At 481 pages, the new blood pressure guidelines formulated by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology are being discussed a lot — but read infrequently. Many news reports are simply rehashing the old Puritanical admonition, "avoid everything pleasurable." Since that's not what the research recommends, it's important to know what's both real and new in the guidelines — for your health and your happiness.
In CFS and fibromyalgia, low blood pressure is the bigger problem, and when high blood pressure is present I look for sleep apnea or metabolic syndrome. But even those with low blood pressure may find this article helpful (see "Autonomic Dysfunction in CFS and Fibromyalgia" to learn more about low blood pressure).
For those of you with high blood pressure, instead of focusing on medication changes that those affected might need to consider to meet the new guidelines, the report makes suggestions on how to reduce your blood pressure through lifestyle modifications. With that in mind, here's what you need to know:
Tip 1: Eat Less Salt? Take That Advice with, Well, a Grain of Salt
Although it plays a role, and decreasing salt intake is recommended, the benefits of salt restriction are modest. It only drops blood pressure an average of 3 mm. So don't overdo the heavily salted, processed foods, but feel free to use a normal amount of salt from the salt shaker.
Tip 2: Work Potassium into Your Menu
More important than salt restriction is that you increase your potassium intake, which is associated with a 5-10 mm drop in blood pressure. Include a generous amount of avocado in your salad. Serve coconut water or tomato/V-8 juice. Mix bananas in the dessert. All these foods are rich in potassium. Perhaps the new expression should be "a banana a day keeps the doctor away!"
Tip 3: Jettison the Margarine!
Instead, go "Mediterranean" and favor the olive oil.
Tip 4: Enjoy Your Caffeine
Coffee and tea anyone? Absolutely! Having a cup or two a day does not increase blood pressure long term.
Tip 5: Eggs Aren't the Nemesis They Used to Be
Research shows that having a few eggs each day does not increase the risk of heart disease, or raise cholesterol. So enjoy your morning E&B (with or without the B).
Tip 6: Wine Is Fine
A glass of wine with dinner? Yes please. In moderation of course (no more than two drinks a day on average). Alcohol actually prolongs life relative to being a teetotaler. However, drinking alcohol while your blood pressure is high can be problematic. So wait till your blood pressure is under 130/80.
Tip 7: Dessert Can Be Good for You!
Cut back the sugar because it increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Instead, enjoy some cocktails with whole fresh fruit (toss the canned ones with the syrup). Then drizzle some of the best-tasting chocolate you can find on it. In moderation, chocolate (especially dark chocolate) is actually a health food, and eating a small amount each day is associated with a whopping 57 percent lower risk of dying of heart attack.
Tip 8: Exercise, Even if Just a Walk
Along with weight loss, exercise is a key part of controlling blood pressure. Meanwhile, early data suggests that sunshine — which raises vitamin D — can also help lower blood pressure. So go for a walk in the sunshine before your Thanksgiving meal — and make a 30 to 60 minute walk part of your daily routine.
The Bottom Line
The new research shows that having low blood pressure is actually something we can live with, while still enjoying our lives. But since it's Thanksgiving, it's worth remembering what Mark Twain advised when he wrote: "Moderation in all things — including moderation!