Last November, the American College of Cardiology, along with the American Heart Association, changed the diagnostic criteria for high blood pressure, or hypertension.
Blood pressure happens when blood racing from the heart pushes against the walls of your arteries and vessels. A blood-pressure measurement consists of two numbers: systolic and diastolic.
The squeeze creates the higher pressure – called the systolic number. The systolic should read around 120 mm Hg.
When the heart relaxes, the pressure drops to the "resting state" – the diastolic pressure. It should be around 80. This gives us the normal blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg.
If your pressure was high, you could face health risks. Before this change, anything reading 140/90 mm Hg or higher meant a diagnosis of hypertension.
But the new limit is now 130/80... meaning an additional 31 million Americans qualified as high blood pressure patients overnight.
But here's the thing... Several members of the scientific panel have direct financial ties to pharma companies that make blood-pressure drugs. Worse, they neglected to properly state their ties in the report. That's a huge breach of policy.
In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians refused to endorse these new guidelines, despite the previously solid reputation of the American College of Cardiology.
Now, if you find yourself part of these 31 million Americans, don't panic. And certainly don't start popping pills. You should first understand why high blood pressure is so dangerous.
Typically, slightly elevated blood pressure has no symptoms. But your pressure can creep higher over time, doing damage to your body, organs, and your brain... that's why it's called the "Silent Killer."
Over time, the "Silent Killer" leads to:
- Kidney failure
- Memory loss
- Erectile dysfunction
High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of stroke in the U.S. And researchers estimate about 80% of folks who have a stroke also have high blood pressure. In fact, lowering blood pressure to a safe level reduces risk of stroke by 48%, according to a study from The Lancet.
It's also the leading cause of kidney failure. High blood pressure can damage the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, preventing the kidneys from properly removing waste and excess fluid from the body. Excess fluid in the blood will raise blood pressure even more.
Knowing you have high blood pressure and taking steps to lower it could save your life. That's why I wrote about checking your pressure as the medical test you can do yourself.
Keep in mind, sometimes you may get a high reading that's an isolated incident. Stress and caffeine both increase blood-pressure numbers artificially.
In fact, something I've seen myself is a phenomenon called "white-coat syndrome." This happens when you experience stress or anxiety from going to the doctor. The sight of a "white coat" (like the kind docs wear) is enough to stress you out and raise your blood pressure.
That's why it's important to monitor your blood pressure. You may also want to start testing it at home with your own device or go to your local pharmacy to get a reading. Keeping a log will help you understand which changes to your lifestyle work best. Here's a list to get you started...
How to Lower Your Blood Pressure
1. Add these foods to your diet... Dark chocolate, eggs, wine, and olive oil. And make sure to get plenty of potassium and magnesium, which help keep your pressure regulated. High-potassium foods include: Avocados, potatoes, beans, bananas, fish, raisins, apricots, dates, and cocoa powder. High-magnesium foods include seeds, brans (wheat, rice, and oat), spinach, and cocoa. Other leafy greens like kale and collard greens have a high amount of magnesium as well.
2. Cut back on caffeine. The causation is a bit muddy here, but caffeine does spike blood pressure, even for just a short time. If you're a regular consumer, you may notice a higher blood pressure reading, especially if you've had a cup just before testing.
It's also important to know, some folks are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Try taking your pressure before and after drinking a cup of coffee and see if your pressure increases. If it does, consider cutting back to just one cup a day – most folks can have about 200 mg (about one cup of brewed coffee) of caffeine per day without those side effects.
3. Exercise and stress relief. People who exercise regularly are 35% less likely to have high blood pressure than those who are inactive.
All you have to do is walk for 20-30 minutes three times a week to capture 80% of the benefits of regular exercise. Also, it doesn't matter if you walk up stairs, around the mall, or inside the gym on a treadmill. The key is to get out there and move.
If you do wind up taking a medication for high blood pressure, use caution. As we learned last year, the world's most popular drug for blood pressure raises your risk of skin cancer.
According to a Danish study on the drug hydrochlorothiazide (Microzide), the diuretic increased the risk of skin cancers. The researchers didn't see this increase in folks taking different blood-pressure drugs. The authors believe the drug makes the skin more sensitive to sunlight, leading to more burns and cancers. If you have a family history of skin cancer, consider talking to your doctor first before starting on this drug.
And before resorting to medicine, take steps to lower high blood pressure naturally first.
What We're Reading...
- More on the caffeine connection.
- Something different: How much is your privacy worth?
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
February 6, 2018