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The Low-down on High Blood

By: Ivan Olegario, MDThe Low-down on High Blood

We are now in the midst of the summer months, so expect a lot of people getting their blood boiling during this time. After all, heat raises blood pressure, right? As it turns out, wrong. Here, we will discuss a number of things we hear people know about high blood pressure and the real deal about them.

“Warm weather raises blood pressure.” – False

While heat turns up the pressure in a pressure cooker, the same cannot be said about blood pressure. When the weather is warm, our blood vessels become wider and this lessens the blood pressure in our blood vessels. This does not mean we should expose ourselves to heat to lower our blood pressure, because warm weather can also cause several changes in the body that can make the heart work faster and harder, which could strain the heart.

So what’s the best way to make sure that your heart stays healthy during the summer months? To counter the harmful effects of the warm weather, remember the following:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
  • Stay in cool, well-ventilated areas.
  • Continue taking your blood pressure medications if you are taking any.
  • Monitor your blood pressure regularly.
  • See your doctor at least once during these summer months for a check-up.

“Pineapple juice is good for high blood pressure.”The jury is still out…

During warm days, a tall glass of chilled pineapple juice is a welcome thirst quencher. Pineapple juice has also long been touted as having blood pressure-lowering properties, and for good reason. Pineapple is rich in potassium, magnesium, and manganese, plus it helps the body absorb copper. These minerals are known to help regulate blood pressure. However, there are still no human studies to definitively show that pineapple juice lowers blood pressure.

This is not to say that you should stop taking pineapple juice. It is a nutritious drink and some juices also contain a lot of fiber, which is good for the heart. But avoid the sweetened kind and do not rely on pineapple juice to lower your blood pressure. Your best bet is still the blood pressure medications prescribed to you by your doctor, if any.

“Stress causes high blood pressure.” – True

In the past, we believed that things ‘in our heads’ are nothing to worry about. But we know now that our mental well-being has a direct effect on the human body—the heart, the muscles, and the gut. Stress triggers the ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms of the body, which triggers your heart and blood vessels to react accordingly. This leads to a rapid heart rate and elevated blood pressure. Prolonged exposure to stress could, therefore, lead to hypertension. Furthermore, chronic stress also causes havoc on some hormones, which contributes to the development of hypertension.

The two best ways to combat stress are: (1) eliminate the stressor if possible and (2) regular relaxation. I emphasize on regular because the real world is known for being perpetually stressful (for some reason). Regular relaxation, from daily short breaks to weekly days off and other stress-coping activities, could help lower your blood pressure and improve your overall mental well-being.

“Salty foods cause high blood pressure.” – True, but…

Salty foods do cause an elevation of blood pressure and the main culprit is sodium found in salt. Sodium attracts water and as more water is retained in the blood, the pressure of blood increases. The problem is that a lot of non-salty foods, especially processed foods, are high in sodium. You can only know the real amount of sodium in processed foods by reading the nutritional facts on the label. The Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Philippines recommended between 500 to 2,000 mg of sodium per day. This means that any meal with more than 500 mg of sodium could be too much. An example is one serving of regular Filipino adobo, which has around 700 mg of sodium mostly from its soy sauce ingredient. Using a low-sodium soy sauce could help lower your sodium intake.

“Blood pressure causes neck/nape pains, sweating, palpitations, and other obvious symptoms.” – True and false

Some people with hypertension do have these well-known symptoms (this is the true part). However, for the vast majority of people with high blood pressure, they often feel perfectly fine (this is the false part). Despite feeling no symptoms, these people are still at risk of a heart attack or stroke if their blood pressure remains elevated. Therefore, it is dangerous to rely on symptoms to determine whether your blood pressure is high or normal. The only reliable way to know your blood pressure is by measuring it properly using a blood pressure monitor.

“Exercise increases blood pressure so I should avoid exercise.” – Mostly false

Exercise can increase the top number of blood pressure reading (systolic blood pressure). However, this effect is temporary and your blood pressure would go down to normal in no time. On the other hand, exercise should not increase the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure). Overall, exercise helps strengthen the heart, and regular, moderate exercise can help lower your blood pressure in the long run. So go for it!

If you have hypertension and choose to exercise, remember to:

  • Regularly take your medications.
  • Keep it moderate—do not overexert yourself.
  • Do it regularly—even 20 minutes a day of brisk walking is helpful.
  • Check with your doctor always before taking any exercise program.

“I have hypertension but my blood pressure measurement is normal so I can skip my medication.” – False

If you have been taking blood pressure medication, it is very likely that this is the main reason why your blood pressure is normal during your reading. So don’t stop taking them. Your medicines are maintenance drugs that should be taken regularly. If you have doubts about whether you should keep on taking your medication, consult your doctor and express your concerns to him/her through a careful discussion.

Conclusion

Almost one in every four adult Filipinos have high blood pressure. Being such a common health problem, everyone should be in the know about high blood pressure. If you have any questions or clarifications about high blood pressure or other health issues, avoid consulting Dr. Google alone. Check with real-life health professionals to help you search the truth about your health.

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