In this latest from our Dual Perspective Series, physician and fitness expert Dr. Dave Clayton first shares his expertise on why medication isn’t the only solution managing your health, and nutrition Expert Mascha Davis helps us consider the nourishing foods that combat high blood pressure and cholesterol.
You hear it all the time from your doctor…the blood pressure and cholesterol are going up and maybe it’s time to do something about it. But is there really any benefit from reducing these metrics, or can we just ignore them as long as we otherwise feel well?
We know that super-high levels of blood pressure and cholesterol are no good, raising our risk of heart attack and stroke as we get older. But researchers in a recent study at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and backed by AstraZeneca, a drug company, asked whether average people with slightly above average cholesterol and blood pressure would benefit from treatment.
Now from a drug company perspective, this question is a great one to answer, especially if it means the potential to sell more drugs. There’s a lot more people out there with mild-moderate high blood pressure and high cholesterol than there are people with serious problems. Getting a reason to put them on drugs makes for great business.
This clinical trial took 12,000 people with mild elevations in blood pressure (around 130/80) and LDL cholesterol and followed them for an average of just under 6 years. Yes, indeed, there was a slight benefit to those taking medications. But the results were modest – people who took drugs had a 3.6% chance of a heart attack or stroke, compared to 5% for those without treatment. This makes a clear case for the benefits of lower blood pressure and cholesterol numbers, even when the numbers don’t seem so bad. The effect is modest, but only insignificant if you aren’t one of the people who had the heart attack or stroke. In this trial, an extra 44 people in the untreated group had a heart attack, making them probably wish they’d gone ahead and taken the drugs.
Unfortunately, the group that took medication also had higher rates of dizziness and muscle pains, two well-known side effects of blood pressure and cholesterol medications, respectively. Which, of course, is why more people with modest blood pressure and cholesterol issues would do better if they had improved their health with diet and exercise. Every indication is that we benefit the same or more by improving our health the all-natural way, rather than through medications.
Working to improve blood pressure and cholesterol through natural means has clear benefits that only get more important as we age. Better numbers mean a better chance of avoiding heart disease, stroke, aneurysms and kidney disease…all clearly things we can live without.
So what’s the best way to get started in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol?
WORK OUT AT A HIGH INTENSITY.
Vigorous exercise may lower your blood pressure as much as medications will, and is the only way to increase your good cholesterol (HDL). You can increase your HDL by up to 50% or more just by increasing the intensity of your workouts.
Vigorous exercise also improves triglycerides, an important component of the cholesterol panel. But not just any exercise will do – walking or other leisurely exercise is unlikely to have the same effect as working out at higher levels of intensity.
INTEGRATE MORE NUTRITIOUS FOODS.
Nutrition is one of the key, if not most important, areas to address in order to successfully manage high blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall heart health.
The following advice from nutrition Expert Mascha Davis points to some of the best whole foods that can improve these health metrics through a nourishing lifestyle.
It used to be thought that lowering sodium intake was the most important dietary change we could make to help improve blood pressure. However, we now know that there are a few other minerals that play a huge role in blood pressure control.
These minerals are calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which help to lower blood pressure by promoting sodium and fluid release from the body, as well as by helping arteries dilate, relax, and become more flexible.
Here’s how you can incorporate more of these essential nutrients into your diet:
Calcium: To increase calcium intake, eat canned sardines (with bones), cabbage, and broccoli. Drink fat-free or low-fat milk and consume other dairy products like yogurt and cottage cheese.
Magnesium: Good sources of this mineral include spinach, Swiss chard, high-fiber cereal, lentils, and whole-grain products. Other magnesium-rich foods include almonds, cashews, mixed nuts, soybeans, legumes, halibut, and oatmeal.
Potassium: Great sources are bananas, melons, dried fruit, oranges, potatoes, tomatoes, dried beans and peas, spinach, milk, yogurt, and fish.
In addition to the three minerals above, dark chocolate (70% or more) and soy both contain flavonols that have been shown to improve blood pressure. So go ahead, indulge a little bit in that chocolate and experiment with soy milk and tofu if you haven’t already – they are delicious additions to a healthy diet!
Cholesterol levels are affected by inflammation and consumption of foods high in both cholesterol and saturated fat (which is mostly found in animal products and some tropical oils, like coconut).
Eating foods high in antioxidants is key because they help to decrease and mitigate inflammation – thus promoting healthy arteries and a healthy heart. Super high antioxidant foods – berries – some great ones include blueberries, blackberries, acai and goji berries, as well as unsaturated fats, in particular mono-unsaturated ones such as olive oil, avocado and nuts are some of the best things to eat to reduce inflammation and lower cholesterol levels.
Another key nutrient to help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol levels is fiber: it actually binds to cholesterol and helps to excrete it from the body! Great sources include fresh fruits and vegetables (tip: buy organic and eat with the skin on!), as well as brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, chia seeds, beans and legumes.
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David Clayton, M.D. is a physician, fitness expert and nutrition educator with a passion for sharing the power of exercise and all-natural foods to maintain health at any age. He is the founder of ClubRX, a boutique gym for people over 50, and the RX5 Nutrition System, a 5 step diet for achieving lasting health and reversing aging.
Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN is a Los Angeles-based private practice dietitian who shares her love of health and wellness through a unique global perspective. From world-class U.S. medical centers to rural villages in Africa, Mascha has dedicated herself to traveling the world, spreading her love of healthy living through both her humanitarian work and private practice. Learn more about Mascha at Nomadista Nutrition.