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Amazing how opinions regarding cannabis have changed in a few decades. From marijuana being viewed as an evil drug years ago to viewing cannabis (both marijuana and hemp) as medicinal and a pain reliever nowadays. A recent study suggests that regular use of cannabis (by either ingesting it orally via oil extracts or by smoking) can reduce blood pressure in older adults with hypertension.

The Ben-Gurion Univ. of the Negev (Israel) researchers found that after 3 months of medical cannabis use by 26 persons over 60 years of age, there was a reduction of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers. The lowest blood pressure occurred 3 hours after ingesting or smoking cannabis.

From Medical Xpress: Cannabis reduces blood pressure in older adults: study

A new discovery by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) and its affiliated Soroka University Medical Center shows that medical cannabis may reduce blood pressure in older adults.  ...continue reading "Cannabis May Reduce Blood Pressure In Older Adults"

An recent study from University of Saskatchewan researchers found that stretching exercises were better than brisk walking for lowering high-normal blood pressure or moderately elevated blood pressure. However, walking was more effective than stretching for reducing waist size.

The researchers randomly assigned 40 male and female adults (average age 61 years) with high normal or moderate hypertension (130/85–159/99 mm Hg) to either 8 weeks of whole body stretching exercises or brisk walking (on outdoor trails or a treadmill) for 30 minutes per day, 5 days a week, for 8 weeks. The stretching exercise routine included 21 exercises for the shoulders, chest, legs, arms, hips, and back. Each stretch was done twice and held for a 30-second duration with 15 seconds of rest between stretches.

Other studies have also found stretching exercises effective in reducing blood pressure. A possible reason is that when muscles are stretched, blood vessels are also stretched, and this may lead to structural changes in blood vessels. By reducing arterial stiffness, there is improved blood flow, and ultimately reduced blood pressure.

The researchers suggested adding stretching exercises to an aerobic exercise program or brisk walking for additional health benefits. By the way, stretching exercises are similar to yoga, which also lowers blood pressure.

From Medical Xpress: Stretching more effective than walking to lower high blood pressure, study finds

A new University of Saskatchewan study has found that stretching is superior to brisk walking for reducing blood pressure in people with high blood pressure or who are at risk of developing elevated blood pressure levels.  ...continue reading "Stretching Exercises Can Help Reduce Blood Pressure"

For several years I've noticed that in a number of studies there appear to be beneficial health effects from consumption of dairy products, especially whole milk or full-fat products, and also fermented dairy products (e.g. yogurt, cheese). A recent international study (21 countries on 5 continents) found similar results: higher intake of dairy foods, especially full-fat dairy, is associated with lower incidence of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and early death. Risk factors include increased blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, elevated triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and elevated blood glucose.  Diet plays a role in whether one develops metabolic syndrome and diabetes. [Being overweight and being inactive are also important risk factors.]

What was the higher intake of dairy products that was associated with health benefits? At least 2 servings per day. The study did not look into what kind of dairy people drank and ate - whether cow, sheep, camel, or goat milk dairy. The assumption is: dairy is dairy!

While it was an observational study, it was significant, especially because the 131,481 participants (aged 35 to 70 years) were from world regions not typically studied in dairy consumption studies. They were tracked for about 9 years.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Dairy-rich diet linked to lower risks of diabetes and high blood pressure

Eating at least two daily servings of dairy is linked to lower risks of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as the cluster of factors that heighten cardiovascular disease risk (metabolic syndrome), finds a large international study published online in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.  ...continue reading "Dairy Products, Hypertension, Diabetes, and Metabolic Syndrome"

Another great option for losing weight and better health may be to only eat within a 10 hour window, and then not eat for 14 hours (thus a nightly 14 hour fast). Many may find this easier than traditional dieting (counting calories and restricting eating). Just eat breakfast later, supper earlier, and no snacks in the evening. (But water is OK.)

Researchers from the Univ. Of California and Salk Institute conducted the 10-hour restricted eating study on persons with metabolic syndrome, most of whom were also on high blood pressure (anti-hypertensive) medicine and statins. After 12 weeks the people had lost weight, lost body fat, lowered blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased the size of their waist.

Since metabolic syndrome raises the risk for diabetes and heart (cardiovascular) disease, then 10-hour restricted eating can be an important tool to improve health. The researchers point out that in animal studies, time-restricted feeding can prevent and reverse aspects of metabolic diseases, and in healthy humans, it reduces the risks of metabolic diseases. Studies also found benefits with 9-hour restricted eating and 12 hour fasts.

From Science Daily: Clinical study finds eating within 10-hour window may help stave off diabetes, heart disease  ...continue reading "Improve Health and Lose Weight By Restricting Eating To A 10 Hour Window"

Another study finds beneficial health effects from eating real foods - this time eating Montmorency tart cherries reduces blood pressure and insulin levels up to 5 hours after ingestion. Of course. It was a small study done in the United Kingdom, with only 11 middle-aged participants, all with metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels). It is estimated that about a third of U.S. adults have metabolic syndrome, which significantly increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

It was a nicely designed study, and the Montmorency tart cherries were taken in either juice form or capsules which contained freeze-dried Montmorency tart cherry powder. Drinking the juice had slightly better health effects than the freeze dried capsules. It would have been nice if they had also looked at a group of people eating fresh Montmorency tart cherries, rather than just juice or freeze dried cherries.

Keep in mind that this study found positive health effects from real food. However, in contrast, studies find that taking supplements and vitamins generally don't result in health benefits (e.g. calcium, omega-3, niacin, antioxidants), and can even cause harm - unless one has a nutritional deficiency. Studies also don't find that there are "superfoods" - instead, what is beneficial or not is the overall dietary pattern. Studies show that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes has many health benefits (something along the line of the Mediterranean dietary pattern). Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables - each has different micronutrients, and even different microbes (good!). Eating that way also results in a high fiber intake, which has many health benefits.

From EurekAlert!: Montmorency tart cherries may provide benefits for adults with metabolic syndrome

Montmorency tart cherries reduced systolic blood pressure, insulin levels and insulin concentrations in adults with metabolic syndrome participating in a small pilot study published in the Journal of Functional Foods.  ...continue reading "Add Cherries To Your Diet"

Once again a study finds that eating berries (this time blueberries) is associated with health benefits - that the blueberries improved both blood vessel functioning and blood pressure. This multi-part European study was conducted on both humans and mice. The researchers specifically looked at what component of blueberries had the beneficial effects on blood pressure and came to the conclusion that it was the anthocyanins in the blueberries.  Anthocyanins are the blue, violet, or red flavonoid pigments found in berries and other plants.

How much did the researchers find to be beneficial in the study? 2 cups or 200 g blueberries daily for one month. The study participants drank blueberry juice, but the assumption is that eating whole blueberries has the same beneficial effect.The researchers found that the lowering of blood pressure (5 mmHg) is similar to what is commonly observed with blood pressure lowering medication (e.g. ACE inhibitors) in patients.

By the way, research finds health benefits from eating a variety of berry types and richly colored fruits and vegetables (e.g. better brain functioning, lower blood pressure, lowering of cholesterol levels). Not only are the micronutrients different, but also the microbial species which we ingest (this is good!). So don't eat just one kind of berry - eat them all!

From a press release published by King's College London: The 'blue' in blueberries can help lower blood pressure  ...continue reading "Blueberries and Blood Pressure"

Another study finding more benefits of exercise was recently published in the journal Neurology. The study by researchers at Duke University found that in older adults who were already experiencing  cognitive (thinking) problems, but did not have dementia - that after just 6 months of exercise they showed improvements in thinking. What were their original thinking problems? The individuals had difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering, but it was not severe enough to be diagnosed as dementia. However, these persons were considered at risk for progressing to dementia.

The 160 individuals in the study were 55 years or older (mean age 65), mainly women, evenly divided between whites and minorities, were sedentary (didn't exercise), and had heart (cardiovascular) disease or were at risk for heart disease. They were randomly assigned to one of 4 groups: 1) aerobic exercise (with no dietary changes), 2) DASH diet (with no exercise), 3) DASH diet plus exercise, and 4) the control group, who had no dietary or exercise changes - they just received some educational phone calls. The study lasted 6 months, and there were no drop outs.

In the study, the aerobic exercises were done 3 times per week: 10 minutes of warm up exercises followed by 35 minutes of continuous walking or stationary cycling. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension or DASH diet is a heart healthy diet that emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, as well as fish, poultry, beans, and nuts. It stresses lowering the intake of salt (sodium), sweets, sugar sweetened beverages, and fatty foods (both trans fats and saturated fats). [Note that in many ways it's similar to the Mediterranean diet with its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and lowering intake of meat. Studies find cognitive benefits from the Mediterranean diet.]

The six months of exercising improved thinking skills called executive function - in both the exercise alone or exercise + DASH diet group. The largest improvements were in the exercise + DASH diet group (as compared to the control group, which actually showed decline in functioning). Executive function is a person's ability to regulate their own behavior, pay attention, organize and achieve goals, and was measured in this study with a group of cognitive tests (a "standard battery of neurocognitive tests"). These executive function improvements did not occur in the DASH diet alone group or the control group. The study found no improvement in memory or language fluency in any of the groups. The exercise alone, DASH diet alone, and the combined exercise and DASH group had other health benefits by the end of the study, for example they lowered their risk factors for heart disease. Other improvements: the exercise groups had improvements in insulin levels, and the DASH groups decreased their intake of blood pressure medicines.

To illustrate how amazing these results are: at the start of the study (baseline) all participants scored as if they were in their early 90s on cognitive tests - as if they were on average about 28 years older than their actual chronological age! Then at the end of 6 months, the persons in the exercise + DASH diet showed an improvement of almost 9 years on the tests. In contrast, the control group showed an approximately 6 month worsening performance. When researchers looked at physical markers of the exercisers, they found that physical improvements and improvements in heart disease risk factors (e.g. losing weight, lowering blood pressure) were correlated with executive functioning improvements.

Other studies have found related findings, such as higher physical activity and a Mediterranean diet is associated with lower levels of dementia. The researchers point out that there is growing evidence that combining several lifestyle factors (e.g., exercise, not smoking, a healthy diet, lowering salt intake) and not just exercise alone, has the best results for better cognitive functioning among older adults. Bottom line: eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts and get exercise. Walking briskly, gardening, housework, walking up stairs - it all counts.  ...continue reading "Can Exercise and Dietary Changes Help Older Adults With Thinking Problems?"

Once again, a study found health benefits from exercise. This time a large review of studies found that the blood pressure lowering effect of exercise for persons with high blood pressure (hypertension) appears to be similar to that of commonly used blood-pressure (antihypertensive) medications. The study was designed to compare the effect of exercise and medications on systolic blood pressure (greater than 140 mmHg). Unfortunately no study directly compared the two, but the researchers were able to draw conclusions from 391 studies that had used randomly controlled trials (people assigned randomly to different conditions).

The American and UK researchers found that all programs of exercise and all blood pressure medications lowered blood pressure. They did find greater reductions in blood pressure in taking blood pressure lowering medications vs just exercise ("structured exercise regimens"), but pointed out that when studies just focused on people with high blood pressure (instead of everyone), then the results looked more impressive. Meaning the higher the blood pressure, the more effective the exercise.

Other findings: They did not observe a dose-response relationship between exercise intensity and blood pressure reduction. They found that even low-intensity exercise may be effective in reducing blood pressure. The researchers stressed the need for studies that directly compare  exercise programs to blood pressure medications, but point out that pharmaceutical companies are the ones doing the vast majority of studies and they don't have any incentive to do such a study (it could mean the loss of profits from medicines!). Many of the studies compared blood pressure medicines + exercise vs just blood pressure medicines. Thus the researchers said the topic of exercise and blood pressure is currently under studied.

Bottom line: get out and move, move, move for your health! All activity and movement is better than none. Yes, it's easier to just take daily pills, but all medications have side-effects and cost money. Exercise is free and the health benefits are many. Some health benefits of exercise from other studies: lowers blood pressure, lower risk of heart (cardiovascular) disease, lower the waist circumference (get rid of belly rolls!), and lowers triglyceride levels (in the blood).

From Science Daily: Exercise may be as effective as prescribed drugs to lower high blood pressure

Exercise may be as effective as prescribed drugs to lower high (140 mm Hg) blood pressure, suggests a pooled analysis of the available data, in what is thought to be the first study of its kind, and published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.   ...continue reading "Can Exercise Be As Effective As Blood Pressure Medications In Lowering Blood Pressure?"

In the US and other developed countries it is generally accepted that blood pressure increases with age -  that a blood pressure rise starts in childhood and that it's a normal part of aging. However, a new study found that this is not true - a South American rainforest tribe (the Yanomami) who do not eat a western diet (at all!) and have an active lifestyle, have the exact same blood pressure throughout life. This was true for all the individuals studied - from age 1 to 60. A nearby village of the Yekwana tribe have some western influences on lifestyle and diet, had the same low blood pressure in childhood, but showed increases with age.

The researchers feel that a Western diet and lifestyle play a role in the blood pressure increasing over the life span. They are now looking at the gut microbes of the two tribes to see what role they have in these blood pressure differences. Bottom line: get off your butt  and get active, and eat a high fiber, whole food diet (to feed the beneficial microbes) -  and avoid highly processed foods if you can. Easier said than done. From Science Daily:

Study of two tribes sheds light on role of Western-influenced diet in blood pressure

...continue reading "Blood Pressure Doesn’t Always Increase With Age"

New research published in The Lancet estimates that lead exposure results in about 400,000 deaths every year in the USA - which includes about 250,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease. The study looked at "historical exposure" to lead, which means they looked at a person's lead exposure years ago (which could have been from many sources, such as breathing lead contaminated dust, drinking water from leaded pipes, from lead paint, leaded gas, or eating from cans that have been soldered with lead). What was noteworthy in this study following over 14,000 adults was that there were increased death rates even from low lead blood levels (concentrations of lead in blood lower than 5 μg/dL).

Lead exposure has been declining since the 1970s after lead was eliminated (banned) from paint and gasoline, but this study looked at adults born in the years when lead exposure was higher during childhood and adulthood. Baseline data (blood lead levels) was collected between 1988 and 1994 and then individuals were followed for the next 2 decades. The researchers found that there was a dose response curve - the higher the blood lead level, the higher the death rate from any cause (all-cause mortality), from cardiovascular disease, and from ischaemic heart disease in the next two decades.

Lead is a naturally occurring heavy metal, but it's also a poisonous substance for humans, and accumulates in teeth and bones. Lead can pass through the blood-brain barrier in children and fetuses and kill brain cells (and cause neurological damage). Lead can enter blood vessels and harm the endothelial cells that line the blood vessels. This process hardens arteries and causes plaque to form in blood vessels, increasing blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease and stroke. Lead can damage the kidneys, which play an important role in regulating blood pressure, and so increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have stated that there are no safe blood levels of lead for children (zero is best), and the researchers of this study believe the same is true for adults. From Science Daily:

Historical lead exposure may be linked to 256,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease in adults in United States each year

New estimates suggest that 256,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease -- including 185,000 deaths from ischemic heart disease -- in the USA may be linked to historical lead exposure in middle-aged and older adults (people currently aged 44 years or over), according to an observational study following 14,300 people for almost 20 years, published in The Lancet Public Health journal.  ...continue reading "Even Low Level Lead Exposure Is Linked to Later Health Problems"