blood pressure

10 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) can be deadly. In addition to spawning myriad health problems including heart attacks and strokes, other illnesses associated with hypertension can include kidney disease, blindness, and dementia. Unfortunately, it rarely produces detectable symptoms in sufferers until it has done serious damage.

 

That’s why our concierge doctors in Jupiter check it every time we see you. Keeping your blood pressure within the normal range (currently considered to be 120/80 or below) is the single most effective measure you can take to maintain your cardiovascular health.

 

If it’s above normal, we will recommend you take steps to lower it, such as adhering to the DASH diet (fresh vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, low salt, and low-fat dairy), losing weight, stopping smoking, exercising regularly, and reducing stress. If those non-medical approaches don’t achieve the desired results, we will prescribe medication.

 

But there are other, less conventional methods you may not know about to help keep those figures within acceptable levels.

 

  1. Isometric handgrip exercises

An American Heart Association study found that squeezing a spring-loaded hand grip for two minutes, over a period of 12 to 15 minutes three times a week, can help lower blood pressure. Why? Researchers found that blood flow returns to your hands after the isometric exercise, improving blood vessel function. Another study reported in the journal Hypertension found this exercise produced a 10 percent drop in both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) readings when practiced six times a day, five days a week for four weeks.

 

  1. Reducing sugar intake

Sugar can raise blood pressure even more than salt, as numerous studies have confirmed since 2014. That’s because sugar makes blood vessels contract more strongly than normal, resulting in a rise in blood pressure.

 

  1. Increasing potassium-rich foods

Potassium not only helps decrease the sodium in your blood, it also helps relax blood vessels. As you know, we prefer that you obtain vitamins and minerals through food, and it turns out that you can get enough potassium through the foods you eat to skip the supplements. Bananas are tops in this mineral; other good choices include leafy greens, avocados, oranges, apricots, tuna, and salmon.

 

  1. Giving and getting hugs

Researchers have found that physical contact with another human being—or with even animals—releases the hormone oxytocin, which dampens stress and sympathetic nervous system activity in your cardiovascular system, thus lowering blood pressure.

 

  1. Avoiding noise

A study at Lund University in Sweden found that daily exposure to noise above 64 decibels—equivalent to normal conversation or the sound of an electric shaver—raises your risk of high blood pressure 90 percent. If you can’t get away from noise (for example, if you live near a busy highway), try noise-canceling headphones or earplugs, when feasible.

 

  1. Controlled breathing

Slow, deep breathing has been shown repeatedly to lower blood pressure by lowering stress hormones. Try to take 10 minutes daily to stop, relax your shoulder muscles, and breathe slowly. The correct breathing technique will cause your belly to expand, while your chest barely moves. Check this by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your abdomen until you learn to breathe this way naturally.

 

  1. Getting (a little) sunshine

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh confirmed previous studies which found that subjects exposed to UV light experienced a significant drop in blood pressure, because the sun’s rays convert nitrate stored in your skin to nitric oxide, a compound that helps blood vessels retain their elasticity. Of course, you should never spend more than 10 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen, because of the risk of skin cancer.

 

  1. Watch your posture

Research has shown that slouching can affect the spinal nerves that help keep blood pressure under control. This simple bad habit can raise blood pressure as much as 16 percent. Try to imagine a string coming out of the top of your head that you can pull taut whenever you feel yourself begin to slouch.

 

  1. Indulge a little

Dark chocolate and cocoa contain flavonoids, plant compounds that help blood vessels dilate, thus lowering blood pressure. Two ounces daily of high-quality dark (not milk) chocolate is enough to achieve the effect.

 

  1. Drink up

Water, that is. Chronic dehydration forces blood vessels to constrict, raising blood pressure. In addition, your body will retain sodium in an attempt to conserve its water supply. Aim for eight to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water daily—more if you’re exercising or perspiring heavily.

 

If you are taking medication we’ve prescribed to lower blood pressure, never stop without checking with us first. If your blood pressure medication is causing unwanted side effects, please discuss them with us. We can adjust your prescription to alleviate them.

diets for new year

The Best Diets for the New Year

Whether you overindulged over the holidays or have simply made a resolution to lose those persistent pounds in 2020, our concierge doctors in Jupiter want to suggest what we believe are the most sensible ways to do so.

 

The secret

Not only do you need to make a firm decision to lose the weight you want, but you need to go about it in the right way. The Internet and the magazines are filled with diets that promise “amazing” and “incredible” weight loss in just days! The weight will practically fall off! You can lose weight in your sleep!

Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that easy? Unfortunately, fad diets may take off a few pounds (often comprising mainly water weight), but the rules are simply too restrictive to maintain indefinitely.

In addition, research has shown that dieting is not effective in the long run, and can lead to greater weight gain the more you diet. The body interprets calorie restriction as a pending famine, leading to increased fat storage against the possibility of future food shortage, and automatically slows your metabolism as a survival mechanism.

You may have even experienced this yourself: losing weight, gaining it back, feeling frustrated and depressed, until the next new miracle diet comes along promising quick, easy, and painless weight loss.

The real secret to slow, steady, and lasting weight loss is an approach to eating that doesn’t reject some foods in favor of others, but allows you to make intelligent selections while enjoying the food you eat.

 

Best diets

Studies have shown the following diets to be the best for losing weight gradually and keeping it off permanently.

 

DASH

Of all the eating plans available, we believe one the recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) is the best overall, because of its simple rules, its effectiveness in both short- and long-term weight loss, and its proven effect on lowering blood pressure in both hypertensive and pre-hypertensive patients. Known as Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension—the DASH diet—it not only improves cardiovascular health, it has also been shown to help prevent cancer, reduce the incidence of diabetes, and improve kidney health.

The DASH approach to eating eschews strict rules, providing guidelines instead. These include: eating more fruits and vegetables, fish, poultry, whole grains, beans and nuts, and low-fat or nonfat dairy, and less full-fat dairy products, fatty meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, and sweets. It emphasizes variety, portion size, and natural foods. And by including a sensible balance of lean protein, it helps satisfy hunger and maintain energy. Although adherents are encouraged to reduce their salt intake, they are not required to do so. However, many of the recommended foods on the plan are naturally low in sodium, so salt reduction occurs automatically.

 

Mediterranean

This diet is based on studies during the 1990s that found those in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea tend to live longer, healthier lives than those in other countries, and have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The reason for this is simple: a diet high in seafood, fresh produce, nuts, olive oil, and beans, and low in red meat, dairy, sugar, processed foods, and saturated fat.

Like the DASH diet, the Mediterranean way of eating avoids calorie counting and forbidding certain foods, and simply shifts the emphasis towards healthier fare and away from those foods that are known to add weight and trigger health issues. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce levels of inflammation throughout the body, which means a lower risk for cardiovascular disease, strokes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. It also results in almost automatic weight control, thus lessening the risk of diabetes.

 

Mayo Clinic Diet

If weight loss is your primary goal, this is a safe, effective diet. Once you pass the first two weeks of fairly restrictive eating, as with the above diets no foods are completely forbidden. Its guidelines emphasize fruits, vegetables, lean protein, high-fiber carbohydrates, seafood, and nuts. On this diet, you’ll drop six to ten pounds during the first two weeks, with a slower, steady loss of one to two pounds per week after that until you reach your goal weight.

 

We believe the best diets are those you can easily follow throughout your life, and that will enhance your health overall. Of course, it’s a good idea to check with us before embarking on any new diet; we can help you select the one that’s right for you.

For Better Health, Go Easy on Sugar

This time of year, sugar can be found in abundance, from Christmas cookies, to Hanukkah babka, to Yule logs. Of course, it’s ubiquitous throughout the year, as well, in everything from ketchup to soups to bread.

But because numerous studies have linked refined sugar consumption to a host of diseases, our concierge family doctors at MD 2.0 in Jupiter caution that you might want to exercise restraint when indulging in sugary confections. It can lead to obesity, diabetes, liver failure, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and numerous other health issues. It has even been linked to cancer.

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romaine lettuce recalls

What’s Going On with Romaine Lettuce?

Just in time for your holiday meals, one popular salad staple has landed—again—on the recall list. Our concierge family practice doctors in Jupiter are as curious as you are about the seemingly endless recalls of romaine lettuce, so we wanted to look into why this keeps happening:

  • Newsweek, 11/27/19: “Romaine Lettuce Recall: Six People Suffer Acute Kidney Failure Following E. Coli Outbreak
  • NBC News, 11/20/18: Don’t Eat Romaine Lettuce, CDC Cautions After E. coli Outbreak
  • NBC News, 6/1/18: Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak Kills 4 More People
  • for a total of five romaine lettuce-related E. coli outbreaks in less than two years.

 

We wondered: Is there something about romaine lettuce, in particular, that attracts the E. coli bacterium? As it turns out, there seem to be two factors implicated in the repeated outbreaks: the locations where it’s grown and the shape of its growth.

Unfortunately, despite the concerted efforts of federal, state, and local scientists, no one seems to have a definitive answer as to why this otherwise healthy and tasty vegetable has been causing so many problems recently. But researchers are getting closer.

 

Most recent outbreak

Symptoms of E. coli bacterial infection include stomach pain or non-bloody diarrhea that worsens over several days. It can take up to 10 days to begin feeling symptoms after consuming affected food, which is why outbreaks are so difficult to track down.

The infection is normally self-limiting, meaning the body fights it off with no complications other than feeling fairly miserable for a few days. But it can also lead to more severe complications, especially for infants and children under five, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems.

In the most recent outbreak last month, 67 incidents of food poisoning linked to romaine lettuce were reported across 19 states. On November 26th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned consumers not to eat any romaine lettuce grown in the Salinas area. This includes any type of romaine lettuce, as well as pre-cut or premixed or packaged salads, spring mixes, and Caesar salad, or any sandwiches or wraps that might contain romaine lettuce.

Whether the label says “grown in Salinas” or doesn’t specify its origin, the CDC recommends discarding it. Romaine lettuce that has been grown in a greenhouse or hydroponically appears to be safe.

 

Possible causes

Nearly all romaine lettuce grown in the U.S. originates from two main areas: the Salinas Valley in California and the Imperial and Coachella valleys in Southern California and around Yuma, Arizona.

The affected lettuce has been found to be contaminated with a strain of E. coli known as O157:H7, which produces a type of toxin that can lead to severe gastrointestinal illness, as well as kidney failure, and possible death.

This particular strain is common in animals, including goats, deer, feral pigs, and especially cattle. Last year’s outbreak was attributed to contamination of surface water possibly used to irrigate and harvest the crop (with high-pressure water knives, which are used to cut the vegetables, as opposed by slicing them from the roots by hand).

Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the outbreaks have occurred within weeks of the time when nearby farming operations fertilize their fields. And the spring 2018 outbreak was tentatively linked to a nearby cattle factory farm, although no conclusive cause was proved. It would certainly make sense, however, if such a concentrated source of bovine fecal matter was so close, that the contamination could have migrated from that source.

The other problem with romaine lettuce is that it’s normally not cooked. Because of the large-scale way we produce our food, much of it is contaminated with such bacteria as E. coli and salmonella, which proper cooking methods destroy. But because romaine’s crinkled leaves grow in an elongated rosette shape, it’s difficult if not impossible to wash it sufficiently to remove all of the surface contamination.

 

What should you do?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides the following advice to minimize the chances of contamination.

Always practice safe food handling and preparation measures. Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water before and after handling food.

For refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and food cutting utensils that may have come in contact with contaminated foods, it is very important to thoroughly clean these areas and items.

Consumers should follow these simple steps:

  • Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards, and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
  • Always wash hands with hot, soapy water following the cleaning and sanitization process.

If you think you have become ill from eating contaminated foods, be sure to talk to us. While food poisoning may result in nothing more than a few days of misery, it can also be dangerous. We can advise you on the best ways to recover.

great-american-smokeout

Ready to Quit Smoking? Here’s How

If you’re one of the 36 million Americans who still smoke, you probably already know all the ways it can harm you. Tobacco use is still the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the country. In 1977 the American Cancer Society began to sponsor the Great American Smokeout on the third Thursday of November to encourage Americans to quit.

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