February is National Heart Month
February is National Heart Month, a campaign run by the British Heart Foundation to raise awareness of the UK's biggest killer.
Heart disease is responsible for around 75,000 deaths in the UK each year, and many of these deaths are preventable.
The single biggest modifiable risk factor for heart disease is high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. One of the most common disordersin the UK, hypertension is defined as persistent raised blood pressure above 140/90mmHg.
Unfortunately hypertension, often referred to as 'the silent killer', typically has no outward symptoms. Around 13 million people in the UK suffer with hypertension, but 6 million of these remain undiagnosed (1).
Rule of 3: Everyday changes to protect your health
Taking control of our health means identifying those factors within our control and taking positive action to eliminate them. Unfortunately, dramatic lifestyle changes can feel overwhelming. While your GP can advise on medications, exercise and dietary changes to address heart health, there are simple changes you can begin to make every day to kickstart healthy changes.
Here are three simple snacks and three supplements which have been shown to reduce blood pressure.
Three Simple Snacks
1.Almonds and Cashews
Replacing your usual savoury or sugary snacks with a handful of cashews or almonds will help to regulate blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
These nuts are among these best sources of dietary magnesium, a mineral responsible for dilating blood vessels and preventing spasm in the heart muscle. They also help to lower cholesterol levels. Studies have found nut consumption to be linked with an 8.3% reduced risk of heart disease (2).
2. Hibiscus Tea
A cup of hibiscus tea before breakfast lowers both diastolic and systolic blood pressure by more than 10%. A recent study found that one cup of hibiscus tea each day for four weeks was as effective as the drug Captopril in reducing blood pressure (3).
3. Nitrate-rich Veggies
A daily juice or smoothie containing nitrate-rich vegetables offers a simple way to help reduce blood pressure. Nitrate-rich vegetables such as beetroot and kale are important for healthy blood flow, and lower blood pressure by dilating blood vessels (4). Pomegranate enhances this effect by enhancing the activity of nitrates. Beets blend well with apples and berries, while kale blends well with tropical fruits such as pineapple or banana.
Three Key Nutrients for a Healthy Heart
A recent meta-analysis provides evidence that garlic supplementation significantly reduces blood pressure in those with hypertension. In this study, doses ranged from 600mg to 900mg daily (5). The active component of garlic, called allicin, is destroyed during cooking, and so supplements are a good choice for maximum benefit.
2. Fish oil
Several studies have linked fish oil supplementation with reduced blood pressure in those with hypertension (6). As well as lowering blood pressure, fish oil supplements reduce inflammation and platelet aggregation ('sticky blood').
The American Heart Association recommends that those with coronary heart disease should take 1g of EPA plus DHA from fish oil supplements each day.
Diets high in sugar and low in plant foods tend to provide insufficient levels of magnesium. This is a concern because magnesium is important for the dilation of blood vessels.
A recent meta-analysis found that magnesium supplementation does indeed lower blood pressure, but that larger studies are needed to confirm these findings (7).
Those interested in supplementing magnesium have a number of options. Magnesium can be supplemented as a topical oil applied to skin, as magnesium salts in the bath or as a traditional oral supplement.
1. Blood pressure UK. http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/mediacentre/Bloodpressurenews/UKhighbloodpressurerisesbutmorediagnosed. Accessed 18/01/2016.
2. Hu FB, Stampfer MJ (1999) Nut consumption and risk of coronoary heart disease: a review of epidemiologic evidence. CurrAtheroscler Rep 1(3):533-40
3. Harrera-Arellano et L (2004) Effectiveness and tolerability of a standardised extract from Hibiscus sabdariffa in patients with mild to moderate hypertension: a controlled and randomised trial. 11(5):365-82
4. Kapil et al (2015) Dietary nitrate provides sustained blood pressure lowering in hypertensive patients: a randomised, phase 2, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Hypertension 65(2):320-7
5. Reid et al (2008) Effect of garlic on blood pressure: A systematic review and meta-analysis. B<C Cardiovascular Disorders. 8:13.
6. Breslow (2006) n-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. Am J ClinNutr. 86(6):1477S-1482S
7. Jee et al (2002) The effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomised clinical trials. Am J Hypertension 15(8):691-6