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The Silent Killer

Hypertension is the medical term for high blood pressure.  One in three adults over the age of 20 has high blood pressure. It occurs without warning and many people have it for years and don’t know it.

 Hypertension means there is too much resistance in your blood vessels, which causes the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout your body.  Hypertension puts you at risk for heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, vision loss, sexual dysfunction and heart failure.

Hypertension is called the “silent killer” because it causes damage to your body before you know you have it.  Risk factors for hypertension include age, gender, race and family history.  Obviously, you can’t change these risk factors.  There are, however, modifiable risk factors which include diet, exercise, alcohol intake and obesity.  Stress and smoking also contribute to high blood pressure. 
    Smoking - The act of smoking immediately raises your blood pressure.  It also raises your heart rate, narrows your arteries and hardens the walls of your arteries, all of which raise your blood pressure.  Smoking also increases your risk for blood clots.

    Stress - Your body produces a surge in the hormones adrenaline and cortisol in stressful situations.  That “fight or flight” response temporarily raises your blood pressure.  When the stress is gone, your blood pressure returns to normal.  Chronic stress keeps that hormone surge going for longer periods of time.  While we don’t know exactly the long term effects on blood pressure, we do know that chronically high levels of cortisol cause inflammation.  And inflammation has been linked to heart disease and hypertension. 
Your blood pressure (BP) is made up of 2 numbers, the top number, or the systolic number, and the bottom number, or the diastolic number. Systolic BP is how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery wall when your heart beats.  Diastolic BP is how much pressure your blood exerts against your artery wall when your heart is resting between beats.  Both numbers are important.

Normally, your medical provider will ask you to do “lifestyle changes” before putting you on blood pressure medicine.  Although, if your BP is too high, you may get put on medication right away.  You will also be told to do lifestyle changes.  So what are lifestyle changes?

Lifestyle changes impact the risk factors that we consider modifiable.

    Diet - eating a whole food, plant based diet with limited added salt will lower your blood pressure significantly.  Adding Omega 3s in the form of wild caught salmon and flax seed will help lower your blood pressure.  Processed foods and refined sugars cause inflammation in your body which can leads to hypertension.  Avoid foods like cake, cookies, soda, crackers and candy.

    Exercise - get your body moving!  You don’t have to do high intensity workouts to reap the heart healthy rewards of exercise.  Simply walking 20-30 minutes day after dinner will help lower your blood pressure. (Always check with your medical provider prior to starting any exercise regime).

    Alcohol intake - Consumption of alcohol can raise your blood pressure.  Having more than 3 drinks in one sitting temporarily raises your blood pressure and repeated binging sustains the rise in your blood pressure.  Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men, 1 drink a day for women.  If you already have hypertension, consider decreasing your alcohol consumption further.

     Obesity -   Overweight people have an increase in fatty tissue.  This makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body.  It increases the resistance against which the heart has to pump, which raises blood pressure.  The increase in fatty tissue, especially if it is deposited in the abdomen, also causes a “stiffening” of the arteries which raises your blood pressure.  The good news is that even a 10% reduction in weight helps.

Some supplements that may help lower your blood pressure include:  magnesium and garlic which relax smooth muscle like your "stiffened" arteries, fish oil which reduces inflammation and CoQ10, which depletes in our bodies as we age

Here is a heart healthy recipe for you to try.

Turkey Pumpkin Chili



1 teaspoon oil
1 pound lean ground turkey (15% fat)
2/3 cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced or ½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 can (15 ounce) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 ounce) great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (15 ounce) solid-pack pumpkin
1 can (15 ounce) crushed tomatoes
1 can (15 ounce) low sodium chicken broth
½ cup water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 package (1.25 ounce) taco seasoning mix  


Add oil to a 4 quart (or larger) saucepan at heat over medium heat. Add ground turkey, onion, green pepper and garlic. Cook and stir, breaking meat apart until meat is brown and vegetables are tender. Stir in beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, broth, water, brown sugar and taco seasoning. Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.
Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours.  

Nutrition Information: 
Per serving: 220 calories, 4.5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 29 g carbohydrate, 17 g protein, 9 g fiber, 430 mg sodium