“I’m not old enough to have high blood pressure”
“I don’t feel unwell”
“No one in my family has high blood pressure”
There’s a reason high blood pressure (hypertension) is called the “silent killer”.
Super sleuth “silent killer”
It lies in wait in super sleuth mode showing no, if any, signs of its presence. Often the first you become aware that you have hypertension is when you experience a serious cardiovascular event such as a stroke or a heart attack.
High blood pressure is the cause of strokes and heart attacks in 50% of cases. 6 million people in the UK have high blood pressure yet don’t know it.
Hypertension also increases your risk of:
- heart failure
- kidney failure
- issues with eyesight
In short, it’s not something you want to be complacent about.
Identifying the “silent killer”
The only way to fight this invisible enemy is to #knowyournumbers and check your blood pressure readings.
It’s simple to measure your blood pressure and this can be done at the GP’s surgery or in the comfort of your own home with a blood pressure monitor.
Know Your Numbers
Blood pressure is the force exerted on the walls of blood vessels by blood.
When you measure blood pressure two numbers make up the reading and will look like this 120/80mmHg:
- The first number tells you the highest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart beats. It is also known as your systolic blood pressure
- The second number tells you the lowest level your blood pressure reaches when your heart relaxes between beats and is known as your diastolic blood pressure.
Blood pressure is considered to be within the normal range if it measures between 120/80mmHg and 90/60mmHg.
If blood pressure measures above 120/80mmHg consistently you are likely to suffer from elevated blood pressure and should consult your GP.
If blood pressure measures below 90/60mmHg consistently you are likely to be suffering from low blood pressure and should consult your GP.
I know my numbers, now what?
Though hypertension can be caused by factors outside our control such as race/ethnicity, family history, gender and certain medical conditions, there are some risk factors that we can control including (but not limited to) what we eat.
What not to eat
Even if you’ve never checked your blood pressure most of us will know that if blood pressure is elevated (or you are concerned about your cardiovascular health) the following should be limited:
Fats that are high in omega 6 fatty acids such as vegetable oils should also be limited. Although omega 6 fatty acids are essential, we only need a small amount. When we overconsume omega 6 fatty acids, which is easily done if consuming processed food regularly, it can cause inflammation which is detrimental not only to our cardiovascular health but also to overall health.
What to eat
What most people don’t know even if they do have elevated blood pressure (or are concerned about cardiovascular health) is that certain foods can help lower blood pressure as well as support general cardiovascular health and these include:
- Red Pepper
- Green Tea
- Red Wine (in moderation!)
The biologically active plant compounds that are responsible for the bright colour of these foods are also potent antioxidants and protect cells from damage.
They also release nitric acid which is turned into nitric oxide, an important biological messenger that helps to keep your arteries functioning well by relaxing blood vessel walls. When they relax the vessels dilate and the pressure within them drops, lowering blood pressure.
- Red Lentils
- Bulgur Wheat
Foods high in soluble fibre such as apples, oats, lentils and bulgur wheat.
Soluble fibre absorbs fluid and binds cholesterol in the digestive tract and carries it out before it can be taken up in the body which is helpful in lowering blood pressure.
Bulgur wheat is also rich in magnesium which supports relaxation of blood vessels walls
- Sweet Potatoes
- Fish high in Omega 3 e.g. Sardines, Mackerel, Anchovies, Salmon & Herring
High levels of inflammation are associated with an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. We also know that chronic inflammation, even at low levels, has a negative effect on our blood vessels and cardiovascular health in general. Eating foods that help to lower inflammation is there advisable when seeking to reduce hypertension or fight cardiovascular disease.
Take the time to #knowyournumbers and protect yourself from the “silent killer”.
Know your numbers is an annual campaign run by Blood Pressure UK to raise awareness of high blood pressure and to encourage all adults to check their blood pressure.
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Schuster J. et al. Effects of Oats on Lipid Profile, Insulin Resistance and Weight Loss [online]. Nutricion Hospitalaria, 1;32(5):2111-6, 2015.
Basu A, Rhone M and Lyons TJ., Berries: Emerging Impact on Cardiovascular Health [online]. Nutrition Reviews, Volume 68, Issue 3, 1 March 2010, Pages 168–177, 1 March 2010.
Greger M. (2018). How Not to Die. London, U.K., Pan Books.