Apr 29;2020:4940673. doi: 10.1155/2020/4940673. PMID: 32426036; PMCID: PMC7211237.
Tabassum N, Ahmad F. Role of natural herbs in the treatment of hypertension. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011 Jan;5(9):30-40. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.79097. PMID: 22096316; PMCID: PMC3210006.
Benjamin, E.J., Muntner, P., Alonso, A. Bittencourt, M.S., Callaway, C.W., Carson, A.P., … & Virani, S.S. (2019). Heart disease and stroke statistics – 2019 update: A report from the American Heart Association. Circulation,139, 56-528.
Heron, M. (2018). Death: Leading Causes for 2016. National Vital Statistics Report, 67(6), 1-76.
Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP, is a woman’s hormone expert and the owner of Wise Woman Wellness LLC, an innovative wellness and hormone care center at 1480 Swan Road, De Pere. Mann is the author of the eBook: A Guide to Gluten and Going Gluten Free. She is a board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner, one of a handful in Wisconsin and less than 1600 worldwide to achieve this distinction. She combines the best of conventional, functional and integrative medicine to help women with female, thyroid and adrenal hormone issues to live healthier, more abundant, joy-filled lives using a blend of compassion, cutting edge science, practical guidance and humor. Contact her at 920-339-5252 or via the Internet at www.wisewomanwellness.com. Join the introductory virtual seminar, “End Hormone Havoc – Crazy Hormones Cause Fatigue, Weight Gain and Brain Fog and How to Fix Them!”, offered monthly, to learn about specialized thyroid, adrenal and female hormone testing and customized, bioidentical hormone treatments to achieve lifelong optimal hormone balance, increased vitality and longevity.